Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What is Senator Obama's relationship with the "Chicago Machine"?

Senator McCain's recent commercial linking Senator Obama to the Chicago Machine was shouted down by outraged Democrats, none more outraged than our own Mayor-for-Life Richard M. Daley.

The first line of defense raised: There is no "Chicago Machine."

This, of course, is literally true, just as there is no Mafia. You can't look up the Mafia in the phone book or read its annual reports on the Internet and the organizational charts of the various criminal enterprises (that are commonly and collectively referred to as the Mafia) which emerge in periodic criminal trials are almost of necessity a decade, or even a generation, out of date. So, too, with the "Chicago Machine." There is, however, a Cook County Democratic Party... and folks who run against it generally don't get elected and folks who run with it generally do.

The national press, having failed to find any phone listing for the Chicago Machine, and knowing how much they like and admire former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley (who was mentioned in the commercial) and his brother, the Mayor-for-Life (who was not mentioned), concluded that Senator McCain's commercial was a fiction. The first line of defense was never breached.

But Chicagoans know -- even Chicagoans who are favorably disposed toward, or at least not hostile to, the Democratic nominee -- that it is more complicated than this. Senator Obama is a product of Hyde Park and Chicago's Hyde Park is an historic bastion of liberalism and anti-Machine independence. Obama ran for Congress once, against a party-backed incumbent (Bobby Rush, former "Defense Minister" of the Black Panther Party), and lost.

And Obama was not 'slated' for the U.S. Senate seat he won in 2004 -- and one of the many candidates Obama defeated in that crowded primary field was the scion of a prominent political family -- but that does not necessarily validate the claim that he is independent of the Machine. It does show that he had excellent timing, at least on that occasion, because the field included not only the crown prince of a local dynasty but also a millionaire seeking to buy a seat. And four others besides -- and only one of them African-American.

In endorsing Obama in the March 2004 primary, the Chicago Sun-Times said (2/27/04) that Obama was a "hardworking and thoughtful legislator." In its endorsement of Obama (2/29/04) the Chicago Tribune said, "[Obama] quickly turned some heads when he joined the legislature and he is widely admired by Democrats and Republicans, including many who don't share his political views." While the Tribune said it disagreed with many of Obama's views, it nevertheless gushed, "Barack Obama has a proven record of spirited, principled and effective leadership in the legislature, and he is the only Democrat in this race who can make that claim.... He richly deserves his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate." So the Chicago papers saw no particular Machine connection with then-State Senator Obama.

However... you have to understand... Washington is where the Chicago Machine historically sent troublesome liberals. See, Paul Douglas (also of Hyde Park). See also, Adlai Stevenson III. The idea is that these troublesome people will become so enamored of Washington -- seat of power, center of the Universe, and all that -- that they will not trouble the status quo in Chicago. And, in Chicago, alderman and mayors and judges and especially State's Attorneys are considered far more important than mere U.S. Senators.

In a real sense, the Machine did not "make" Obama -- but it has dealt with him. That the Cook County Democratic Party has adopted Obama for its own purposes puts no stain on his character. The real problem is whether Mr. Obama has dealt too closely and too often with the more unsavory component parts of the Chicago Democratic Machine. It has recently been reported that Tony Rezko is reportedly talking to the Feds in the hopes of reducing his upcoming prison sentence.

The person most likely to encounter legal difficulties if in fact Rezko is singing would be Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, not Senator Obama. However, Rezko's fortune was made in privately owned, publicly-funded housing projects for the poor and Senator Obama's limited legal practice was devoted largely to these projects as well. Many of these projects failed for one reason or another at considerable public expense. It would be unsurprising if some persons acquainted with both the Senator and Rezko wind up with some problems if the Feds pursue this line of inquiry. This is the angle an inquisitive press would pursue.

If there were such a thing.

For more on the historic and current relationship between Hyde Park and the regular Democratic party, read the second part of Tom Roeser's blog today. Mr. Roeser is an unashamedly conservative Republican, and therefore has a point of view. (Don't we all?) I submit that his reading of the history here is pretty sound.

1 comment:

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

"if there were such a thing", ha ha ha ha ha. great post, and i learned some things too. not that they exist, mind you.

smiles, bee