Less than a week before Tuesday’s midterm elections, Illinois conservatives welcomed an unlikely ally. Legendary Polish Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa, appeared in downtown Chicago last Thursday at a fundraising event organized by citizen watchdog group For the Good of Illinois. The former Polish president, trade-union organizer, and Nobel Prize laureate came rhetorically armed with a new Solidarity rallying-cry for Illinoisans yearning for new leadership.
Before 300 conservative leaders and activists on Thursday, Walesa dourly remarked that while the U.S. leads the world militarily and economically, in many ways it no longer leads the world “morally and politically.” “Sometimes when we look up to the only superpower in the world,“ Walesa lamented, “we have some doubt whether the United States really wants to continue being the superpower.” He still referred to the stars and stripes, however, as the “last best hope for the world.” Walesa should know.
He endured years of persecution at the hands of Poland’s communist capo, and was a founder of the trade-union movement Solidarity in the early 1980s. The movement (“Solidarność” in Polish) swelled to become a broad-based anti-Soviet social crusade in Poland, ultimately propelling the Iron Curtain’s collapse and Poland’s first free elections since before World War II (Walesa subsequently became Poland’s president in the newly re-established office).
Given that history, the old freedom fighter didn’t mince words when it came to criticizing America’s current course. Through a translator, Walesa’s remarks were decidedly grim at times, and at other times surprisingly self-deprecating. In a comprehensive, seemingly stream-of-conscious address, Walesa shared his freedom-fighting experience while also providing warnings of the absence of American leadership on the world stage. He also cautioned against China’s political and economic expansion. Responding to the notion that the U.S. was no longer interested in retaining its superpower status, he jokingly offered that Poland was ready to take the baton.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady sat next to Welesa during the lunch-in fundraiser (though buffered by a translator), and addressed the naturally friendly audience. Arguing that the current state government is “ruled” by “secrecy,” and marked by wastefulness and corruption, Brady tied Welesa’s struggle in the 80s to that of conservatives today. Without notes, the state senator from Bloomington (Illinois) appeared confident and optimistic days before the election. Brady is currently four points ahead of his Democratic opponent, Governor Pat Quinn, in a recent Chicago Tribune poll.