In a spectacular reversal of fortune, the Chicago Tribune reported last week that Governor Rod Blagojevich's job-approval rating has dropped to just 40 percent.
In February, a Tribune poll had Blagojevich's approval rating at 55 percent.
Just to illustrate how surprisingly bad these numbers are, a couple of weeks ago, a much-celebrated political pundit refused to comment on a Daily Southtown poll that had Blagojevich's job-approval rating at 48 percent because he didn't believe the result. No way, he said, could Blagojevich's numbers be that low. The poll had to be wrong.
You can't ever rely on one poll when analyzing a situation, but the recent Southtown and Tribune numbers add up to some real trouble for the governor.
For over a year, political insiders have marveled at how Blagojevich could maintain relatively high approval ratings despite a complete refusal to engage in even minimal governance. Blagojevich must be another Jim Edgar, many figured. Edgar was a highly unpopular governor under the statehouse dome, but he was a huge hit with the public.
The latest polls finally begin to reflect what everybody at the statehouse has known for months but won't bring themselves to publicly admit: Rod Blagojevich's administration is a big disappointment.
He has embraced conflict over results by repeatedly attacking the General Assembly and by slamming some of the most popular politicians in the state, including Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. He even took a goofy shot at U.S. Senator Dick Durbin the other day over Durbin's refusal to pick a favorite baseball team.
He is unconscionably self-centered, to the point of being 20 minutes late to the funeral of Senate Majority Leader Vince Demuzio. The funeral was delayed because Blagojevich was scheduled to be the opening speaker. He also skipped his own prayer breakfast, the first time a governor has missed the event in more than 40 years, and then refused to apologize.
He is way too message-oriented and is a relentless panderer. Blagojevich answers almost every question with carefully thought-out, pre-programmed responses specifically designed to appeal to otherwise pre-occupied citizens. It's a mindless exercise that wears thin in a big hurry.
I could go on, but, since his poll numbers are so low, you probably already know what I'm talking about.
Think about this: The Tribune's 40-percent job-approval rating is lower than every national job-approval number for President George W. Bush, who has more problems than we need to get into here. Forty percent is not good. Forty percent is, in fact, pretty darned bad, considering how much time and effort this governor puts into playing to the electorate.
The poll couldn't have come at a worse time for Blagojevich. The governor has gleefully alienated just about everyone in Springfield because he believes he has the people behind him. He has refused to negotiate in good faith because he is convinced nobody would dare risk political annihilation by rejecting his proposals.
The Tribune poll, coming on the heels of the Southtown poll, has undercut the governor's bargaining position during the crucial final days of the spring legislative session. If the Trib's poll is correct, then an alliance with Blagojevich is a suicide pact, particularly downstate, where his numbers are incredibly weak.
Blagojevich would say that the Tribune and Southtown surveys are irrelevant because he doesn't base his decisions on poll results. Wrong. Blagojevich has reported spending an average of about $1,000 a day on polling since the middle of 2002, and we haven't even seen his totals for this year yet. His entire schtick since Day One has been "the people against the powerful." The media polls appear to show that "the people" ain't buying it.
It's way past time for this governor to drop the campaigning and start governing. It's time to change course, forget the kid games, and solve some problems. This is Illinois, not Washington, D.C., or New York, where far too many of his closest advisers hail from.
Illinoisans don't go for the politics of divisiveness or politicians who talk big and don't deliver. We are practical people who want our leaders to work together and come up with practical solutions. We want to get things done. And we deserve a lot better than what we are getting at the moment.
We need less circus and more bread.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).