Illinois and Chicago: Profiles in Cowardice

By Stuart Loren

May 28, 2022

John Kennedy would be appalled. His ideological heirs have strayed so far off course that to call them “democrats” would be an insult to his legacy. Nowhere is this truer than in Illinois and Chicago, where classic liberalism – having long suffered under the weight of classic corruption – has recently morphed into something more sinister: fanaticism. No Profiles in Courage here, folks. Only a few, and none holding elected office or any political power are now willing to stand up for what’s right, to speak truth to the choir, to lead pragmatically – or for that matter, to lead at all.

No. What we have here in Chicago and Illinois are profiles in cowardice.

Illinois and Chicago are examples of what happens when radicalism becomes normalized. When the ossification of one-party rule results in groupthink stifling smart-think. When looking good counts for more than doing good and public interests become subservient to special ones. To all my democratic and progressive friends, don’t let your local politics devolve to our depths.

The problems we face are daunting and damning – a direct consequence of poor governance. The nation’s worst credit rating, the least funded pension system, spiking crime, underperforming schools, unreliable public services, burdensome taxes, sluggish economic growth, and a declining population that will further accelerate our spiral. 150 years on, we find ourselves engulfed in a new Chicago Fire, but most are too despondent to care.

After all, what good does caring do when our leaders only fan its flames?

While it took years of mismanagement to get here, our current elected officials are uniquely unfit for the present challenges. Whatever “good” intentions they espouse, the fact such intentions consistently produce disastrous results signals something inherently rotten at the core.

Behind every bad outcome lies a bad decision. Behind every bad decision, a bad thought process. I once gave our public officials the benefit of the doubt, but they no longer deserve it. Their incompetence is a danger to the community, their intransigence an impediment to progress. Their moral bankruptcy and economic illiteracy will lead to our collective ruin.

What resides at the heart of this failure? At the highest level, it is an egotistically naïve belief that we are bound to rewrite history rather than repeat it. The idea that we, today, represent the apex of human progress makes a mockery of our inherited wisdom.

Predictably, the results speak for themselves. We haven’t uncovered new insights into human nature, as much as we’ve simply reinforced old ones.

Growth doesn’t result from unsustainable spending and taxing. Peace doesn’t flow from relaxed law enforcement and emboldening anti-social actors. Ambiguous notions of social and economic justice lose all meaning when policies aimed at achieving them leave everyone worse off. In short, prosperity and justice cannot thrive in a state of disorder.

In theory, Illinois’ and Chicago’s problems are relatively straightforward to address: attract more people and businesses to expand the revenue base, which requires improving public safety and making this a more compelling place to live, visit and invest in.

Unfortunately, ideology is standing in the way of rationality. Let’s review some of the most blatant zealotry that masquerades as sound public policy.

To the progressive judges at Cook County Court: how many more violent offenders are you going to let out on lenient bail terms? Are you trying to undermine the police and put the public at risk? Are you seeking to beat last year’s record of over 60 people accused of killing, trying to kill, or shooting someone in Chicago while awaiting trial for a felony? Is this a twisted homage to baseball’s steroid era? Back-to-back seasons of 60+?

To the Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle who endorsed “defunding the police”: do you realize your rhetoric has a corrosive effect? That by demeaning the work of those who keep us safe, the job becomes less desirable? The community less safe? Are you satisfied by the nearly 2,000 officer shortfall we have compared to 2019? Surely you realize a reduction in policing via attrition is defunding by a different name.

To our public defender in disguise as state’s attorney, Kim Foxx: it would be nice if you displayed a fraction of the compassion toward victims of crime as you do toward violent criminals involved in murdering police like Kathy Boudin. It’s admirable you care about justice reform. But leading the charge for the early release of convicts strikes me as the job of a criminal defense advocate. Given that you don’t want to see convictions carried through, it’s now easier to see why your office is so reluctant to press charges in the first place.

To our Governor, JB Pritzker: maybe we can stop talking about how Illinois’ credit rating improved from 50th place to… 50th place, and actually take meaningful action on crime and the rising cost of living. Temporarily rolling back tax increases you enacted doesn’t really cut it. Conveniently forgetting you signed the cashless bail bill hardly fools anyone. For a man with rumored presidential ambitions, if you really wanted to be bold, why not work on improving our unsustainable pension system rather than catering to public unions? That truly would be an effort worthy of bipartisan praise. Safe to say, we’re not getting multibillion dollar federal bailouts again anytime soon.

To our Mayor, Lori Lightfoot: I’m glad you can find the time to travel the country fundraising while our city is mired in chaos. Your tolerance of the 2020 riots is now paying back in spades. You say you’re “concerned” about the “slippery slope” of neighborhoods hiring private security. Well, like many parents, I’m concerned about my kids’ safety. Yet when it comes to your family, you don’t leave anything to chance as evidenced by your 70-strong police detail.

Mayor, you’ve issued a “call to arms” to defend those whose rights you perceive at risk. But how about a word for those suffering in your city? In the past few weeks, we’ve had a shocking execution style robbery in Lincoln Park, multiple mass shooting events, and violent youth riots in the heart of our business and entertainment districts. Crime this year is outpacing a historically bad 2021, yet we are met by your seeming indifference. My experience in life is that people talk the most about the things they truly care for. That’s why your silence here is deafening. It “speaks” volumes.

And to all officials at state and city levels: do you realize we can’t spend and tax our way out of our fiscal hole? If that were the case, we’d be making progress. Yet despite having one of the nation’s highest overall tax burdens, pension and interest costs continue to rise while our substandard services continue to suffer. Do you understand that money doesn’t grow on trees? It grows on the productive output and taxable assets and income of in-state businesses, workers, consumers, and property owners. Unless the city and state intend to build impenetrable walls around our borders, you can’t just tax people to oblivion. People and businesses can leave. Perhaps that’s what you want though, because any sound policies would be focused on how to make this a better place to raise a family or start a business

I could go on, but the point is clear. Seemingly no one in a position of leadership is taking seriously the most important factors impacting our quality of life in the city and state: crime and the economy. The status quo is bound to lead to an eventual collapse. But I guess that’s okay if the collapse is for a “noble” cause…

We are careening toward the proverbial cliff’s edge, to be sacrificed at the altar of political vanity. No one here is willing to do what’s right when what’s right contradicts the party agenda. Or more specifically, the far-left wing of it. Keep in mind, this is an agenda so radical and baseless in its philosophical and economic foundation that esteemed Democrats of the past wouldn’t recognize it for anything but lunacy.

What we see here is not leadership. We see widespread failures. Failure to act in the interest of reason. Failures in courage. Profiles in cowardice.

 

-30-

Stuart Loren is a portfolio manager and market analyst at an investment firm based in the Chicago area. Prior to working in the financial industry, Stuart practiced corporate law in Boston. Stuart received a BA in History from Northwestern University and a JD from Harvard Law School. He lives in Chicago with his wife, two young children and dog.