John Kass, the page-two political columnist for the Chicago Tribune, approached the podium at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 15 in front of a packed Elmhurst cafeteria, a box of tissues at his side, and ripped into the America’s political climate.
“Here’s the deal, I’m not feeling well. It’s been a bad week,” said Kass. “This was billed as politics, which I don’t know anything about.”
Officially billed as “Breakfast and Politics,” tables full of sharply dressed professionals and middle-aged community members ate bacon, eggs, and hash browns while Kass gleefully took shots at Republicans, Democrats, and everything in between.
“The Democrats, as you know, cut the leaves of the Obama chia and smoke it. It’s called ‘hopium.’ said Kass. “The other is the ‘dopium’ that I used to smoke as a conservative republican. Now I’m a man without a country, and it feels exhilarating.”
Before he became an ideological expatriate, Kass began his career as a liberal democrat, but disillusioned by the nepotism of Chicago politics, transitioned into conservatism. “Then George Bush cured me of that,” said Kass.
Kass sees little difference between the two parties, believing their intentions lie in buying votes. He noted that Democrats do it with “social programs” and Republicans do it with “defense contracts.”
“Who pays?” said Kass.
“We do,” murmured the audience.
“Look at you!” said Kass.
Kass touched on the polar divide between the two ideologies, comparing them to tribes, headed by the likes of conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, and MSNBC anchor, Rachel Maddow.
“They get you all ratcheted up in your little tribes” said Kass. “You go out like Pavlov’s dog, salivating, and they tell you to press the button.”
To combat this tribal mentality, Kass taught the audience how to use the “moutza,” a common Greek gesture symbolic of pushing excrement into someone’s face, and according to Kass, “the most important political statement you can make.”
“Take your hand—palm out like it says ‘don’t walk,’ alright?” said Kass. “One movement like this, say ‘Nah!’ said Kass, pushing his hand forward, “Nah!”
Following this, the speech took a somber tone, as Kass, in addition to feeling ill, informed the audience that his colleague and friend, Jake Hartford, had passed away from the flu a few days earlier. Hartford and Kass hosted a weekly talk radio show on 89 WLS, the fate of which is uncertain up to this point.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now in terms of the radio,” said Kass. “I don’t know if I want to do it. We’ll see. I think I might like to do it.”
Without missing a beat, Kass quickly refocused his attention to politics, specifically in Illinois, lamenting the future of the state as young people leave to find opportunity elsewhere due to the reckless spending of politicians on both sides.
“All these kids are leaving because they are taking our money. They have spent us into oblivion,” said Kass. “They have taken your children’s futures and spit on it.”
As Kass wrapped up, he was informed that Mayor Rahm Emanuel was speaking at the University of Chicago that night on a panel about gun violence. Kass deliberated attending, noting that the mayor would “probably be nervous,” and in an effort to calm him down, have Emanuel, clad in footy pajamas, sit on his lap so he could read him the story of Rumpelstiltskin.
During the Q & A, Kass fielded questions ranging from whether he respected any politicians, the prison sentence of Rod Blagojevich, rising tuition costs, and gun control. One woman asked, “how do we get out of our tribes and become more informed voters?”
“It’s pretty radical. It takes an investment— not really money so much as time, but this technology is so amazing, it could revolutionize the way things work, said Kass. “It’s called a newspaper.”