PI Original Adam Doster Friday May 23rd, 2008, 4:51pm

Chicago Politics As A "Model For Change"?

Former Daley speechwriter Dan Conley has some odd advice for Sen. Barack Obama at Salon today: draw a distinction between the "personal destruction and political grandstanding" in Washington and the "post-partisanship" of Chicago politics, and situate ...

Former Daley speechwriter Dan Conley has some odd advice for Sen. Barack Obama at Salon today: draw a distinction between the "personal destruction and political grandstanding" in Washington and the "post-partisanship" of Chicago politics, and situate yourself in the latter camp:

Various articles during this campaign -- including some in Salon -- have attempted to tie Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to that outdated vision of the Windy City. But over the past 25 years, Chicago politics has evolved. The city is still divided along racial lines, and other layers of government here -- from the Illinois Statehouse to the Cook County government -- feature as much grandstanding and as many ad hominem attacks as anywhere. But anyone who doubts that a toxic political environment can be overcome should look to Chicago. Consensus has become more conspicuous than conflict. Deal-making is more important than showboating. In short, the city's politics has become post-partisan. It's a concept that should be familiar to anyone who has followed Obama's presidential bid.

Beyond the obvious rejoinder that city politics don't translate onto the national stage in any way, to paint a picture of Mayor Daley's Chicago as an ideal political environment ignores some crucial facts about life at City Hall. This 2004 paper (pdf) by University of Illinois-Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson explores the "new machine" in great depth:

The new machine under Richard M. Daley continues some aspects of the older machine, but patronage precinct captains are supplemented by candidate-based, synthetic campaigns using large sums of money from the global economy to purchase professional political consultants, public opinion polls, paid television ads, and direct mail. On the governing side, the new machine is characterized by a rubber stamp city council and public policies that benefit the new global economy more than the older developer economy ... The rewards for minorities, specifically African Americans and Latinos, under the new Daley machine reveal the racial basis of the regime.

Conley obscures huge chunks of crucial history to fit his argument that Chicago represents a "model for change." For instance, he asserts that "a general sense of civility prevails" in City Council meetings. Someone obviously missed Ald. Joe Moore's treatment at the hands of the mayor just last week.

The political environment could be much worse in Chicago. The news from Springfield reminds us of that everyday. But a model for national governance? I'm not so sure that flies.

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