The scandals swirling around the Obama administration have many journalists scratching their heads as to how “hope and change” seem to have been supplanted by “arrogance and fear.” Perhaps it’s time they revisit one of their original premises about Barack Obama: that he wasn’t influenced by the Chicago Daley machine. You know: the machine that boosted his career and whose protégés — including Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, and his wife, Michelle — he brought to Washington with him.
The liberal take on the president was best summed up by Slate magazine’s Jacob Weisberg, who wrote last year that Obama “somehow passed through Chicago politics without ever developing any real connection to it.” It’s true that Obama initially kept some distance from the machine. But by the time he ran for the Senate in 2004, his main political Sherpas were Axelrod, who was then the chief consultant to Mayor Richard M. Daley, and Jarrett, the mayor’s former deputy chief of staff. As Scott Simon of NPR noted: “While calling for historic change globally, [Obama] has never professed to be a reformer locally.” The Daley machine, which evolved over 60 years from a patronage-rich army of worker bees into a corporate state in which political pull and public-employee unions dominate, has left its imprint on Obama. The machine’s core principle, laid out in an illuminating Chicago Independent Examiner primer on “the Chicago Way,” is that at all times elections are too important to be left to chance. John Kass, the muckraking columnist for theChicago Tribune who for years has warned that Obama was bringing “the Chicago way” to Washington, sums up his city like this: “Once there were old bosses. Now there are new bosses. And shopkeepers still keep their mouths shut. Tavern owners still keep their mouths shut. Even billionaires keep their mouths shut.”
“We have a sick political culture, and that’s the environment Barack Obama came from,” Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, warned ABC News when Obama ran in 2008. He noted that Obama had “been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state.”
Joel Kotkin, an urban expert who still considers himself a “Kennedy Democrat –– John F. Kennedy,” wrote at Forbes: “Most of us would put up with a bit of corruption and special dealing if the results were strong economic and employment growth. But the bare demographic and economic facts for both Chicago and Illinois reveal a stunning legacy of failure.” Since 2007, the Chicago region has lost more jobs than Detroit has, and more than twice as many as New York. The city’s murder rate is a national disgrace, and its teachers’ union is so powerful that a strike it called last year forced new mayor Rahm Emanuel to back down from his attempt to curb union power.