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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 09:02 pm

A ILLINOIS STATE OF MIND

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Illustration by Chris Ware/mct

Confucius says, “Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” Similarly, David Banner says, “Stuntin’ is a habit; get like me.” In either case — be it ordering the same lunch of Moo Shoo chicken everyday or dialing past the first seven songs on Banner’s Mississippi: The Album just to hear “Cadillac on 22’s” — human beings are creatures of habit.

Nowhere might that truism be more pronounced than here in Illinois when it comes to politics. In the week — is that all? — since the bazillionth public official from the Land of Lincoln, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was nabbed by G-men and charged with political corruption, the national media have bandied about as to what is Illinois’ place in history for producing lawbreaking lawmakers. Are we tops in corruption or 18th, as USA Today determined? Is that shame we feel or do we secretly get a thrill out of being used as fodder for Saturday Night Live’s opening sketch?

Do we know any better? A Rasmussen poll conducted in the wake of the Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal, revealed that 65 percent of Illinoisans saw Blago’s behavior as normal for how politicians operate or weren’t sure. For answers, we sought the help of Jack Fyans, a Springfield psychologist.

“I’m not trying to say we’re like rats but we’ve become habituated,” to corruption, Fyans tells Cap City. People and animals are less likely to respond to something after repeated exposure, he explains.

In our case — or the case of the 524 federal convictions here between 1996 and 2007 – the same might be said for our attitudes toward corruption. “You can get so used to something that you accept it as fact. Illinoisans are so used to it they think it’s normative,” Fyans explains.

So if the people think political thievery is normal, and we elect our officials from among citizenry. . . . You see the dilemma.

As with any habit, ours may be tough to break. “It’s like a smoker — they don’t change until they have a heart attack,” Fyans says. “This thing is going to be the heart attack. I just hope we don’t go back to smoking.”

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