Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Obama and the Chicago Machine.

The McCain campaign is pretty proud of its new ad that attempts to tie Obama to the Chicago Machine. It's smart political advertising and well timed, and if they can influence anyone's votes with it, well, that's the point.

So I'm not here even to say it's a cheap shot, because it's not. If there's anything strategically wrong with it, it's that some people may actually like Obama more because if they think he's too soft or cerebral, they might warm to the idea of him as a tough, Chicago streetfighter.

My purpose in posting is just to share a little bit of what I know from living here.

Mayor Daley bristles whenever anyone talks about the Chicago Machine. In one sense, I agree with him, because his is not his father's Chicago Machine and the image most people have when they hear the words "Chicago Machine" would apply to Daley senior's Chicago, but Daley junior's not so much.

(Some people refer to them as Richard I and Richard II, but I prefer Big Dick and Little Dick.)

The son's machine is, if I can mix my metaphors, a big tent machine. Yes, the Cook County Democratic Party controls just about everything that happens politically in Chicago and Cook County, and the Daley family controls the Cook County Democratic Party, but part of how they do that is by letting 1,000 flowers bloom. The price of admission is loyalty to the party, but loyalty mainly means helping the Party retain its grip on everything. Within the party, on matters of policy, things are generally pretty democratic. That's how someone like Obama can be acceptable to the machine without being in any way "dirty." Illinois Democratic U.S. Senators are rarely true machine insiders. Sending guys like Obama, who could become troublesome, to Washington is one of their favorite gambits.

So here are the people the ad ties him to, in order.

Bill Daley, the mayor's brother, and generally considered the clan's brightest bulb, is at least Obama's economic advisor and probably even more important than that behind the scenes of the campaign. Are the Daley boys inside the Obama campaign big time? Absolutely.

Tony Rezko is a perfect foil for the ad, because he's a recently convicted felon, but there's nothing about his connection with Obama that wasn't thoroughly reported in the Chicago Tribune during Obama's Senate campaign in 2004, or shortly thereafter. I understand why he's in the ad, but to us that's old news. Obama showed poor judgment in the one transaction they did together, and said so explicitly years ago. Nothing in Rezko's trial touched Obama in any way, which cannot be said for Governor Blagojevich, whose corruption was Topic A throughout.

Emil Jones, who is a State Senator from Chicago and the Senate's President, was not initially Obama's sponsor. He definitely didn't get Obama elected to the State Senate in the first place but as time went on, he took the younger man under his wing and showed him the ropes. Obama approached Jones to support his U.S. Senate bid, and it took some persuading, but eventually Jones did support him. If Jones has any serious legal problems, we haven't heard much about them here. He's considered a savvy political operator and nobody's fool, but he's probably one of the less scandal-plagued Illinois politicians.

Finally, they try to link Obama to Governor Rod Blagojevich, and that is a stretch. Although Jones has been a Blagojevich ally, Obama never supported or promoted Blago and he never supported or promoted Obama. Blagojevich is a true wild card, in that nobody can seem to figure out what he's up to, what his game is. Whatever it is, you really can't pin Blagojevich to Obama. That dog won't hunt.

Finally, the name they didn't mention: David Axelrod. From the beginning, Axelrod has been by Obama's side and if someone besides the candidate is speaking for the campaign, that someone is usually him. Axelrod is another example of the big tent. He's a genuinely progressive guy but he is also a Daley insider, who has worked for Daley and a long list of Daley-approved candidates.

So, that's what I know.

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