Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Was/Is Chicago

I've had more than a few people ask me why I rail against Chicago politics so often. I lived in the Chicago area for five years, from 1987 through 1992, and I got a good look at what it's like there. Chicago is a great place to visit and it can be a fine place to live, so long as you understand, and are willing to accept, a few things. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune shares an example:
One Sunday, I must have been 12 or 13, I decided to ask what I thought was an intelligent question that was something like this:

We talk politics every Sunday, we fight about this and that, so why aren't you politically active outside?

Why don't you get involved in politics?

There was an immediate silence. The older cousins looked away. The aunts and uncles stared at me in horror, as if I'd just announced I was selling heroin after school.
Asking why is often a dangerous business. Kass explains:
This is America, I said.

"Are you in your good senses?" said my father. "We have lives here. We have businesses. If we get involved in politics, they will ruin us."

And no one, not the Roosevelt Democrats or the Reagan Republicans, disagreed. The socialists, the communists, the royalists, everyone nodded their heads.

This was Chicago. And for a business owner to get involved meant one thing: It would cost you money and somebody from government could destroy you.

The health inspectors would come, and the revenue department, the building inspectors, the fire inspectors, on and on. The city code books aren't thick because politicians like to write new laws and regulations. The codes are thick because when government swings them at a citizen, they hurt.

And who swings the codes and regulations at those who'd open their mouths? A government worker. That government worker owes his or her job to the political boss. And that boss has a boss.

The worker doesn't have to be told. The worker wants a promotion. If an irritant rises, it is erased. The hack gets a promotion. This is government.

So everybody kept their mouths shut, and Chicago was hailed by national political reporters as the city that works.
This is the milieu in which Barack Obama learned politics. He brought a team of operatives from Chicago and put them in key positions in his administration. He knew that he could find plenty of workers in the massive bureaucracy of Washington who would be willing, even eager, to get with the program -- Lois Lerner of the Internal Revenue Service is just one example. The reason Chicago "works" is that the system has been in place for so long that people like Kass's father understand that they can't become an irritant. Silencing your foes is a big part of what makes Chicago work.

You can impose a system like that in a concentrated area and get by with it. Imposing it on an entire nation is another matter, especially in a nation where dissent is patriotic, as I am assured whenever the Right is in power. So if you want to understand why the IRS would single out Tea Party groups for abuse, or why a reporter for Fox News would be labeled a "co-conspirator" for reporting something the government finds inconvenient, you need to think back to the lesson that John Kass learned a long time ago. You need to keep your mouth shut.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mark,
Small problem with your narrative.
Lois Lerner was appointed to the position of IRS Director of Exempt Organizations by George Bush in 2005.

http://www.irs.gov/uac/Lois-G.-Lerner-Selected-as-Director-of-IRS-Exempt-Organizations-Division

And no, I am not blaming Bush. Just noting that the tale you are trying to weave doesn't jive with facts on the ground. Not that that has ever stopped you.

Maybe your next post can be about how her husband's law firm donated money and held a fund raiser for Obama. Make sure you don't include the info that they have done the same for Romney, and that they give to Republicans at about twice the rate that they give to Dems.

More right wing talking points.

Regards,
Rich

Bike Bubba said...

So Obama corrupted Ms. Lerner, then, Rich. Let's be serious here; are you under the impression that somehow bureaucrats are incorruptible? Ms. Lerner has all but conceded that she's been corrupted by taking the 5th.

Mr. D said...

Small problem with your narrative.
Lois Lerner was appointed to the position of IRS Director of Exempt Organizations by George Bush in 2005.


She hasn't worked for the Bush administration since 2009. If she did similar things back then, I'll be happy to mention that.

Further, if I mentioned that Ricardo Sanchez had been promoted to the rank of general during the Clinton administration, would it have caused a narrative problem concerning Abu Ghraib?

Maybe your next post can be about how her husband's law firm donated money and held a fund raiser for Obama. Make sure you don't include the info that they have done the same for Romney, and that they give to Republicans at about twice the rate that they give to Dems.

If her husband was implicated in this matter, that might be useful. But it's not particularly relevant.

The issue is what Lerner did or didn't do in the last 2-3 years. Try again.

Brian said...

I think Rich's salient point here is that it is not only intellectually lazy to paint the (thusfar) key figure in the IRS debacle as a "Chicago operative", it also happens to be factually incorrect.

Brad said...

Smoking is bad for one's health. But it's especially dangerous when done in the presence of parody commenter Rich, given all the strawmen he constructs.

Mr. D said...

I think Rich's salient point here is that it is not only intellectually lazy to paint the (thusfar) key figure in the IRS debacle as a "Chicago operative", it also happens to be factually incorrect.

I suppose if I'd done that, Rich would have a salient point, Brian. But I didn't. I wrote this (emphasis added):

He knew that he could find plenty of workers in the massive bureaucracy of Washington who would be willing, even eager, to get with the program -- Lois Lerner of the Internal Revenue Service is just one example.

So I think the charges of being intellectually lazy and factually incorrect don't apply here. Right?

Brian said...

No, I still think dismissing all political professionals with a connection to a city of 3 million people as corrupt is intellectually lazy.

Mr. D said...

No, I still think dismissing all political professionals with a connection to a city of 3 million people as corrupt is intellectually lazy.

And if I'd done that, I'd agree. But I haven't.

Bike Bubba said...

Kind of a stretch, Brian. All your host is doing is arguing that the Chicago politician at 1600 Pennsylvania has found enough willing participants to make DC into "Chicago on the Potomac."

In this case, it's apparent that hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of people in the IRS, DOJ, FBI, BATF, OSHA, and EPA have allowed these things to go on without blowing a whistle. So it's hard to argue that "Chicago on the Potomac" isn't at least in part reality.

R.A. Crankbait said...

What's intellectually lazy is saying that the increasingly documented abuses (and unforced errors) by the current administration are all part of a plot by the opposition, and chanting "my talking points are better than your talking points" without looking at the fundamental implications of those misdeeds. Being intellectually lazy is saying "politics ain't beanbag" and then after getting caught saying "it's all beanbag." Or is that the Chicago Way?

No, wait: "They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. They accuse you of violating the First or Fourth Amendment, you plead the Fifth. That's the Chicago Way!"

Anonymous said...

OK, you guys are right. Washington bureaucrats were incorruptible, selfless and unambitious until Obama got there and brought Chicago politics to D.C.! Wow, that's quite a theory you've got there. And it works pretty well if you don't look at anything that happened in Washington for the 232 before 2009.

And finding someone in the Washington bureauracy who does CMA never happened before 2009, and will end once Obama leaves office.

Is that your position? Seriously? I think you are kidding. Right?

Regarding Kass, once again, you are showing your lack of knowledge about how politics works in Illinois (not just Chicago, it's the entire state). What Kass says is true...if your family owes allegiance to someone. So, if you want a 60K to 80K a year job with good benes and an overly generous pension, and you never finished highschool or never went to college, if you get that job through your local Ward Boss, State Rep, State Senator, etc. it might be kind of dumb of you to put a yard sign out promoting his opponent.

Kass is intentionally misleading people, making it sound like Illinois is the Stalinist Soviet Union. My best guess is that a lot of people in Kass's family had good government jobs, few qualifications, and crappy job prospects outside of the civil service. If you don't work in the system, you are unaffected by politics. Moreover, the Schakman decree went a long way to cleaning up a lot of the big abuses. Civil Service employees have a lot of job security. You can't be fired for your political views, or for supporting an elected officials opponent, etc. But if you live on the South Side, you can be re-assigned to work on the far North Side, or be given a permanent Midnite shift. Both of these things have happened to friends of mine.

Not saying any of this is right, but I don't think that such a system is exclusive to Illinois. It may be a little worse here than in most places, but if you play the gme, you know the deal going in. And if you work in the private sector, own a business, etc. you do not have to worry about mouthing off. There are no repurcussions. If you don't believe me, just ask John Kass. He isn't exactly hurting.

Regards,
Rich

Regards,
Rich

Bike Bubba said...

Rich, you're having a little trouble with reading comprehension. The argument is that Obama, with a small core of Chicago cronies, had his sights set on corrupting the bureaucracy so that he could achieve these ends without leaving a paper trail.

And AHEM, having grown up around Chicago, I've seen about the same thing Kass has. That's a big part of why most of the middle class has fled to the suburbs.

Mr. D said...

OK, you guys are right. Washington bureaucrats were incorruptible, selfless and unambitious until Obama got there and brought Chicago politics to D.C.! Wow, that's quite a theory you've got there. And it works pretty well if you don't look at anything that happened in Washington for the 232 before 2009.

And finding someone in the Washington bureauracy who does CMA never happened before 2009, and will end once Obama leaves office.


Not what I said, or anyone else said, of course. But go on.

Regarding Kass, once again, you are showing your lack of knowledge about how politics works in Illinois (not just Chicago, it's the entire state). What Kass says is true...if your family owes allegiance to someone. So, if you want a 60K to 80K a year job with good benes and an overly generous pension, and you never finished highschool or never went to college, if you get that job through your local Ward Boss, State Rep, State Senator, etc. it might be kind of dumb of you to put a yard sign out promoting his opponent.

But that's not what Kass is describing in the article, Rich. He's describing his father, who ran a grocery store. He didn't work for the government in any way. But he worried about the local government because it could ruin his business.

And since you're eliding an important distinction, I need ask this -- why on earth would Kass's father owe allegiance to anybody? And why on earth would it be expected? We don't have any evidence that anyone in Kass's family was part of the structure you describe.

I also disagree about your notion that the private sector is immune from the game. I worked for a large law firm in Chicago for most of the five years I lived there. It was rife with politics and the partners were always bundling money for various politicians -- I was personally approached for a donation to Carol Moseley Braun, but they backed off because they knew I was going to move to Minnesota later in the year. Since the firm did a lot of real estate deals in Cook County, it was quite evident that they needed to work around the system in any number of ways.

Not saying any of this is right, but I don't think that such a system is exclusive to Illinois.

Never said it was. But it is part of Chicago politics, or Illinois politics, since you seem eager to make sure that the entire state is implicated, even though you don't really see this sort of behavior in, say, Knox County. And my point is that Chicago politicians who are part of such a system unlikely to suddenly change their mode of operation in a new venue.

You know history, so I'm certain you know about Harry Truman. There was much trepidation about Truman becoming president, because he came up in another corrupt milieu, Pendergast-era Kansas City. As it happened, Truman really was an honest man. Based on what we've seen to date, I don't think Obama is anything like Harry Truman.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

"OK, you guys are right. Washington bureaucrats were incorruptible, selfless and unambitious until Obama got there"

Rich, you may have written something after that straw man, but why do you presume anyone would read it?

Mr. D said...

Rich, you may have written something after that straw man, but why do you presume anyone would read it?

When you are grasping at straws, building straw men is the next logical step.

Anonymous said...

And AHEM, having grown up around Chicago, I've seen about the same thing Kass has. That's a big part of why most of the middle class has fled to the suburbs.

You seem to have Chicago mixed up with Detroit. Chicago proper was just over 3 Million 50 years ago, and is now 2.7 million, and has a large and prosperous middle class. The metropolitan area has exploded in size over the last 50 years, and is now approaching 10 million, but the city remains roughly the same in population.

As for your assertion about people fleeing because of political corruption, in a month where I have read more silly crap coming out of many of you guys, this probably wins the award for silliest. You gotta quantify that one for me. I know you can't, but I would love to see you try.

Some middle-class people 'fled' the city because of the natural human desire for open space and bucolic settings. The proliferation of automobiles, and an uptick in violent crime in the sixties and early seventies certainly fed the urge to go suburban. Also, many fled due to white flight following the massive migration of southern blacks into the inner-cities throughout the north. This was aided and abetted by unscrupulous real-estate agents who targeted neighborhoods and fed on White fears of the burgeoning urban black population. But I have never heard of people fleeing due to political corruption. Especially in Chicago, where the first Mayor Daley basically saved the city from turning into Detroit or Newark by being the first big city Mayor in America to force all of his employees to live within the City's boundaries. If you know anything about Chicago, you would know that.

So, quite the opposite is true: Mayor Daley was able to do this because of the clout he wielded, the allegiances he held, and the amount of power he exerted regionally and nationally. The corrupt nature of the political system in Chicago, and the Mayor's ability to manipulate it were the things that kept the middle-class in place, and ironically, saved the city from the fate of several other large northern cities. I hate to say this, but it is absolutely true...corruption was Chicago's saving grace. It may ultimately be its' undoing, but it saved the City from social and monetary collapse over the last 50 years, and allowed the City to prosper, and the metro area to grow.

Now, please do explain to me how the middle class was driven out of Chicago by corruption. This should be fascinating!

Thanks,
Rich

Anonymous said...

I worked for a large law firm in Chicago for most of the five years I lived there. It was rife with politics and the partners were always bundling money for various politicians.

I would hope you wouldn't give money to Carol Moesley Braun because you didn't want to, and not because your firm left you alone because you were moving. And using a prominent law firm as an example is about as lame as you can get. Law Firm's invented the fine art of playing both sides of the fence, and they have been doing that in every state of the Union since the country was founded. That has nothing to do with Illinois or Chicago. And you accuse me of grasping at straws. Please!

I am an IT Manager and work for a large Financial Services firm, and am encouraged to join three different PACs whose objectives I loathe. I am also encouraged to donate money to them, and to the United Way, which I won't do. Guess what? Nothing has happened to me yet, and I doubt it ever will. I can't help that John Kass has pussies for relatives. That is his problem. But, as I noted before, shooting his mouth off hasn't hurt him too much, and frankly, I think his assertions are a load of crap.

Really lame attempt at creating something out of nothing.

Regards,
Rich

Mr. D said...

The corrupt nature of the political system in Chicago, and the Mayor's ability to manipulate it were the things that kept the middle-class in place, and ironically, saved the city from the fate of several other large northern cities. I hate to say this, but it is absolutely true...corruption was Chicago's saving grace. It may ultimately be its' undoing, but it saved the City from social and monetary collapse over the last 50 years, and allowed the City to prosper, and the metro area to grow.

Bet he made the trains run on time, too. C'mon, dude -- corruption isn't your friend.

I would hope you wouldn't give money to Carol Moesley Braun because you didn't want to, and not because your firm left you alone because you were moving. And using a prominent law firm as an example is about as lame as you can get. Law Firm's invented the fine art of playing both sides of the fence, and they have been doing that in every state of the Union since the country was founded. That has nothing to do with Illinois or Chicago. And you accuse me of grasping at straws. Please.

Nobody was bundling for Rich Williamson. There's no other side of the fence to play in Chicago.

Look, if you've made your peace with corruption, that's fine. We don't want it.

Bike Bubba said...

Rich, if you had paid attention, you would realize that the population of the suburbs of Chicago is over twice that of the city itself, and that most suburbs feature anything but a bucolic setting. Most suburbs feature the same small lots and narrow bungalows as you'll find in the old middle class neighborhoods of Chicago, really.

They've fled, and not coincidentally, they haven't allowed Chicago style corruption into their town governments. Do the math, Rich.

And the residency requirement? Please. Requiring officers to risk Chicago crime 24-7 instead of 40 hours a week only provides officers an incentive to work somewhere else, just like the handgun ban for all but criminals like the Board of Aldermen.

Mr. D said...

Bubba, the residency requirement is interesting. There are certain enclaves within Chicago that are just filled with cops and firemen. I lived near one of them when I was there. It was roughly bounded by the Eisenhower Expressway on the north, Roosevelt Road on the south, Cicero Avenue on the east and Austin Boulevard on the west. They call it "The Island" and it's one of the safest places you could imagine. You go west of Austin and you're in Oak Park (where I lived) and if you go south of Roosevelt Road you're in Cicero/Berwyn. If you go east or north of The Island, you're in some pretty dangerous territory, especially north of the Eisenhower. I took the El through there on the Lake Street line from time to time and it was pretty bombed out.

Long and the short of it -- the residency requirement is great for some parts of Chicago, but it doesn't do a hell of a lot for other parts of the city.

Bike Bubba said...

You mean they're not choosing to live in the projects like Mayor Byrne?

And Rich was telling me that these guys were serious about stopping crime.