To the editors:
Neil Hartigan and his campaign staff must be delighted with Florence Hamlish Levinsohn's article ("What's the Deal With Neil Hartigan," 10/26/90). Laboring mightily to paper over the many significant flaws in Hartigan's record, Levinsohn's piece seems intended to convince "left/liberal" voters that there are valid reasons for supporting the Democratic ticket in this year's race for governor.
In her lengthy article, Levinsohn never once compares Hartigan's positions to those of his principal opponent, Republican Jim Edgar. Instead, she judges him against an abstract standard of political correctness, as measured by complaints by named and unnamed sources from the left/liberal side of the spectrum. In every single case, Levinsohn decides that the source is wrong and Hartigan is right, leading to the conclusion that he is left enough to deserve support from left/liberals.
This "analysis," if you can call it that, is based on a set of assumptions which reflect the poverty of American political discourse: First, there are only two choices in every election. Second, the Democratic choice is always more liberal and forward thinking than the Republican choice. Therefore, liberals and forward thinkers must always vote for Democrats, no matter how unappealing they may be.
Over the years, I've voted for all kinds of unappealing Democrats, because they were less unappealing than the Republicans they were running against. If Illinois Republicans had nominated a genuine neanderthal this year--such as Steve Baer or David Duke--then I would hold my nose and vote for Hartigan. But Jim Edgar isn't scary enough to convince me that Hartigan is truly the lesser of two evils.
In one of the goofier passages in her article, Levinsohn cites Hartigan's "revolutionary effort" to establish "the first state department of aging in the country" as proof of his progressive credentials. In a year which has seen the toppling of autocratic regimes around the globe, surely we can ask for something a little more revolutionary than that from our political leaders.
Besides, what seniors and other deserving citizens in Illinois need is more disposable income, not more state agencies. If Hartigan wanted to do something truly revolutionary in the American context, he might advocate a progressive state income tax, which would redistribute income from the wealthy to the less well off.
That's a little much to expect, of course, from a candidate who has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds from rich contributors. But if Hartigan were at least the liberal reformer that Levinsohn makes him out to be, then he would certainly support the extension of the state income tax surcharge. This would insure that sufficient funds are available for the Department of Aging he is so proud of creating (and for the many other departments which were somehow created without his revolutionary intervention).
Interestingly, Levinsohn's article had no room for a discussion of the state income tax, which is arguably the most important issue in the campaign. Perhaps this is because she could find no way to justify Hartigan's reactionary stance. By calling for an end to the income tax surcharge and claiming he will make up the lost funds by eliminating "waste" in government, Hartigan is pandering to the Reagan-era "revolt of the haves" which has eroded support for government programs and services during the past decade. It is this sort of reactionary thinking which has given us a whopping national debt, crippled schools, crumbling roads and bridges, and a growing income gap between rich and poor citizens.
Since I never support reactionaries or Republicans, my vote this year will go to James Warren, who is running for governor as a write-in candidate for the Socialist Workers Party. I don't know much about Warren, except that he is a steel worker. I am fairly confident, however, that unlike Hartigan, he did not start his political career as an aide to Richard J. Daley, and I doubt that he has ever been a bank executive or a director of a failed savings and loan institution.