This morning I had the chance to meet with a group of Armenian journalists in town as part of a cultural exchange program sponsored by the Heartland International, a nonprofit dedicated to improving international relations. I was there to talk with them about covering politics in Chicago.

One thing led to another and soon I was telling them about the scandals, waste, and really dumb government policies we’re often stuck with around here. And as I went on their quizzical expressions told me that something didn’t make sense: we have the freedom to elect anyone we want, and yet we keep choosing the same old con men, frauds, phonies, and hacks. Why don’t we just elect new politicians?

I really didn’t have an adequate response until one of the visitors suggested that perhaps Chicagoans were more afraid of the politicians they didn’t know than those they did, as rotten as they might be. In other words, we’re too afraid to change.

Leave it to an outsider to see the truth.

The visitors also told me that journalists in Armenia are free to criticize any government they want–so long as it’s not theirs. I told them aldermen in the Chicago City Council have a similar policy regarding political leaders: they can rail about anything or anyone they want, as long as it doesn’t involve Mayor Daley.