Back in November and December, while Republicans across the country were writing letters, calling in to talk radio, and even taking to the streets to protest Al Gore’s attempt to steal the election in Florida, their fellow party members in Rockford remained strangely silent. They must have found it disquieting when the Bush campaign kept insisting that machines are more accurate than humans. After all, it’s been a staple of local Republican belief for almost 20 years that Rockford Democrats have manipulated computerized counting machines to steal at least three of the last five mayoral elections.

In theory, at least, it’s possible. As James J. Condit argued in Chronicles four years ago (“A House Without Doors,” Views, November 1996), the same technology that simplifies the process of counting votes also makes it much easier to steal an election. Since computerized counting is conducted at central locations, ballots must be moved, which means there’s an opportunity to substitute pre-punched ballots for the ones voters actually used. If that fails, the counting machines’ computers can be programmed to return the desired result.

While I have been a poll-watcher during one local election and have observed the vote counting after another, I’ve seen no evidence that local Democrats have actually tampered with either ballots or counting machines. But I am convinced of the truth of a related conspiracy theory: Most politicians in Rockford are heavily influenced by a small group of public contractors and real-estate developers. Their own campaign-finance disclosure statements on the Illinois Board of Elections website ( provide plenty of evidence.

But if everyone here in Rockford has heard that the last two mayors have simply been pawns of monied interests (and everyone has), then why have the Democrats won the last five mayoral elections in a city routinely described as Republican? The simple answer could be that local voters just don’t care.

There may, however, be more at work here. When most people—in Rockford or elsewhere—hear the word “conspiracy,” they think of a cabal aimed at overturning the will of the people. That’s certainly the way popular literature, movies, and TV shows portray conspiracies. But if you were trying to gain power (or wealth) in the modern world, why would you set yourself against the people? It’s much easier to present yourself as their champion. Give them what they want, and they will return the favor.

Both Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and the Cigarette-Smoking Man on The X-Files understood this. So, too, did the interests that backed Rockford Democratic mayoral candidate John McNamara in 1981. A blue-collar town heavily dependent on the aerospace industry, Rockford had been hit hard by the recession of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Unemployment was over 20 percent; factories were closing; new businesses weren’t taking up the slack. Rockford was on its way to becoming a ghost town.

Helped along by the Reagan military buildup (which revitalized Rockford’s industries), John McNamara gave the people what they wanted—economic recovery—while enriching his benefactors through a series of public-works projects (knocking down Rockford’s historic buildings and erecting Soviet-style ones), tax breaks, and zoning changes that encouraged private development. By the time McNamara left office in 1989, Rockford’s economy had not only rebounded but added a service sector (read: strip malls and chain restaurants). The public-works contractors and real-estate developers who had supported him were firmly entrenched, and he was able to handpick his successor: our current mayor. Democrat Charles Box. Box has nurtured the city’s relationship with McNamara’s benefactors, and McNamara himself became president of the parent company of the chief public-works contractor, Rockford Blacktop.

Because many of us don’t like the intimate connection between Rockford Blacktop and our city government, we often forget that most people in Winnebago County don’t mind as long as the roads that Blacktop builds make it easier for them to drive from the vinyl-sided ranch houses they bought from Gambino Realtors to the strip malls that Sunil Puri’s First Rockford Group built. In other words, those who supported John McNamara in 1981 have triumphed—not by working against the people, but by recognizing what they wanted and using that knowledge to gain power and wealth. (If government weren’t involved, libertarians would undoubtedly proclaim this a stunning example of the virtues of the free market.)

That doesn’t change the fact that a small elite dominates the government of Rockford and Winnebago County for its own enrichment, but it changes the political dynamic. Those of us who recognize what’s wrong here in Rockford can’t count on setting it right by winning elections—particularly since politicians in both parties realize which side their bread is buttered on. Our next mayoral election (in April) will pit a Democratic state representative with strong ties to the McNamara/Box machine against a Republican businessman who shares a campaign- finance chairman—and several key supporters—with the current Democratic mayor. What’s the point of having two parties?

At its root, the degeneration of modern democracy is a cultural problem, not a political one. Once political power is vested in the people, all that stands between oligarchy and freedom is the virtue of the masses. In the 18th and 19th centuries, “popular” revolutions failed because the revolutionaries didn’t realize the extent to which the people were still attached to throne and altar. But now, the throne is occupied by the likes of Bill Clinton and the altar is attended by Jesse Jackson, and Americans don’t mind. They may say they do; they may even think they do; but their actions speak louder than their words. Bill Clinton could have awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Prince of Lies, and he would still have left office with a 70-percent approval rating. (Come to think of it, he did award the medal to the Reverend Jackson.)

So why do local Republicans continue to believe that the only way Mayors McNamara and Box could have won power was by stealing elections? The trouble is not that they can’t see the forest for the trees, but that they mistake one tiny leaf for the whole of human existence. Yes, many who desire power are corrupt; yes, sometimes they break the law to achieve their ends; but often, they don’t have to. Why overthrow governments, stuff ballot boxes, or manipulate counting machines when you can achieve your ends simply by saying what the people think they want to hear, while doing what the people actually want done?

At the end of George W. Bush’s four or eight years as President, Roe v. Wade will still be the law of the land, more states will have recognized homosexual “marriages,” more American businesses will have moved overseas, more women and homosexuals will have joined the military, more Americans will have died while killing innocent civilians in countries we have no business attacking, multiculturalism and bilingualism will have increased their hold on American education (remember, Pater’s Department of Education first dreamed up Goals 2000), and immigration—both illegal and legal—will have increased. And here in Rockford, no matter which party wins the next mayoral election, Rockford Blacktop will still pave our streets, Sunil Puri will still level farmland and forests to put up strip malls and vinyl-sided ranches, and “Dr.” Richard Ragsdale will still murder babies. Because, in the end, that’s what the people want.

History is indeed made by men in a room somewhere; but in the modern era, those men have found that it’s easier to control the course of events by adding on to the room and letting more folks inside. Soon—perhaps already—those of us on the outside will be in the minority.




Psst. Hey, you—the guy at the keyboard. Your conclusions may he right, hut your theory’s all wrong. Wanna know the truth about the presidential election? It was all rigged from the beginning—has been, in fact, since at least 1988. That’s why George Senior was so smug in those early primaries, and Bob Dole was so frustrated. He knew he couldn’t win; wasn’t supposed to. And 1992? Give me a break. No sitting president could run such a bad campaign unless he were trying to throw the election.

You see, it was all a setup. The Skull and Bones know that the American people are a bunch of suckers who can’t get past the appearance of a two-party system. What better way to hide the fact that they’re pulling the strings than to remove the pachyderm puppet from the stage once in a while, and replace him with a jackass marionette? Clinton’s not a Bonesman, but he is Yale Law, so he knows the score. This year, however, it was time to bring the presidency back home. So they crowned Dubya almost a year before the first primary and forced the only man who represented a threat out of the GOP and into a dead-end third party. The stage was set: They knewAl Gore would play along—after all, he’d picked a graduate of Yale and Yale Law as his running mate. (Surely you didn’t think Bill Buckley took such a shine to Joe Lieberman because of his religious values?)

But then the Boners made a mistake: They thought it would be fun to have a real horse race, but they cut it too close in Florida. Tired of playing second fiddle to his father, to Clinton, to Tipper, to Joe, and now to some smug son of a Bonesman—Al grabbed the bow and started calling the dance. But he forgot one things Clarence Thomas. Yale Law. (You didn’t think George Senior nominated him just because of his race, did you?) The poor sap didn’t have a chance.

Funny thing is, it all worked out better for the Bonesmen this way. Al couldn’t let the American people know just what he was fighting against—most of them would have thought he was nuts. And now, all those conspiracy theorists who used to think that Skull and Bones or the CFR or the Trilateral Commission or the Rockefellers or the Bilderbergers might be calling the shots have fallen right into line. After all, the Democrats tried to steal the election, and the Republicans would never do that, right? Next time, the Bonesmen may not even need to swap marionettes.

Anyway, that’s the real reason those Republicans in Rockford were so quiet during the Florida recount: THEY KNEW.

Pass it on.