Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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President Joe Biden drew a boatload of criticism this week when he compared those who don’t support his proposed voting-rights legislation with rabid racists and segregationists.

But U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., one of Biden’s most loyal supporters, embraced his incendiary claim that Durbin’s Republican Senate colleagues characterized as not just false but intentionally insulting.

Durbin’s only concession to critics of Biden’s speech was the suggestion that “perhaps” the rhetoric was too heated.

“Perhaps the president went a little too far in his rhetoric — some of us do — but the fundamental principles and values at stake are very similar,” Durbin told CNN.

Biden is urging the Senate to alter filibuster rules — those that permit unlimited debate — so that it can pass legislation federalizing election rules. Currently, individual states oversee their elections.

Biden said those who will not follow his policy recommendation — including Democratic U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema — are akin to historical figures known for treason (Confederate President Jefferson Davis), physical abuse of civil-rights protesters (1960s-era Birmingham, Ala., Director of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor) and segregation (Alabama Gov. George Wallace).

“Do you want to on the side of John Lewis or ‘Bull’ Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” Biden asked during a Georgia speech.

Durbin characterized Biden’s words as “stark” but accurate because Republicans are “taking step by weary step to ensure fewer Americans vote.”

From tragedy to farce

Illinois is in a heap of fiscal trouble, to the point that one could call it tragic.

But help of sorts is on the way, and some will characterize it as farce.

Former Chicago radio shock jock Erich “Mancow” Muller announced in a television interview this week that he plans to run as an independent candidate for governor in November.

Assuming he follows through on his pledge to get his name on the ballot, Muller’s rhetoric foreshadowed a tongue-in-cheek approach.

“I am serious. I’ve decided I want to be the captain of the Titanic,” he said, making an obvious comparison between that doomed passenger ship and the state of the state of Illinois.

Noted for his cutting language on the radio, Muller said his interest is in cutting back government intrusions on citizens.

“What I want to do is leave people alone,” Muller said. “I want to roll back gas taxes and cut those in half.”

While dubbing Illinois Democrats “dummy-craps,” Muller acknowledged his past public comments leave him vulnerable to criticism.

“The commies are good at the propaganda,” he said. “As far as skeletons in my closet, I’ve got a graveyard; I get it.”

On the corruption front

Perhaps the third time will be the charm for indicted Chicago-area state Sen. Tom Cullerton, who’s accused of stealing roughly $275,000 from the Teamsters Union.

The Villa Park Democrat was scheduled to go to trial next month in federal court.

But thanks to the coronavirus, Cullerton’s trial this week was delayed for the second time. As of now, it is expected to take place in April, although nothing is for certain.

“This is the world we’re in today,” said U.S. Judge Robert Gettleman. “Hopefully, we’ll be out of it sooner rather than later.”

Authorities said the second delay is necessary because of “COVID-19 scheduling requirements that put defendants who are in custody at the front of the line.”

Cullerton has been free on bond since his 2019 indictment on charges of embezzlement, conspiracy and making false statements.

The indictment alleges that he obtained a no-show Teamsters job and pension benefits at the same time he was extolling his virtues for not signing up for the state’s legislative pension.

Cullerton faces a tough re-election fight for two reasons — the indictment and the gerrymandering of his Senate district by Democrats embarrassed by their colleague’s indictment.

Death of a critic

Author, musician, Wall Street Journal drama critic and former University of Illinois graduate student Terry Teachout died this past week.

His death was acknowledged in a number of national publications, including his home paper.

“An artistic savant of wide erudition, Terry had written reviews and other pieces for our books and art pages as long ago as 1987,” the Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial tribute. “He took on the role of weekly theater critic with gusto in March 2003, and he made reviews a favorite destination for readers as the weekend approached.”

The editorial also included link to Teachout’s previous work for the newspaper.

Born in Sykeston, Mo., Teachout attended graduate school at the UI from 1983-85. He was a pianist and bass player who loved jazz and classical music.

A prolific writer, he authored biographies of music greats Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong and journalistic iconoclast H.L. Mencken. He also authored a one-act play about Armstrong that the Journal said “ran in an off-Broadway theater to good reviews.”

During his stay at the UI, Teachout made his presence felt as he commented on various issues on campus.

One aspect of Teachout’s work distinguished him from other New York City-based theater critics.

“Terry made a particular mark by exploring the American theater beyond Broadway,” the Journal wrote. “He was a tireless champion of regional theater, reviewing more productions than any other critic. The Journal is a national newspaper, and Terry told readers about actors and producers worth celebrating and seeing around the country.”

Teachout was 65.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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