It’s not terribly hard to get elected to political office these days. All you need are lots of money, well-heeled connections (preferably of the family variety), a dash of luck, and some clever campaign tactics to bring the vote home. Given this short and simple list, it’s a wonder more of us aren’t running.
First, you’ve got to have money. Lots and lots of it. The higher your office aspirations, the more you need. To get this money, you must make connections with people who have money.
Yes, you could work like a dog to earn money and cultivate your connections. But sheer luck is quicker and much less exhausting. Being born into a rich and/or politically connected family is a marvelously effective conduit to money and its siblings, power and influence.
If you’re considering families to be born into, check out the Romney, Kennedy, or Bush clans if you plan to compete for state or national office. In Chicago, I recommend having Daley, Jackson, or Madigan as your last name. Here in Will County, a good way to an Illinois General Assembly job is to be born a Walsh or McGuire.
Next, you need to figure out what you stand for on the great issues of the day. But don’t get bogged down by complicated stuff like foreign policy or pension reform. Given Americans’ long-established preference for style over substance, I recommend utilizing some generic yet appealing phrases such as freedom, opportunity, lower taxes, and the middle class. These are patriotic, battle-tested, and delightfully vague non-positions that appeal to folks across the political spectrum.
Finally, don’t forget to use tactics: practical campaign strategies carefully engineered to cultivate votes. Two wonderful examples of tactical mastery are currently on display right here in Will County.
State Representative Larry Walsh, Jr. (D-86th District) definitely knows how to get his name out there. Appointed by a special Democratic committee last spring to replace Jack McGuire (who conveniently retired right after his election when he suddenly realized he just wasn’t up for the job anymore), Walsh is a relative newcomer to state politics with a high profile name. His dad, Larry Walsh, is the longstanding Chief Executive Office of Will County, a former state senator, and one of the area’s most recognizable politicians.
Wisely, Rep. Walsh, Jr. has designed his campaign signs to highlight his name in big bold letters — LARRY WALSH — while including the “Jr.” as a teeny-tiny afterthought that you can barely see without a magnifying glass. Even though most voters don’t know beans about Walsh, Jr. himself, they sure recognize his name. You can’t buy publicity like that — though you can be born into it (see above).
But for sheer political brilliance and understated bravado, there’s Jesse Jackson, Jr., the embattled and recently reclusive US Representative from IL’s 2nd Congressional District who is heading toward a landslide victory despite not having shown up at his office for the last four months, let alone hit the campaign trail.
Reportedly suffering from mental and gastrointestinal illness, and politically buffeted by two different ethics-related inquiries, Jackson realizes that saying and doing nothing at all as the entrenched incumbent is the most expedient route to re-election while facing two overmatched and unknown challengers, Republican Brian Woodworth and Independent Marcus Lewis.
Sometimes in politics, small is beautiful. And silence can be golden.
A version of this essay was published as my regular op-ed column in the 28 Oct. 2012 edition of the Joliet Herald-News as “Illinois One Big, Happy, Political Family.”