It was probably no accident that Governor Rod Blagojevich chose a Naperville school last week to unveil his proposal to criminalize the sale or rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors. If he had used an impoverished inner-city school as a backdrop, the assembled parents might have asked him about the real-life violence that their children face every day.

If he had taken his road show to a financially distressed Downstate or suburban- Chicago school, parents might have asked what he planned to do about their school district's forced over-reliance on property taxes because of the state's inadequate level of education funding. Or maybe someone would have asked about all the political cronies and hacks he's installed at the newly revamped State Board of Education. Or they could have asked him what he's doing about the meth epidemic that's decimating Downstate communities, or the state's rapidly disappearing industrial base.

Naperville, with its low crime rate, low unemployment, and well-funded, highly rated schools, was most certainly a safe choice.

The issue itself is a surefire political winner. The media coverage of Governor Blagojevich's announcement has been astounding, and the notoriety gained from the issue will provide plenty of opportunities for future press pops.

If editorial writers and civil libertarians bemoan the proposal's First Amendment implications, the governor can unabashedly "stand up for family values."

If the General Assembly refuses to impose tougher penalties on retailers, then the governor can huff and puff about how legislators are bowing to the "special interests."

And, as might be expected with our governor, the issue polls well.

A whopping 85 percent of parents believe that violence in media contributes to violent behavior in children, and 88 percent said the amount of sexual content contributes to children becoming sexually active at younger ages. The poll of 1,000 parents was conducted last year by Common Sense Media, a California-based organization that's funded by some big-bucks Left Coasters and that published a glowing editorial on its Web site last week in favor of the governor's plan. The organization conducts an annual awards ceremony, and Blagojevich is sure to be an honoree next year, which will give him more access to that prime California campaign cash.

The governor even got to drop the hallowed name of John F. Kennedy last week, putting himself and the late president into the same news story for the first time. The guv said he was outraged when he saw that a video-game maker had re-released JFK, Reloaded, which allows game players to assume the role of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

He even has a fancy new Web site to complement the one he set up to help seniors buy foreign prescription drugs that nobody is using. The site is owned by Chicago PR firm Jascula Terman.

Notwithstanding all the cynical criticism that he deserves for his pandering, media-hound ways - and the very real probability that what he wants to do is unconstitutional - the governor does have a valid point.

Retailers have brought this wrath on themselves. Former Attorney General Jim Ryan conducted sting operations a few years back that proved retailers were renting and selling violent and sexually explicit games to minors. There has been some effort at self-policing since then, but too many retailers have continued business as usual. The same stores that would never sell Playboy magazine at all (let alone to minors) too often sell or rent clearly inappropriate games to underage kids.

A Gallup poll found last year that 70 percent of adolescent males had played Grand Theft Auto, a super-violent game in which players kill prostitutes and do other nasty things. Eighty-seven percent of pre-teen and teen boys have played an "M" (for "Mature") rated game, according to the National Institute on Media & the Family.

If those numbers are true, then parents are doing a really poor job of policing their kids' gaming habits. But attacking almost every parent in America is not a politically practical idea. Going after the retailers allows everyone, including those same parents, to feel warm and fuzzy about a governor who is "doing something."

It's not that I begrudge the governor's true genius for sniffing out issues that guarantee him maximum national exposure. It's just that I wish he would spend half as much energy and brainpower on some of the more difficult-to-solve, long-festering problems that plague this state.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (

Support the River Cities' Reader

Get 12 Reader issues mailed monthly for $48/year.

Old School Subscription for Your Support

Get the printed Reader edition mailed to you (or anyone you want) first-class for 12 months for $48.
$24 goes to postage and handling, $24 goes to keeping the doors open!

Click this link to Old School Subscribe now.

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher