Free Toni Preckwinkle! | Bleader

Free Toni Preckwinkle!


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Toni Preckwinkle: Hell hath no fury etc.
Today's Sun-Times contains one news article and two distraught hand-wringers about Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle's remark yesterday that Ronald Reagan deserves a "special place in hell" for his role in advancing the war on drugs. According to the S-T Preckwinkle was speaking at a "leadership conference" at the University of Illinois, hosted by Republican former governor Jim Edgar; she made the comments in response to a question from state rep Chapin Rose, who at the end of the day appeared able to be an adult about it. The story notes that afterward Rose and Preckwinkle "broke with a handshake and no signs of any ill will" with regard to some imaginary decorum Preckwinkle broke in a discussion of a controversial figure who's been dead for eight years and out of the presidency for 24.

Later on Preckwinkle—who the Reader once named the Best Scold in Local Politics—apologized: "This is too complicated to lay all of it out on President Reagan's doorstep," she said, "and inflammatory language only distracts from the larger issue. Drugs, and the failed war on drugs have devastated lives, families and communities. For too long we've treated drug use as a criminal justice issue rather than a public health issue, which is what it is."

She was right both times. It's refreshing to see a public figure take a hatchet to the cult of Ronald Reagan—arguably not the worst president in recent memory only because of some stiff competition from George W. Bush—and at a Republican-hosted event, no less. In an op-ed accompanying the Sun-Times piece, columnist Mark Brown wonders if Preckwinkle "truly believes" in her "heart of hearts" whether hell is the precise location of Reagan's eternal rewards, a question about which the reader is challenged to truly believe relevant or interesting.

In fact the reader may be forgiven for just going ahead and parsing the content of Preckwinkle's specific complaint, which was the legacy of Ronald Reagan, who gifted the country with mandatory minimum sentencing, federal sentencing guidelines, and an exuberant, incalculably harmful expansion of the prison system, all with respect to drug policy (also union busting, supply-side economics, racist stereotyping of welfare recipients, illegal arms smuggling, and what have you). Not for nothing, but Preckwinkle appears to have provided some historical context herself to the "hell" comment—"the former high school history teacher brought up Reagan's legacy-building, drug-prevention efforts and criticized them for subjecting low-level offenders to jail time," all before condemning the former president to the lake of fire—though the Sun-Times doesn't provide any direct quotes from that part of the discussion. And Preckwinkle was right in the content of her apology—the war on drugs preceded Reagan (the coinage is attributed to Richard Nixon), and it succeeded him, and it's been embraced with high enthusiasm by politicians of all persuasions. Brown points this out in his column, eventually deciding that the Reagan non-troversy probably won't affect Preckwinkle's career.

A few pages later, in an editorial facing another editorial lauding Preckwinkle for her efforts to reform the Cook County juvenile justice system, there is yet more opinionatin' on her hellaciously accurate (I mean, accurate as a rhetorical device; I'm not making any theological claims here) remarks, under the headline "Toni's goofy circle of hell." Much shorter, this one says nothing Brown didn't say all the way back on page seven (where the Preckwinkle coverage was sandwiched, in the News section, between Sneed and an article called "Cat-astrophe")—but what's the harm in piling on about such a vital nonissue? In fact the Sun-Times editorial says very little at all, save this gratuitous non sequitur: "Perhaps Preckwinkle momentarily thought she was back home in Hyde Park, trading liberal quips over wine and cheese."

Perhaps, right? Just a "quip," shared among girlfriends, in liberal Hyde Park.