Board Games for Politicians
Does anyone remember when advertisements for the Christmas retail blitz began after Thanksgiving? Now, it seems that the holiday shopping season begins immediately after Halloween. Someday, I am afraid that the nonstop commercials will start airing following Labor Day.
In a more innocent time, we contented ourselves during the long winters of our discontent with such wonderful gifts as board games. The names of companies such as Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, or the Chicago based game manufacturer, Cadaco, were familiar to all of us as children. We did not need game chips and electronics to while away the hours in solitary confinement as seems to be the case for youngsters today. Board games required group participation and some of the games were actually educational.
The coming administration may seek to ban “Monopoly” for promoting capitalism, but the game managed to teach one how to count money. Given the current economic climate, the treasury may soon have to begin printing more “Monopoly” money to distribute during the next bailout. One wishes that the whiz kids from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had learned that mortgages are supposed to be issued to creditworthy people with jobs and assets and the mortgages actually do need to be repaid. These basic economic lessons could have been learned while playing “Monopoly.”
In their collective wisdom, however, the American public chose to elect Democratic candidates to office despite the fact that the Community Reinvestment Act policies of the Democratic party created the mortgage crisis which resulted in the economic meltdown. Perhaps the next board game that a future generation of children will be playing will be called “The Welfare State.”
I credit my interest in geography and “see America first” travel not to the diluted social studies classes that merged civics, geography and history into a clumsy amalgamation, but to playing “The Game of the States.” Sadly, this passe’ game required one to learn sundry details about the fifty states (surely, not fifty-seven yet, Mister Obama), including their capital cities, their populations and their principal industries. Regrettably, most of the manufacturing has been globally outsourced, the smokestack steel mills, automotive factories, the collieries and oil refineries are shuttered to comply with environmental regulations. The game would be far less interesting if one had to list the leading businesses in each state to be service industries and financial institutions. The northern states were not a rust belt when this particular board game was popular.
Parker Brothers created an interesting and educational game that enjoyed a brief vogue during the Seventies which was called “Landslide: the Game of Power Politics.” The objective of the game was for a player to amass enough electoral votes to win the presidency. Yes, the game educated players into the nuances of the Electoral College. What a pity it was that Albert Gore, Jr., and William Daley never played this game before the 2000 presidential election. It would have saved the nation so much time without provoking a near constitutional crisis.
Of course, this game concerned itself with the general election rather than the nominating process. The Democratic party nominating rule changes initiated by former Alderman Bill Singer and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, which resulted in the ouster of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s duly elected slate of delegates from the 1972 national convention that nominated Senator George McGovern, could hardly be fashioned into an explicable board game. The arcane Democratic rules which were intended to empower women and minorities and to confer voting privileges upon “super delegates,” were never fully exploited until that mischief maker David Axelrod helped secure the nomination of Senator Barack Obama in 2008 despite the fact that Obama did not receive a majority of votes from Democratic primary electors and he lacked a sufficient number of actual
elected delegates to win the nomination outright. The super delegates put Obama over the top.
This was all according to Hoyle, given the unique rules which govern the modern Democratic party. When a previous Democratic powerbroker from Chicago wanted to steal the presidential nomination for his preferred candidate, Boss Roger Sullivan had to install one of his precinct sluggers as the sergeant of arms on the convention floor and bar the admission of Mayor Carter Harrison and the duly elected delegates chosen in the Illinois Democratic primary from the assembly hall. Sullivan’s stunt secured the nomination for New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson over the Speaker of the House, Champ Clark of Missouri. Wilson went on to defeat the divided Republican Party (Roosevelt running as a Progressive and Taft representing the party regulars). Later, Wilson claimed that his ambition was to “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” He should have started at home.
One of the depressing details of the “Landslide” game, which struck me as a native Illinoisan, is to see how far the Prairie State has declined in the past thirty years. During the Seventies, Illinois held a total of twenty-six electoral votes. After the next census, it is projected that Illinois will lose another Congressional seat. This will reduce the size of the state delegation in the House of Representatives to eighteen (for a total of twenty
electoral votes, one for each representative, plus two for the senators).
Once upon a time, when Illinois was more prosperous and populous, it commanded thirty electoral votes. There were twenty-six individual congressional districts and two at large districts. The at large representatives were chosen in statewide elections. The at large seats came into being when the legislative map makers were exhausted. One notable politician who served as an at large Congressman was William G. Stratton. Although he was the son of a formerly prominent Republican state politician, Stratton was elected to Congress the hard way. He walked and hitchhiked around the state and visited all of the one hundred and two counties that comprise Illinois during his 1940 campaign. He
managed to accomplish this walking tour more than three decades before a future Democratic governor, Dan Walker, repeated the feat. Stratton later served two separate terms as treasurer before being elected to two terms of governor.
While one could posit various theories to explain the decline of Illinois influence in the Congress and the Electoral College, it is worth noting that the Republican Party dominated Illinois politics before the erosion occurred. Once the tax and spend Democrats took over, businesses and residents began voting with their feet and sought out greener pastures elsewhere. Not all of the retirees and businesses fled the country and went offshore. Some simply moved to the South and West.
In 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush defeated Michael Dukakis, in part, by issuing mock “Get Out of Jail Free” cards patterned after those used in the game of “Monopoly.” That was the last time a Republican presidential candidate carried Illinois. Tony Rezko may be hoping to receive one of those cards from a lucky player who rolled the dice and ended up on Park Place.
Daniel J. Kelley is a regular contributor to “The Chicago Daily Observer.”