People who say Obama is a product of Chicago machine politics don’t know what they’re talking about

Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Slate Group, PUTS THE LIE to the Chicagophobia so common among political conservatives these days:

If I hear one more person accuse the Obama campaign of practicing “Chicago-style politics,” I’m gonna kick all his nephews off the park-district payroll.  I’m gonna send some precinct captains over to straighten him out. Mitt Romney and his surrogates don’t understand what Chicago-style politics means. No one seems to have told them that it’s been gone for 25 years. And they don’t get that Barack Obama, in his Chicago days, never had anything to do with it.

Chicago-style politics, in common parlance, refers to the 1950s-1970s era of the Richard J. Daley machine. If you want to read a great, short book about that world, I recommend “Boss,” by Mike Royko. The strength and durability of the Daley machine was its ethnically based patronage network, a complex system of obligations, benefits, and loyalties that didn’t depend on televised communication with a broader public.  It was a noncompetitive system that in its heyday had a lock on urban power and the spoils that went with it.


In 2008, John McCain ran ads describing Obama as “born of the corrupt Chicago political machine.” But Obama, who moved to Chicago in 1985 to be a community organizer in a politically disenfranchised neighborhood on the South Side, had no link to the Chicago machine at all. In “Dreams From My Father,” he describes trying unsuccessfully to get the attention of city officials—in the Harold Washington era—to deal with asbestos in public housing projects. That’s how far outside of Chicago-style politics Obama was. Obama never ran for a Chicago office. Hyde Park elected him to represent it in the Illinois State Senate in 1996. He tried for Congress in 2000 and lost. Then he got elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. He somehow passed through Chicago politics without ever developing any real connection to it.  



  1. Barry Marcus

    Blogogevitch and other popular prison dwelling Illinois politicians seem to dispell the notion that Chicago style politics are something of the past.

  2. Barry: Blagojevich’s crimes had nothing to do with Chicago machine politics, any more than George Ryan’s crimes involved some Republican political machine. The fact remains that Obama has had nothing to do with any Chicago political machine, and only uninformed bumpkins believe otherwise.

  3. kevind1986

    And his Chief of Staff becomes Mayor.
    Pat – insulting everyone that sees through your myopic posts is childish. Your knee jerk hatred of everything non-liberal speaks volumes. Please move on and move aside.

  4. Chuck Sweeny

    Beg to differ on Blago. Ald. Dick Mell was his sponsor because he’d married one of Mell’s daughters. Mell had (still has) his own North Side center of power. After a generation of Republican governors, Blago was under tremendous pressure to deliver jobs to Democrats who’d been shut out of them ever since the Jim Thompson era. I covered his victory party in Nov. 2002 at Finkl Bros. Steel in Chicago. It looked like a scene from a combined musical production of Guys & Dolls, Grease and West Side Story.
    And they all expected jobs.

  5. Chuck: I stand by my argument that Blagojevich’s crimes had nothing specifically to do with Chicago machine politics. He was convicted of 11 criminal counts related to Obama’s Senate seat and six counts involving fundraising shakedowns of a hospital executive and racetrack owner. That kind of corruption isn’t necessarily part and parcel of machine politics. Leaving aside the Senate seat, which was a unique situation, the other stuff can happen in states and locales where no Chicago-style machine (a la Richard J. Daley) exists.

  6. kevind1986: Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago fair and square. Corrupt machine politics had nothing to do with it. If you have evidence to the contrary, you should take it to federal prosecutors.

    To paraphrase you, your knee jerk hatred of everything having to do with Obama speaks volumes.

  7. Daniel Teeboom

    Right now, with all the scandals and such, this is actually a rather funny article.

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