Closing a deal

Has the governor taken the wrong guy hostage?

click to enlarge Bruce and Diana Rauner - PHOTO BY ZBIGNIEW BZDAK/TNS
Bruce and Diana Rauner
Bruce and Diana Rauner

Trust me, readers, I am no more eager to write another column about the closing of the Illinois State Museum than you are to read it. I have been moved to do it because the most important aspect of the story is the one that remains the least reported, which is, Why is this happening? The only thing that is clear is that failure to reach a budget deal, Mr. Rauner’s professed reason for the closure, is not the reason for the closure. Brian Mackey, who tells WUIS-FM listeners what they need to know, confessed to Bernie Schoenburg on WSEC-TV’s Capitol View program that “everything is such a mystery right now.” IT’s Bruce Rushton on that same show said, “Is there really something else going on?”

Brothers and sisters, if Rushton doesn’t know what’s really going on, then it’s roll over Machiavelli, and tell Comrade Lenin the news.

Part of the confusion owes to the fact that we all assume there is a political explanation for the decision and can’t find one. But Rauner is no politician, at least not in any sense envisioned by the founders. By that I mean not that he isn’t good at politics – although he isn’t – but that he isn’t interested in conventional politics as a way of settling disputes. Which means there must be some other explanation.

If a murder is committed with violence that is disproportionate to the provocation, the cops usually suspect that the motive might have been personal. Was Rauner frightened by the mastodon skeleton during his fourth-grade field trip? Did a college date with an anthropology major leave a scar? Was the museum targeted because it is backed by English majors and other losers in life’s great race, the kinds of people business majors sneer at as suckers?

Some observers have suggested that Rauner is merely pandering to a yahoo constituency. Paleoecologist Eric Grimm, the director of science at the Illinois State Museum who has been on the staff there for 28 years – he was reconstructing past environments, useful in understanding climate cycles – told the science website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the motive was “malevolent anti-intellectualism.”

Could be. Rauner told a Sun-Times reporter in 2003 that during his youth he realized “economics and business is life.” One shouldn’t read too much into what is said ex tempore to reporters, but that’s a world view one would expect from a man who acquired his education inside that cloister that is the modern business school in which the teachings of St. Babbitt are mastered.

But malevolent? Rauner is not Brownback or Jindal or Kasich or Walker or Haley or Perry or Bush or Scott or LePage. His animus toward science does not appear to be rooted in the poisoned soil from which grew so much of America’s anti-intellectualism, specifically the evangelical Protestant heritage that teaches that truth is  a matter of revelation rather than reason and investigation. I suspect that Rauner does not see science as inimical, as do so many believers of the three Abrahamic religions; it just doesn’t interest him.

Ah, but it does interest others. And here we get closer. Rauner basically kidnapped state government last November, and, determined to show he means businesses, started cutting off his prisoners’ ears and fingers and sending them to the General Assembly with his ransom notes. But kidnapping only works if the threat of death alarms more people than the victim. The museum closing stirred a furor in Springfield, and to a lesser extent in Fulton County, but outside these places the shutdown has had less impact than would closing a fish census station. Rauner finds himself in the situation of the Italian thugs who kidnapped oil heir J. Paul Getty III in 1964; they demanded $17 million from his family but his rich grandfather thought the kid was worth only $2.2 million. In the end, the gang got paid only $2.9 million, and that only because dad took out a loan.

If Rauner is mistaken about the potential force he can bring to bear on the General Assembly as a result of it, then his closing of the ISM and similar stunts is mere vandalism. The people of Illinois had their museum for 138 years. It took a while to build it and it will take a while to rebuild it, but Illinois will have its museum again. Rauner, on the other hand, will soon be gone, to be remembered, like Blagojevich, as a punch line if he is remembered at all.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at

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