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Political narratives shape international and state issues

Posted: Apr. 16, 2017 12:15 am

Humans are story-telling creatures.

When toddlers fall down, they tell their mothers how they hurt their knee. When young romantics propose marriage, they each have a narrative in mind of how their lives will be.

There are stories in politics, too.

Stories help everyone tell what has happened, what will happen and how things might eventually change.

When President Donald Trump saw the images of civilians in Syria dying from use of poison gas, the story compelled him to respond.

"When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal," Trump said during a Rose Garden news conference. "That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line -- many, many lines."

The U.S. later launched cruise missiles to strike Syrian planes, hangars, fuel and munitions at the airfield where the chemical weapon attack was launched.

The Russians, who have been backing Syrian President Bashar al Assad, didn't include anything about a chemical attack in their narrative. They framed the U.S. missile strike as one nation attacking another nation that should have sovereign control of what happens within its borders. Ah, but they didn't want to extend that blanket statement about sovereignty back to Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. That, the Russians say, is another story.

In Illinois, the long budget impasse has many different story lines.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, went on a 10-city tour last week to tell the story of a broken state that has the nation's highest unfunded pension liability and is sinking further into debt each day.

Rauner told an audience at Quincy's Titan Wheel that Illinois has no more jobs than it had 17 years ago, but has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in that same time. He said Illinois companies are being wooed to more business-friendly states, while governmental dysfunction in Illinois scares business owners and hurts average taxpayers.

Democrats have held a majority during nearly all of the last two decades, and Rauner said the Democrats' plan for fixing the problem is "more spending and raising your taxes."

When a reporter asked him whether the lack of a state budget was hurting the state, Rauner said having an unbalanced budget for the last 30 years hurt worse and resulted in the current financial crisis.

Rauner's message in Quincy was that passing a balanced budget and changing some of the things that hurt Illinois -- high workers compensation costs, some of the most costly state employee pensions in the nation, high reliance on property taxes and the lack of term limits -- need to happen as a package.

Democrats had their own message.

Some took to social media to criticize Rauner for making a political tour when there's no budget. Their message was that Rauner should be working on a budget solution in Springfield -- never mind that the Legislature has been out of town for a two-week break.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, framed the story from the perspective of those hurt by the lack of a budget.

"The need is still great and the destruction (Rauner) is causing to colleges and universities will be hard to reverse. The speaker remains ready to take a balanced approach on the budget," Brown said.

Madigan has frequently said he would welcome a budget vote but does not want the non-budget issues of term limits, pension reform and a property tax freeze thrown in.

Rauner has said with the Democratic majority, unless he insists on major reforms, those issues will never come up for a vote, and the state will keep falling deeper into debt.

In answer to a question during his Quincy visit, Rauner said he's willing to take some of his Turnaround Agenda items off the table if it will result in a balanced budget.

"There is nothing in what I'm recommending that has to be there. If they refuse to do term limits, OK, take it out. If they refuse to do a property tax freeze, OK, take it out. But let's be clear, we've got to have a package together that will allow companies to have confidence and come (create jobs in Illinois). What we can't do is just raise taxes or do nothing because that will never solve our problems," Rauner said.

Republicans and Democrats don't agree on how the story ends. Illinois residents just hope for an end to the crisis narrative soon.

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