May 25, 2016



There is no more fearsome -- and fatal -- political affliction as "marginalization." That means that an incumbent office holder's ineptitude, in conjunction with a confluence of events (including term limits), has rendered him or her irrelevant, inconsequential or unelectable.

Marginalization has already infected Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel, it is nipping at Bruce Rauner, and it is festering in Hillary Clinton. The currency of the political realm is longevity or inevitability. Power is based on either staying in office or the likelihood of winning office. Once that perception dissipates, money evaporates and marginalization occurs.

Obama, whose rather desultory second term ends in less than 8 months, is totally marginalized. He spends his time raising money for the Obama Museum, not the Democrats or Clinton. He can't strong-arm a vote on his Supreme Court nominee, and while he issued an executive order mandating states to have transgender public facilities or face civil rights sanctions, the U.S. House refused to pass a law to that effect.

Emanuel has broken all marginalization speed records. He was re-elected unimpressively in April of 2015, and within a few months, when the Laquan McDonald videotapes surfaced, he was immediately marginalized. He has 35 months remaining in his 48-month term, but he is as good as dead and buried politically, and there is no way he will win a third term in 2019.

A military acronym was coined during World War II: SNAFU, meaning "Situation Normal, All (Fouled) Up." That's Chicago, circa 2016. Whatever the mayor says or does, every decision, every headline, the negative blowback exceeds the positive, and he loses more support than he gains. Emanuel, like any astute politician, understands addition as opposed to subtraction, but he's at the point where Chicagoans are no longer blaming him for not solving the city's problems. Instead, they're blaming him for causing the problems. That is an untenable situation.

In the last year alone, think of the array of vote-losing "crises" encountered by Emanuel, including the looming teachers' strike, the Chicago Public Schools' funding shortfall and imminent teacher layoffs, the projected mid-2016 property tax hike to cover pension shortfalls, the court's failure to allow pension modifications, Uber and the taxis, Airbnb and house sharing, the Transportation Security Administration SNAFU at O'Hare and Midway, jet noise, runway reconfigurations, police reform, the Laquan McDonald shooting, the Independent Police Review Authority procedures, a rising murder rate, drive-by shootings, a heroin epidemic, Springfield intransigence, the Lucas Museum and the city budget. Chicago is not being governed, or even managed. It is just adrift.

For every issue on which the mayor takes a stance, he satisfies a few people but he alienates many more, and those he satisfies become alienated on other issues. If anything in Chicago can go wrong, it is. The mayor has built up neither a personal reservoir of goodwill nor a demographic base of affection. On a scale of 1 to 10, his lovability quotient is -2. All he has is money or access to money. Emanuel spent more than $25 million to win a second term. He had only $42,354 on hand as of March 31, and his good buddy Hillary Clinton doesn't even want to be seen with him. Aldermen and Democratic committeemen have abandoned ship, deeming Emanuel toxic. If they want to win in 2019, they need a bunch of anti-Emanuel City Council votes.

Emanuel has been completely marginalized, more so than any Chicago mayor since Martin Kennelly in the early 1950s. His only advantage, if it can be called that, is that nobody who aspires to the mayoralty wants to get out front right now. They don't want to criticize him. They don't want to blame him, because if they did they would have to offer some alternatives. They hope Emanuel sinks into a sea of opprobrium. The next mayor will be the aspirant who says the least, if anything, and lets the mayor and the city self-destruct.

Then, in mid- to late 2018, all the wannabe mayors, including but not limited to Sheriff Tom Dart, Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), John Arena (45th, Roderick Sawyer (6th), Brendan Reilly (42d), Tom Tunney (44th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Mariyana Spyropoulos, along with 2015 runoff loser and county Commissioner Jesus Garcia, will burst forth, all saying that they are the "New Chicago" saviors. Whoever has $1 million and/or is the union-picked puppet of SEIU and AFSCME, who will provide the necessary funding, will make the runoff. The top tier includes Dart, who has been the sheriff since 2006 with a reputation as a criminal justice reformer, Sawyer, with a black base, Waguespack, who would seize the "progressive" standard, like New York's failed mayor Bill de Blasio, Reilly, who has $1,012,213 on hand and who would run as the North Michigan Avenue Gold Coast, anti-Airbnb candidate, and Garcia, who ran creditably in 2015, losing to Emanuel 332,171-258,562 and who would have the support, for whatever it's worth, of Bernie Sanders. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle probably would back Sawyer.

Emanuel is a very intelligent man with a huge ego. Past mayoral losers Kennelly (in 1955) and Jane Byrne (in 1983) got more than a third of the vote, and Mike Bilandic (1979) got 49 percent. Emanuel is on a trajectory to get a solid 20 percent in an eight- or 10-candidate field in 2019. That could eke him into a runoff or make him the worst defeated incumbent in Chicago history. Expect the ever-more-marginalized Emanuel to bail some time in 2017 or early 2018, taking a lucrative job in the private sector. Then, with the City Council choosing the new mayor, Chicago will descend into political and racial chaos, along with fiscal and governmental chaos.

Clinton also is becoming marginalized, along with Obama. It was once deemed inevitable that a woman would be elected president in 2016. Symbolism and superficiality, as occurred in 2008, was supposed to propel the Clintons back to the White House, so the special interests opened the floodgates, dousing her with an anticipated total of $1 billion. "Bill and Hill" would be back. But it's not working out that way.

FUBAR is another antiquated military acronym. It means (Fouled) Up Beyond All Repair. That sounds like America under the Obama Administration, of which Clinton is part and parcel. She will be "Obama, Part II" if she is elected. Obama's 2008 "change we need" has evolved into "change" nobody wants.

In asking people what they think about Clinton vs. Trump, maybe a quarter of the responders say it's a tough choice. They phrase it as being "who is the least worst," but well more than half just mutter "I'm for Trump." For them, voting for Trump is not a choice, it's a statement. They're saying that they don't want what we have. They're saying that despite Trump's stylistic and oratorical shortcomings, he can't be much worse than those who govern now, and they're thumbing their nose at the media, government\ and the liberal elite who portray Trump as a dangerous buffoon.

For Clinton, this is a worst-case scenario. She did not want the 2016 election to be a referendum on the competence of the Obama-Clinton Administration. She did not want a Trump vote to be a "statement." She just wanted a coronation. Now, unexpectedly, the desire for a competent president eclipses the desire for a female president. Clinton's campaign theme has been marginalized.

Finally, there's Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. He promised to cut state spending, but he has a Democratic-controlled legislature, and state expenditures exceed tax revenues by almost $10 billion. The early hype was that Rauner was marginalized from day one, that he would have to accede to a tax hike, and that his no-hike tax-and-spend promises were implausible and would shut down state government.

Well, 17 months into his 48-month term, he's kept his word, and it really wasn't difficult. He simply refused to sign the Madigan-Cullerton 2016 fiscal year budget unless the Democratic majorities appropriated the necessary funding. That meant spending reverted to the 2015 level, and revenues were allocated to "essential" services such as education and public safety. There is about $10 billion owed to Medicaid and social service vendors.

In just 2 months, a fiscal year 2017 budget is due, and it certainly will be delayed until after the November election, as the Democrats don't want to go on record supporting a tax hike. Springfield has become like Washington, where continuing resolutions keep the government afloat absent a budget and tough decisions are avoided.

In Illinois, it is Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton who have been marginalized. They have the power to "solve" Illinois' fiscal plight, but they are afraid to use that power because, by so doing, they might lose that power. Illinois, once the "Land of Lincoln," has become the "Land of the Wusses," and Rauner is the only one who doesn't fall into that category.

To be sure, Rauner may lose in 2018. With the media constantly hammering him for his "insensitivity," polls show him with unfavorables well over 50 percent and, in Chicago, over 70 percent, but when he leaves office he can proudly proclaim that he was never marginalized.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www.