Mr. Bailey: As I watch your Illinois gubernatorial campaign against incumbent Democrat J.B. Pritzker teeter on the precipice of irrelevance, and I observe the many rookie mistakes you are making, I want you to know that I am so here for you.
Let’s begin with messaging. Here’s a pro tip from this former speechwriter and the son of parents of the Jewish faith: never use the Holocaust as an analogy, for anything. Ever.
When I heard you say, “The attempted extermination of the Jews of World War II doesn’t even compare on a shadow of the life that has been lost with abortion,” my first thought was: who is running Bailey’s campaign, someone who advertises on the back of matchbooks?
On the subject of abortion, here’s some questions for you: are you in fact capable of giving birth? Do you possess a womb? Can you lactate? No? Then your opinion is meaningless and your cruel stand on a woman’s right to choose is simply the flatulent leaks of a gassy misogynist.
Next messaging problem? Labeling Chicago a “hell hole.” Buddy, now you’re getting on the fighting side of this Chicago-born, South Side kid and perpetually distressed White Sox fan. Indeed, Chicago is a hell hole for many children of color on the south and west sides trying to negotiate their futures within neighborhoods awash with illegal guns and senseless violence, but I sort of suspect this is not the population that concerns you.
Oh, and I have to ask, who thought it a winning strategy to alienate an entire constituency? Did you hire veteran campaign staff from the last Pat Paulsen presidential run? Has your crack[ed] team of advisors told you that Cook County is the largest voting bloc in the state, contains 20 percent of Illinois’ population and that the county’s financial engine sustains the rest of the state? Let me quote from a book that I am sure you have never read, “The Fight to Save the Town,” by Michelle Anderson: “Chicago’s economic output not only drives the Illinois economy but surpasses Ohio’s entire GDP.”
But it’s quite obvious what you are doing: appealing to the lesser angels of the downstate anti-Chicago scrum. When they criticize Chicago what they are really saying is they don’t like a diverse city in which people of color reside and thrive. (But, oh my, do those downstaters brag about the high-paying jobs their sons and daughters land in the Windy City.) It’s all part of the FOX News-propaganda machine, that mythical sky-is-falling Great Replacement Theory, that all that diversity in Chicago will “invade” and “infect” the racial purity of your downstate brethren.
My recommendation: discard the coded language. Just say what I think you really mean: that you fear, migrants, gays, trans, Native Americans, Blacks and Latinos, and, well, anyone not white, straight, Christian with even a trace of a foreign accent. Don’t you know that in these devolving post-Trump years it’s now OK for Republicans to wave the Confederate flag or the swastika and come out as white supremacist? Your most fervent supporters in the far south of Illinois, aka northern Kentucky, will love you for it, and you will probably get a primetime speaking gig at the next the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC).
I’ve never been to your hometown of Xenia, Illinois. I am sure it’s chock full of swell, upstanding people, a pleasant, welcoming place, despite its 14.2 percent poverty rate. And I do not judge negatively that Xenia’s population is down almost 12.3 percent between 2019 and 2020. (Perhaps those Xenia residents moved to the “hell hole” for better jobs.)
Xenia’s poverty and exodus rates: https://datausa.io/profile/geo/xenia-il/
Here’s my advice: Instead of zeroing in on the challenges that face Chicago and, admittingly, there are many, how about offering solutions to the problems that downstate communities face? Do you have a plan to revive places like East St. Louis, Cairo or Savanna? What about areas that have slashed their fire, police and medical support services to the bone in the quixotic spirit of cutting taxes? Are you familiar with the term “safety net”? How do you keep young people from exiting farm communities like Xenia for greener economic pastures? Is affordable housing and education on your radar? How do we interest high school graduates to enter the trades instead of aspiring to be Tic Tok influencers?
What your party excels at are scare tactics while condemning the current administration with conspiracy-driven falsehoods and violent threats.
Aside from cutting taxes for rich folks like you, kowtowing to the NRA-supported gun industry and increasing an already bloated military budget, what your party lacks are intelligent, forward-thinking ideas to ensure that all our citizens get an equal shot at the American dream.
Despite the shout-out from the twice-impeached, disgraced former president, your campaign is on life support. If you can break from your party’s worst tendencies then you might someday have a shot at becoming governor of this great state. But this November? Not a snowball’s chance in a hole in hell.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism. His forthcoming book, “Searching for A Way Home: Misadventures with Misanthropes and Family,” will be published next summer.