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There is a crisis of confidence in America’s political leadership, from the smallest municipality all the way to Washington DC. At bottom, this crisis means that trust between elected representatives and their constituency has almost completely broken down. Being from Illinois, where government has taken on the character of predator and the people its prey, I see this breakdown first hand. I happen to live in a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, and while people suffer for lack of jobs, their so-called representatives continue to demand more and more of their income.
In 2008, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger demanded and received a controversial sales tax hike. When an outcry by voters followed into the new year, the County Board repealed the tax hike, but Stroger vetoed their decision. Less than a week later, the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that Stroger and his wife owed the IRS $11,668 in unpaid taxes. Just politics as usual in Illinois.
It is no wonder then that a recent Chicago Tribune poll showed that 59 percent of Illinois voters believe recent reform measures will have little chance of curbing corruption. That means two thirds of the poll responders have thrown up their hands in the face of corruption they view as systemic. Voters no longer trust their representatives to police themselves. According to the Tribune poll, 76 percent say elected officials should be subjected to term limits, and 77 percent favor amending the state constitution to allow for recall votes. But Illinois is simply a microcosm of the nation at large.
The stink of corruption followed Barack Obama from Illinois to the White House when it was revealed that as many as five of his cabinet nominees or their spouses had delinquent and unpaid taxes. One of them, Hilda Solis, was confirmed as Secretary of Labor even though her husband was “unaware” of 15 outstanding state and county tax liens against him and his business totaling more than $7,600. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, a former President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, failed to pay more than $40,000 in payroll taxes when he worked for the International Monetary Fund.
Naturally the voters wonder: why should we be concerned about paying our fair share of taxes, if our representatives are not? More importantly, why is a tax cheat running the Treasury Department? These and other unanswered questions erode voter confidence. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, only 33 percent of likely voters believe the United States is heading in the right direction, and according to a Gallup poll in September, 45 percent of Americans (a record-low) say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in Congress.
Government corruption and indifference, and the crisis of confidence it instigates, is spurring a populist revolt among voters. While liberal pundits are quick to attribute public anger to a concerted effort by Fox News and conservative talk radio, the numbers show otherwise. Americans are rightly outraged by the behavior of their public officials.
Case in point: just last year, the City of Chicago signed a very unpopular 75-year, $1.15 billion deal to hand the city’s parking meters over to a private company, which dramatically increased rates. Several independent reports, as well as one by Inspector General David Hoffman, exposed how taxpayers were shortchanged by the deal. On a recent broadcast of Chicago Tonight, 50th Ward Alderman Bernard Stone shouted “It's none of your damn business,” at reporter Mick Dumke, who asked what research Stone had done to support his contention that Hoffman’s report was “worthless.” Essentially, Alderman Stone believes the public had no right to know anything about the deal, and his contempt for his own constituents is not unique or particularly surprising.
For while many politicians claim to have the best interests of the people at heart, they become frustrated and angry when those people actually try to have a say in their government. But why shouldn’t they be frustrated? For decades the voters have allowed their representatives to get away with all but the most blatant and grievous offenses. Suddenly, “we the people” are finally taking notice.
There is no doubt that this crisis of confidence, which for so long has simmered in the Heartland, originated in the outrageous actions of public officials themselves. There is no disguising the stench of corruption, the lying, and the hypocrisy emanating from politicians on both sides of the aisle. There is no doubt that America is ready for real change.