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.