Q+A with Robert Burns, Green Party Candidate for Illinois’ 4th Congressional District
Today in our running series of candidate interviews, I have the pleasure of presenting Green Party candidate Robert Burns, an economist and political activist from the 4th District of Illinois, which covers a west section of Chicago and some suburbs and is the most densely populated district outside of New York City and San Francisco. It includes the Chicago neighborhoods of Brighton Park and Hermosa, to name a few, and the city of Cicero.
Burns is the only opponent to Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who has served as representative from this district since 1993. A staunch liberal, he has followed the heavily Democratic voting trend of the district, which went for President Barack Obama 85% to 13% in 2008. Gutierrez is currently best known for leading the fight for immigration reform in the House of Representatives. The incumbent has also been invited to participate in this Q+A.
Without further ado, here is the Q+A with Green Party congressional candidate Robert Burns. His website can be found here.
1. Why do you want to be the US Representative from the 4th District of Illinois?
I have lived in and around the 4th District for most of my life. The 4th District is like my hometown. I want to serve as the US Representative for the 4th District because I feel that Congress has almost entirely lost sight of the needs of their constituencies. More and more we are witnessing the fire sale of our government to the highest bidder. The corporatist media denigrates government and tells all of us to expect nothing of government while they themselves expect to get rich from government and get entirely unreasonable handouts from our government. The corporatist’s expectations of government are high while they repeatedly convince the US electorate to expect less and less from government. I want to reverse this trend so that the US electorate expects government to serve their needs: providing for their general welfare.
2. No Green Party candidate has ever won a Congressional race. Do you believe you can win this race? If so, what has changed this year? If not, why are you running?
The two parties have let us down and largely merged into one party. The difference between the Democrats and Republicans has been reduced to a difference in rhetorical flourish. Both parties spend enormous amounts of money on military adventures around the World. Both parties support unconstitutional expansions of government into the private lives of the people. Both parties skirt the US Constitution by supporting corporatist oligarchs who receive wild profits at the expense of the general welfare of all other Americans. While the Republicans and Democrats are masters at manipulating public opinion, the false façade they foist on the American people is beginning to crack. Americans are more and more able to see through this sham. In 2010 I am confident a large number of Americans will be looking for alternatives to the one-party system and I hope they will find the Green Party as the answer to our nationwide political quagmire.
3. You are an economist by trade, having worked towards an economics PHD at UMASS-Amherst. Your district has been hit, along with the rest of the nation, by a recession in recent years. What would be the first economic-related bill you would introduce to begin to fix our economy?
Much of the platform I propose is aimed at addressing our economic problems. However, I feel that genuine financial reform is the most immediate issue facing our economy because our current financial system is designed to corrupt our political system as well. I would push first and foremost to end the quasi-public for-profit Federal Reserve Cartel’s control over our monetary system. The Federal Reserve uses its control of the monetary system to monopolize the financial sector and reap super-profits for its members and others among the financial sector elite. The Constitution requires our monetary system be regulated by Congress and Congress has abrogated that responsibility by unconstitutionally passing those powers to the Federal Reserve. My proposal for monetary reform would forever insulate our monetary system from the rent-seeking interests of the financial sector.
4. In the past, you have worked for Democratic candidates such as Senator Carol Moseley Braun. What made you change your political affiliation and run as a Green candidate.
I have felt a growing discontent with the democratic party over the years as repeatedly promising candidates are elected and then co-opted by the Democratic leadership. While I did not vote for Obama, I felt myself being taken in by his masterful rhetoric and I feel much the same betrayal that those who voted for him must now feel.
5. If you could recommend one book that all Americans read before voting, what would it be?
Escape From Freedom by Erich Fromm, This book, written by Fromm during the 1930’s in Germany, recounts the psychological manipulation employed by the NAZIs as they sought to impose their ideological will on an unsuspecting electorate. The book was published before we learned of the most severe atrocities of the NAZI regime, but Fromm describes the ideology of NAZIism as one of extreme opportunism even prior to those revelations. We have seen this extreme opportunism infect every branch of government and the natural monopoly sectors of our government and economy. Everything in politics is now evaluated according to how it can enrich the economic and political elite.
Fromm shows the ways the NAZI government used contempt for the weak and the indigent as a way to manipulate mass support for their own enrichment. As long as the unsuspecting masses directed their scorn at Jews or Slovaks, it was easy to draw their attention away from the thievery in government taking place before their very eyes. We have seen a proliferation of these same tactics in the United States as scorn is directed against welfare recipients, poor single mothers, or Mexicans as the alleged source of our economic woes, while government at all levels is used to siphon off the public wealth and redistribute income from working men and women to the super-rich.
Today the Republicans and Democrats have both become the parties of extreme opportunism. They happily sell off the commons of the American people and disregard the interests of the American people at every turn.
6. Recently, there was a rally on Capitol Hill calling for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, an issue that has been important to your district. In brief, what would you propose to reform in our current immigration system?
The most important thing is for the electorate to better understand the economics of immigration. So often we are sold the lie that immigration steals jobs from Americans. However, this is not the case. Immigration means more workers and more workers means more workers to shoulder the burden of work. More immigration also means more consumption which fuels effective demand and increases the employment base. If your neighbor stopped by to ask if she could help out with your cooking and cleaning would you condemn her for stealing your job? Of course not, you would thank her and enjoy the diminished burden of work you faced. However the situation is the same even for market based work. The lack of full employment is not due to immigrants replacing American workers, it is due to an entire set of Federal policies that redistribute wealth from the poor and working men and women in America to the super-rich and willfully maintain a level of unemployment below full employment.
7. One of the things Chicago is known for is its pizza. When you go out for deep-dish, what toppings do you order?
I try to remain flexible in a group since deep dish is good with almost anything, but my preference is for fresh garlic and mushrooms on my deep-dish pizza.
8. The 4th District is considered by many to be the most strangely gerrymandered in the country. Redistricting will commence after the completion of the 2010 Census. Would you support the reconstruction of the boundaries of the district? Why or why not?
I do not associate the attempt to create a district such as Illinois’ 4th to improve the representation of minority communities the same as the gerrymandering which comes from redistricting aimed at calcify the power of a particular politician or a particular party. This relates to my general view of government which is that it should be directed at addressing the general welfare of the population which can include politically enfranchising minorities and underrepresented views. Government – including redistricting – should never be about passing legislation or redistricting to help a specific person or political party. I support simplified and more mechanized approaches to redistricting but I would want those mechanisms to continue to allow for districting to aid underrepresented minorities.
9. If you feel comfortable answering, who did you vote for in the 2008 Presidential primary and general election? Why did you choose the way you did?
I did not vote in the 2008 election. I have felt a growing disaffection for the two (or is it one) party system. If I had voted in the general election I would have voted for Ralph Nader, but it was clear to me that the rest of the electorate had not yet come around to reject the Republican and Democratic party collusion: especially since Obama was so effective at instilling a false hope in the electorate. Despite his hopeful rhetoric it was clear to me that either McKinney or Nader would have been far superior choice for this nations’s President.
10. 17.8% of families in the district live below the federally-established poverty line. What two proposals would you push for to help bring these families out of poverty?
Much of my campaign platform is designed to incorporate disaffected and demoralized workers back into the productive economy. It is difficult to select only two, but if forced to choose I would say the two most important policies are: 1) minimum wage improvements and 2) immigration reform.
By raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation we create a wage closer to a living wage for the working poor. Moreover by indexing it to inflation we provide an automatic mechanism to maintain sufficient aggregate expenditures and keep all incomes high, even in times of recession.
Immigration reform likewise has the potential to help the working poor – whether recent immigrant or lifelong citizen – because the current immigration laws create a class of hyper-exploited immigrants that degrades the wages and working conditions for all workers. By eliminating the repressive government activities that perpetuate this hyper-exploitation we improve the bargaining power of all workers especially those on the lower end of the income spectrum.