Last night I attended another candidates forum for the race to replace Jesse Jackson Jr’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Having attended quite a few by this point, my main takeaway is that the people of the Second District have a sorry, sorry slate from which to choose, barring a few.

The event was held, quite ironically from my point of view, at the Historic Pullman Foundation. Pullman, Illinois, was the Utopian town built by George Pullman, president of the eponymous Pullman Palace Car Company.

Pullman thought he could ameliorate some of his workers’ sorry living conditions by developing a community where everything was provided and all were more or less equal: homes with a set rent, a Pullman bank, Pullman church, etc. The Utopian vision failed, due to a tanking economy and the implausibility of the idea itself. Pullman keep his workers’ rents at the same rate even as their wages plummeting, eventually ending in the Pullman strike of 1894.

Utopian (and far-fetched) would be a nice way to describe most of the candidates for IL-02’s views.

The slew of candidates running for their party’s nomination, which hovers around 22, 17 Democrats and 5 Republicans, is remarkably uninformed. Only a few of the Democrats appear to be able to marry a passing understanding that they are running for federal office with a lack of the stench of corruption. Debbie Halvorson, for example, repeatedly had to remind her fellow panelists that many of the issues they were discussing had nothing whatsoever to do with a congressman’s duties.

It’s important to understand how pathetic the candidates’ comments are. My top 5 of the night:

  1. Candidate Anthony Beale (D), on how Congress has more options than the local and state governments: “The federal government does not have to have a balanced budget. They can go into the basement and print money!”
  2. Candidate John Blyth (D): “George Pullman was a real Tea Party guy!” [met with confused silence from the audience]
  3. Candidate Cliff Eagleton (D): “We need a massive public works system.”
  4. Candidate John Blyth (D): Suggested that we add more birds to the district in order to help the natural resources
  5. The most awkward moment of the night was when Democrat candidate and convicted child sex offender former Congressman Mel Reynolds randomly received a question from the audience about the importance of reputation and the tarnished ethics of those in Congress. 

The media has been, of course, defending the Machine-friendly candidates (is it Toi Hutchinson or, more likely, Robin Kelly?) and covering for candidates like Mel Reynolds, as the Tribune did in describing the Dem candidates in its recent endorsement of Robin Kelly. From the Chicago Tribune:

And we’ll say this for former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, who surrendered the seat in the mid-1990s and was sent to prison. His campaign is quixotic, but he has rebuilt his life and taken this opportunity to acknowledge his mistakes.

“Quixotic.” What a pass from the Tribune.

Interestingly, the self-described frontrunner (read: “internal poll”) for the Dems, Robin Kelly, has been AWOL from the campaign trail for the past week, missing at least three forums along with Toi Hutchinson, who also has been out of sight. Kelly did show up as guest of Cong. Bobby Rush at the State of the Union, but her remaining absences show either she’s afraid she’ll say something stupid (see above), or is so assured of a win by her Super PAC, Daily Kos, Chicago Tribune, and David Axelrod cover that she doesn’t even bother to attend anymore.

If I were a Democrat, I’d be pushing for Halvorson who has been doggedly hitting the campaign trail, running as a centrist, has no help from the Machine (is in fact being attacked by it), and at least understands the basics about our system of government.

As for the Republicans, it’s down to two, Paul McKinley and Eric Wallace. The third, McAllister, must be off with Kelly and Hutchinson wherever they have absconded to because he’s been missing from events too.

Wallace is a sound Republican who was brave enough to articulate his views last night in a crowd mostly hostile to conservatives. Unfortunately he’s a bit too “Mitt Romney” in a race where we need a “Sarah Palin.” I hope the GOP voters will understand this important distinction. As the GOP was tempted and succumbed to picking Romney, they lost.

Paul McKinley, the self-described “imperfect candidate,” the one who’s a prior-offender rather than a pre-offender, once again got the biggest reactions from the mostly Democrat crowd. A man behind me murmured as McKinley spoke, “Now that’s my man right there.” Where others droned on, he shook people to their core, and more than once Debbie Halvorson lamented coming after him after the reaction from the crowd.

The candidates were all asked whether they would further enshrine the failed Utopia of Pullman as a National Park; it’s clear there’s no need. The candidates for the Democrat nomination are living in their own la-la-land where Congress acts on issues of local jurisdiction, where “bring more birds” is an appropriate answer from a candidate, and where no media hold them accountable. The Utopia, or Dystopia, remains in the heart of Pullman.