Voters are angry, and they’re ready to tear down the institutions of government.
That was the message this week from former Gov. Jim Edgar and Christopher Kennedy, scion of the Kennedy political dynasty, at a luncheon held in Springfield this week by the Better Government Association.
Although coming from different sides of the political spectrum, the two commentators offered similar takes on the presidential campaign, Illinois legislative races and a growing lack of public trust in politics.
Addressing the first presidential debate held on Monday, Edgar and Kennedy shared their distaste for Republican nominee Donald Trump and a belief that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the debate.
Edgar, a Republican who served as Illinois governor from 1991 to 1999, said Clinton was more prepared and more “presidential” in the debate. One of the first prominent Republicans to say he wouldn’t support Trump, Edgar has made no secret of his opposition to Trump. Edgar said he has never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate, and although he wouldn’t say whether he would vote for Clinton or a third-party candidate, he did say he couldn’t vote for Trump – primarily because of the candidate’s lack of foreign policy prowess.
“I’ve come to appreciate (that) a lot of the things he’s said, I don’t think he really means,” Edgar said. “He does say things for shock, but a president can’t do that. A president has to choose his words very carefully.”
Still, Edgar said there is a chance that Trump could win. Christopher Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises in Chicago, said it’s highly likely that Clinton will win.
Kennedy said the 2016 race is the first in several election cycles in which the candidates are fighting for undecided moderate voters instead of focusing on their bases. Kennedy said the reason for Trump’s popularity – despite the candidate’s lies, thinly veiled racism and frequent scandals – is that American voters feel betrayed by the political establishment, as evidenced by the large numbers of swing voters in recent election cycles.
“People are sick of candidates making promises that they’re going to bring change – that the Democratic Party is the party of change or the Republican Party is the party of change,” Kennedy said. “Those promises have not been kept. There’s this enormous frustration among Americans.”
Kennedy said that frustration leads voters to distrust the political establishment, setting the stage for the destruction of the nation’s political system.
“The fact that so many people are willing to put up with a candidate who repeatedly lies, repeatedly changes his position, knows so little about what he’s talking about, and they don’t care … that, I think, should scare everyone in this room,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the discussion, Edgar agreed, pointing at the lack of a full, balanced state budget in Illinois as one example.
“I think a lot of people are mad,” Edgar said. “They don’t think government’s working. It doesn’t take much in Illinois to understand why they’d be mad. Illinois government’s not working.”
Edgar related a memory of a former boss, W. Russell Arrington, a prominent Republican state lawmaker who served from 1945 to 1973 and to whom Edgar referred to as “the father of the modern legislature.”
“He told me, ‘Jim, we’re not here for politics; we’re here to solve problems,’ ” Edgar said. “We’re not solving problems, and that’s the worst politics there is.”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.