Democracy is such a pain.

Think about it.

Typically, if you want to do things that affect the public, your proposal will be reported and examined in the news media, it will be discussed publicly and debated in public government meetings, voted on by elected officials and, when necessary, upheld by the judicial system.

These steps separate our country from those run by “strongmen” who control the media, the legislature and the judicial system and who can decide, without little or no public input, how problems will be solved.

Democracy is, by its nature, messy and slow. But most of us consider it necessary and desirable.

Unless we’re among the powerful who see democracy as an obstacle to getting their way.

Sometimes the powerful find a way to circumvent the democratic process via a philosophy summarized by, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

The idea is that, when the situation is perceived as desperate, the public will be far more accepting of ideas that reasonable people might normally reject as unfair or poorly conceived.

This was how many legislators who knew better justified voting for SB1, the pension-cutting law.

Many who voted for it knew it was unfair and unconstitutional, but their rationale was, “We have to do something.”

Tragic circumstances, involving the kinds of things decent people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy, are what can set the stage for ignoring the democratic process is order to do something.

Which brings us to the editorial page of Illinois’ leading newspaper, the Chicago Tribune.

Editorial writer Kristen McQueary did some wishful thinking about what it might take to get problems in Chicago solved.

Envy isn’t a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.
That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.

And what were the benefits of the tragedy that left thousands homeless, killed more than 1800 people in Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans, many of them drowning in their own homes?

An underperforming public school system saw a complete makeover. A new schools chief, Paul Vallas, designed a school system with the flexibility of an entrepreneur. No restrictive mandates from the city or the state. No demands from teacher unions to abide. Instead, he created the nation’s first free-market education system.

McQueary’s column did not directly reference the New Orleans deaths. Details like that might make her worldview a little…unattractive to reasonable people.

But not mentioning them doesn’t change the fact they happened, or that the grief and desperation resulting from the Katrina tragedy allowed conditions and changes to be imposed on people who, ordinarily, would have insisted on the democratic process being respected. They would have, under normal circumstances, fought tooth and nail against proposals they they believed unfair or unreasonable.

That didn’t happen because New Orleans was devastated by Katrina. Along with the dead, tens of thousands were left homeless, the economy was destroyed. The population of the city dropped by more than half.

So, the writer wishes something similar could happen to the city of Chicago, so the unions and everyone else who thinks change should go through the democratic process can be ignored.

What about the substance of the claims that New Orleans education experienced drastic improvement following a tragedy? Alternet suggests that you be skeptical.

When you realize the many ways statistics such as test score results, school grades, and graduation rates can be bent and distorted to make an ideological argument, you have to wonder whether those data points are adequate, even worthwhile, measures of something as complex as children’s educational development.

When you see a way of doing school impressed on a community by strident outsiders, you have to be concerned whether the cost of usurping democracy is worth whatever gains are being promised.

And when someone comes to your community to sell you on the education reform model created for New Orleans, don’t buy it.

Apparently, the TRIB editorial board was in a buying mood.

Governor Rauner and his supporters in extreme right-wing advocacy groups that masquerade as “think tanks,” and in the editorial board rooms of some of the state’s major newspapers, have been working for years to convince Illinoisans that our circumstances are so dire that we must allow the elites to dismantle public education, destroy the unions, deny assistance to the needy and privatize government services.

They were rebuffed by the Illinois Supreme Court on the pension issue, but they won’t give up.

We need to make a better Illinois. We need to do it fairly, legally and with a goal of bringing up those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

If we adhere to our democratic principles, and don’t allow ourselves to be stampeded into submission by those who wish tragedy on us to get their way, we will get it done.

The right way. The fair way.

The democratic way.

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Understandably, the original column has been edited and modified since this post was drafted. Read the op-ed as originally published (H/T HuffPo)

There are at least two views of what happened to public education in New Orleans after Katrina. (H/T Annice Brave)

The McQueary op-ed caused a firestorm and some post publication back-peddling. Read about that on CapitolFax.