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 school, parents might have asked what he planned to do about their school districts forced overreliance on property taxes because of the states inadequate level of education funding. Or maybe someone would have asked about all the political cronies and hacks hes installed at the newly revamped State Board of Education. Or they could have asked him what hes doing about the Meth epidemic thats decimating downstate communities, or the states 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 Blagojevichs announcement has been astounding and the notoriety gained from the issue will provide plenty of opportunities for future press pops.
If editorial writers or civil libertarians bemoan the proposals 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 notoriously poll-driven 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 1000 parents was conducted last year by Common Sense Media, a California-b ased organization thats funded by some big bucks Left Coasters and which published a glowing editorial on its website last week in favor of the governors 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 website to complement the one he set up to help seniors buy foreign prescription drugs that nobody is using. The website 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 where players kill prostitutes and do other nasty things. 87 percent of preteen and teen boys have played an "M" (for "Mature") rated game, according to the National Institute of Media and the Family (a statistic gleaned from the guvs new website).
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."
Its not that I begrudge the governors true genius for sniffing out issues that guarantee him maximum national exposure. Its 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 www.capitolfax.com.