‘Chicago-Style Politics’: The Latest 2012 Meme

The frequency of the old cliche “Chicago-style politics” spiked after Barack Obama’s rise to the White House—and it’s getting hauled off the shelf again by the Romney campaign.

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Sigh:

This confused me until I read Lynn Sweet’s latest.

The Mitt Romney team’s latest is to win voters by accusing President Barack Obama of practicing “Chicago-style” politics.

Is this the best they’ve got?

The best? I sure hope not. The short of “Chicago-style politics":

* Yes, lots of Chicago politicians have been indicted. No, it doesn’t mean that Chicago is uniquely corrupt as a region.

* Yes, people understand that “Chicago-style politics” signifies something bad. No, it doesn’t mean they have any idea what Chicago-style politics are.

As a slur, it’s a budget version of “socialist”; it means a lot of things, very vaguely, which is why Sweet is reading the idea too narrowly:

The irony to those who pay attention to real Chicago politics – where too often pols go to jail or get in trouble for self-serving deals or ghost payrollers – is that Obama vaulted from the state Senate to the U.S. Senate to the White House without coming up through the Chicago system of pinstripe patronage or ward politics.

In the popular parlance, “Chicago-style politics” can mean anything from patronage to just being really tough, and Obama has actually embraced the latter. Obama never got mired in deep-dish Chicago politics because his initial base of power was neither the Daleys or the established south-side pols. It was the lakefront liberals:

Alan M. Dobry, a former Democratic committeeman of the Fifth Ward who had helped Obama knock Palmer off the ballot, observes that Obama brought an advantage to that 2004 race. He “has a lot of well-connected friends and some of them are quite affluent,” Dobry says. “When he was a state senator, he used to be able to have benefits on the Near North Side, where he could go and raise a lot of money.” At the same time, South Side black politicians, including state representatives Mary Flowers and Monique Davis, and the late Cook County Board president John H. Stroger, pointedly endorsed a white candidate, Daniel Hynes, now the state comptroller. Not incidentally, Hynes, son of the powerful political strategist Thomas Hynes, was backed by Mayor Daley’s brothers John and Bill.

Daley didn’t help Obama until Obama wanted out of Chicago, perhaps because Obama would have been a formidable force in, um, Chicago-style politics. Once Obama shifted his focus to Washington, all the pieces fell into place, without leaving much residue of Chicago-style politics, or at least anymore than most other politicians have.

 

Photograph: The White House

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