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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 05:09 pm

When Quinn speaks ‘truth to power’ he forgets he’s talking to himself

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Gov. Pat Quinn
One of Gov. Pat Quinn’s favorite lines is “I speak truth to power.” He uses it almost all the time, and has for years.

It appears to be a verbal tic. Quinn has grown so accustomed to saying it for so long that he can’t stop himself. He said it once while explaining how he would pitch his income tax hike plan to average voters.

The governor has several of these verbal tics. He talks about the “chirpers on the sidelines,” and how there is always “more than one way to get to Heaven.” His favorite little phrase for his Democratic primary opponent Dan Hynes is “ankle biter.”

Quinn’s constant use of those little phrases, but particularly his “truth to power” line, give us a window into how he thinks. It’s no surprise. He’s been a populist forever.

The “truth to power” phrase also defines how the media have covered Quinn throughout his career. The unwavering story line is that Quinn is the outsider, the rock thrower, the lone voice in the wilderness shouting for the common man.

Yet, Pat Quinn is now the governor of a major industrialized state. And the media coverage hasn’t changed all that much. While certainly not omnipotent, he is most definitely a major “power,” but watch the coverage and sometimes you wouldn’t know. Being the governor means Quinn’s actions now have very serious consequences, unlike in the past.

And that brings us to the bizarre situation of Gov. Quinn publicly bashing the Illinois General Assembly almost every day for the past couple of weeks or so because it passed a budget which didn’t fully fund a college scholarship program known as the Merit Award Program, or MAP for short.

“The General Assembly decided to only fund the first semester of college scholarships. That’s not acceptable, we have two semesters here,” Quinn told a rally at Northern Illinois University a couple of weeks ago. Quinn then vowed to punish lawmakers with unending special sessions if they didn’t come up with a solution during the October veto session.

What the governor consistently failed to mention during that and other speeches — and what the media have just as consistently failed to report — is that Quinn signed the state budget into law. The very same budget with the underfunded MAP program.

There’s an old saying in politics: “You sign it, you own it.” In other words, that’s Quinn’s budget now.

Not to mention that Quinn himself said in July that he had “no reservation” about signing the new budget. And not to mention that it was Quinn’s administration which decided to spend every penny of the drastically reduced MAP grant money during the fall college semester without a plan in place to pay for the scholarships during the spring semester, leaving thousands upon thousands of students in the lurch. And, it was Quinn who decided not to use his broad emergency budget powers granted to him by the General Assembly last summer to move money around to prop up the scholarship program.

Somehow, this situation is entirely the General Assembly’s fault, Quinn says while speaking “truth to power,” and the media echo his every word. Apparently, Quinn is still the lieutenant governor or the state treasurer. He’s not responsible at all for a state budget that he signed. He’s just out there throwing rocks at “power,” and that act alone is deemed the whole story.

If Quinn doesn’t know that this is at least partially his fault, then he is delusional. I don’t believe the governor is that far gone — although at times I vastly underestimated the delusion levels of two previous governors, so I guess I could be wrong again. I wrote a column once declaring that Rod Blagojevich was sane. Oops.

To me, at least, it’s beyond obvious what the governor is doing here. Quinn got himself in big trouble and now he’s lashing out at somebody else to draw attention away from him. It’s just about the oldest political gimmick in the book, and it’s so simple that you’d think somebody else would notice.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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