President-Elect Obama has promised us a new day but early signals show that if change is on the way, it might follow the course most expect. Just look at his choice of Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. It appears Mr. Obama has picked a very partisan Democrat from Chicago's Democratic Machine. Rahm Emanuel's closeness to Mayor Daley and William Daley should raise eyebrows.
Emanuel presents the other grittier face of our new President. As Obama reminds reporters on occasion, he is no political weakling. He comes from the world of Chicago politics, where the ends always justify the means. Power, patronage and influence are the primary currency of the regime; consistent good performance is nice, just not as important. In some senses, we need to see this as the Chicago Machine going national. The aldermen are already salivating at the prospect of unprecedented new pork coming direct from the heart of national power.
They can certainly expect sympathy from Rahm Emanuel since, at heart, he is one of them. Emanuel rose to power with the help of an illegal patronage operation still the continuing subject of a major federal criminal investigation. Rahm Emanuel became a Congressman by defeating a grass roots local Democrat with the help of Mayor Daley's illegal patronage army. John Kass of The Chicago Tribune reports:
It’s likely that if City Hall had not sent Don Tomczak, the corrupt city water department boss, to Emanuel’s congressional campaign in 2002, he may not have ever been elected. Tomczak’s political army of hundreds of city workers stumped the precincts with the promise of overtime.
Don Tomczak is now a convicted felon for his efforts.The New York Times explained some of the methods of the patronage army working for Rahm Emanuel: "concocted 'blessed lists' of preselected winners for certain jobs and promotions based on political work or union sponsorship. The scheme involved sham interviews, falsified ratings forms and the destruction of files to cover it up.”
Ok, so that’s inside Chicago politics. But how about this? Before coming to Congress, Bill Clinton appointed Rahm Emanuel to the board of directors of Freddie Mac.Few can say they've ever been on the board of directors of an S&P 500 company – particularly before the age of 40. What did Rahm Emanuel know about the bogus accounting numbers of Freddie Mac? Obviously, Barack Obama should be concerned about having someone so associated with the housing debacle being a major part of his administration.
Ultimately, the rest of America is going to have to get used to two Obamas – one a rough edged Chicago poll and the other the spinner of rhetoric brilliance and the beloved of the planet. The Chicago side could prove troublesome even with allies. Emanuel once proposed taking away the driver's licenses of high school drop outs – an idea which made members of the Congressional Black Caucus irate.
On the other hand, Emanuel’s practical, “yes to power” political views might play a positive role on issues such as trade. His relatively pro-free trade stance already has created the first panic among left-wingers about what many thought would be the administration of their dreams.
And what about the slide of America Emanuel has been representing all these years? Between 2000 and 2005, his district lost 5.1 percent of its population. It was one of the country’s ten fastest-shrinking districts. Bad public schools, high taxes, and high crime have caused the middle class to leave Emanuel's district for the suburbs.
An Obama Administration with Rahm Emanuel in the key position of Chief of Staff has great symbolic value. It suggests less attention to be paid to the post-partisan reform and more to hardboiled politics. It grows from an economic climate that has over the past few decades lost jobs, the middle class and families.
In this sense, Rahm Emanuel does not symbolize a change in the way politics is conducted. If our new President wants to do this, he will have to do so over the likely objections of his chief of staff – and also in contrast to his own record of conciliation with one of the most corrupt city machines in American history.
Can someone who works with the Chicago Democratic Machine be for political change? History would suggest it would be a first.
Steve Bartin is a resident of Cook County and native who blogs regularly about urban affairs at http://nalert.blogspot.com. He works in Internet sales.