For Some, the Case Against Rahm Might Be the Case For Rahm

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In September, Adam Doster and Micah Maidenberg of Progress Illinois wrote a long and perceptive post called "The Case Against Rahm," which reminded me of David Moberg's prescient 1989 piece The Fuel of a New Machine," about the move from the ward-heeling powers of the old machine to the big-money engine of the new:

In the past decade, but especially with the Daley and Sawyer campaigns, Chicago has entered the era of big-money, television-dominated politics, setting a dubious record as the city with the most costly mayoral races in the nation. Of course local politics reflects the trend in national races; but many blame the Democrats' national shift to blockbuster fund-raising and TV advertising for the declining enthusiasm of their traditional supporters, and the same trends in Chicago may be partly responsible (along with a lack of passion for either Daley or Sawyer) for the low turnout in last month's primary election.

"Since the Byrne years the price tag on elections has become greater and greater and contributions larger and larger," Dick Simpson notes. "That's nearly always an undesirable trend. Leaving aside conflicts of interest, the average citizen has less involvement in the election. If you can buy x TV time, then the citizen is about as shut out as under the old machine. It's clearly an unhealthy pattern for the city to have money raised this way. In one of the attempts to replace the machine as it disintegrates, we've moved to a money-television connection which does not bode well for the city's future."

[snip]

The old machine, corrupt as it was, could at least make a claim that the average citizen was an important part of politics, even if he or she had no real voice. The emerging system threatens to produce more direct control by a rich elite. Even if their motives were purest altruism, there would still be reason to worry about this subversion of democracy.

Few Democrats in America have the felicity with the corporate class that Emanuel does, in both public and private sectors. That has some people concerned, obviously, but as the campaign moves forward I don't know that the concern will necessarily be universal, even outside obviously monied interests. When Daley announced his retirement, two of the reactions were predictable: praise for his concentration on the central business district, and the old saw that Chicago is not Detroit or Cleveland.

With the increasing TIF literacy of Chicago voters, I think the city is more aware of the cost of Daley's pursuit of white-collar jobs. But there's another edge to that sword which might still be sharp: the perception that the pursuit softened the blows which landed on the rust belt at the end of the 20th century. It's definitely a subject I think about, and I suspect I'm not alone. In that sense Emanuel's extensive and career-long experience with big money and big business might make him, for some, a safe choice instead of a risky one.

Tangentially related: I haven't devoted enough time to thinking about James Krohe Jr.'s Politics of Necessity: How did such a backward-looking guy [Daley the elder] wind up so far ahead of his time?" to give you a take, but it's giving me a lot to think about with regards to the city's political history.

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