Political Public Opinion: Obama’s Chicago Tactics – (From The Boston Review)


Michael Gecan

The first quarter of the Obama administration is finally over. The key issue was not health care, not terrorism, not jobs. Nor was it the promise of “transformational change” that permeated the presidential campaign. The key issue was power—how the power of Washington’s political culture would respond to the power of the Chicago political culture imported by the Obama team.

When the media mentioned the administration’s “Chicago tactics” or when opponents complained that the White House staff behaved like “Chicago pols,” they were saying that the Obama team could be aggressive, tough, even mean.

That mild and broad critique missed the more important features of the Chicago way of doing politics: an approach that translated brilliantly in the presidential campaign and miserably after the inauguration. Here are those features—as I’ve observed them for 50 years, first as a young person growing up in a blue-collar Chicago neighborhood, then as an organizer in Chicago, New York, and elsewhere—and a look at how Washington has responded to their presence.

The Man on Five. The mayor’s office in Chicago is on the fifth floor of City Hall. The Man on Five is the hub, center, source of all good, generator of all punishment. This has nothing to do with charisma. The two mayors named Daley and most other machine mayors have had little personal pizzazz, no speaking skills, and a more transactional than transformational approach. Decade after decade, they have methodically consolidated and centralized power and influence. There is no counterweight—no House of Representatives, no Senate, no independent committee chairs. The City Council is a vaudeville show directed by the mayor. His power is unilateral, one-way, top-down. The key White House staff—Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett—inhaled this culture and carried it with them to Washington.

But their new reality includes an outnumbered opposition that will not cringe at a call from the White House, fellow Democrats who value self-preservation over sweeping legislation that may cost them votes, and middle-level bureaucrats who have seen administrations come and go. The Washington crowd knows how to play defense, if nothing else—how to block, obstruct, stymie. At this stage, Obama may be more like Eisenhower than any other American president. When Ike, the victorious general who had commanded millions of men, took office, outgoing President Truman said, “Poor Ike, he’ll say do this and do that; and nothing will happen.”

Control is God. The organizing principle in the Chicago political culture is control—control of who gets to the Man on Five and who doesn’t, control of how a bill or event burnishes the mayor’s myth or doesn’t, control of who runs for other offices and who doesn’t. The mortal sin of this culture is independence based in any value higher than loyalty to the Mayor.

The organizing principle of Washington is also control, but scores of power brokers exercise it, each with his or her own turf and perks, each resisting encroachment. Mutual deference is fundamental. This leads to a perfectly calibrated and balanced system of non-action or minimal action. Many people were puzzled when they heard wailing from the White House over the loss of the 60th Senate vote, but the administration’s despair was logical in the context of the Chicago political culture. In the Windy City, if you don’t have total control and the ability to dominate, you have no control and are check-mated. The art of using an overwhelming majority of 59 to 41 has not been practiced for generations in Chicago. Faced with anything other than incontestable clout, the Chicagoans who went to Washington might as well have been asked to speak Greek.

Elections Mean Everything. The one thing that the political machine excels at is managing the electoral process from start to finish. Selecting and grooming candidates. Buying or scaring off reformers. Marshaling election lawyers to knock out other candidates’ petitions. Using only paid public employees to work (illegally, but with almost no chance of being caught and prosecuted because of the care taken to avoid detection) in campaigns and on election day. Filling vacancies produced by indictments and convictions of insiders with even tighter insiders. Nobody does it better. This is why the presidential campaign did so well in caucus states and less well in those with open elections: the machine thrives on narrow or limited voting situations. But it founders on the kind of fluid and shifting series of skirmishes that, say, the health care struggle became. The president’s decision to bring his Chicago team into the White House may, therefore, have been his worst. Axelrod, Jarrett, and even Emanuel are much more suited to electoral than legislative campaigns. Imagine if a different threesome—Richard Ravitch, Donna Shalala, and George Mitchell—had filled those positions this past year.  http://www.bostonreview.net/BR35.2/gecan.php


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3 Responses to Political Public Opinion: Obama’s Chicago Tactics – (From The Boston Review)

  1. The Sarcastic Cynic says:

    The precusor to what is happening as regards holding, or not holding, culpable these wanna be genocidal middle eastern religious and non-religious Islamic/muslim freaks is how we, the western world in particular not only excused but celebrated the man who set out to eliminate the sovereign state of Israel, Yasser Arafat. Not only did the U.S. make him a billionaire but we legitimized his insane and irrational policy of keeping his people subjugated to amoral poverty and ignorence while blaming the U.S. and all the while being bankrolled by the U.S. Even Hilary Clinton’s swapping spit with Arafat’s wife changed nothing in the mind of middle easterners; they hate us, they want to kill us. Yes, even you left wing liberal swine. What that kiss did accomplish however was solidification of the the self hating liberal and non-liberal NY Jewish vote for Hillary’s carpet bagged senatorial election win in New York.
    Of course my oversimplification does not come anywhere near the true behind the scenes political intrigues in Washington and every other western capitol where any politician on any given day would screw himself if he beleived he would reap money and power as a result. We, however, are reaping what we have sown.
    So if you expect a war crimes trial in The Hague staring any decapitating, suicidal bomber of innocents, middle easterner, forget it. We are a civilzed peoplke refusing to prosecute freedom fighting insurgents. And why would we since it is known worldwide that terrorism is a myth…ask Janet, Barry, or anyone else holding power in our current administration. If terrorism was a proven fact of life would our man from Kenya, or is it Nigeria, propose cutting off the balls of our Coast Guard?

  2. vincenzo4 says:

    PS George Bush is owed a huge apology. he’s the only one who has had balls in many a year. He was made fun of. When the music stops on the deck of the Titanic, and the bottom falls out of this lie the leftists have fed you all, what will you do and who will you cleave to and who will you demand be held accountable in justice? They all have us where they want us. Will we allow this kingdom to fall?

  3. vincenzo4 says:

    Why this man is still sitting in the oval office after that colossal compromise, that grave damage to the American national security is an apostasy and the clue that morals and patriotic duty in this country are dead. Our process of pursuing espionage is cowardly and timidity personified when aggressive and relentless work as if they were firefighters rescuing trapped victims is essential, now, here today to never reverse course because the left has screwed us deliberately and repeatedly since the 1960s. Out industrial base and technological edge has been bltantly stolen because we do not have a robust intelligence capability. This has been a decade of damage as Democrats presided over the decades long emaciation of the inner cities with their union sharks and muscle men-but who gets blamed? The Republicans working for the big business.

    I have repeatedly commented here and elsewhere that from the beginning of his campaign of psychological warfare this man has been deception and omission comnstantly, from his church attendance, a path of life decisions he made consciously to align himself with leftist extremists to this absolute blatant bullshit of stabbing the intelligence community in the back to deliberately take their wind out and demoralize them.

    This is an inside job to beat all historical kingdoms.

    I was browsing my favorites in my browser and I forgot about this little jewel. The mind cannot comprehend the lapdog loser careerists who have signed onto the evils of this country and their fighting a war against a genocidal evil animal they allowed to grow world wide and out of control, beheading women and children, planting IEDs in soccer fields that blew away kids and even planted one in a football. Where are these people? These defendants in a Hague trial????????? The are zilch, but we have to bow our heads and ask for forgiveness for waterboarding and monitoring “ordinary Americans” whatever the fuck that is……

    Basically the enemy has gotten away with genocidal murder and erasure of human life. And we allowed this to happen and its continuing to happen.

    I do question Obama’s patriotism and heart and conscience. He is not an American.

    October 28, 2002: Iraq Moves WMD Matériel to Syrian Safe-Havens
    Check out this:

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