Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What does Chicago-style pol mean?

One of the frequent charges against Obama is that he's a Socialist, or a Marxist, or an anti-colonial Muslim. At least I have a pretty good picture of what those mean.

But what is the meaning of the complaint that Obama is a "Chicago-style politician," or alternatively, a Chicago thug? What is that charge supposed to convey?

My guess is that it takes a known fact about Obama (that he started his political life in Chicago) and insinuates a lot of unsavory characteristics, but without ever specifying them. Possible associations:
  • Voter fraud like vote buying and the dead voting
  • Graft and favors for ward bosses paid from the people's taxes
  • Selling jobs and licenses in exchange for campaign contributions and other favors
  • Mobster-style enforcement such as beatings and killings
  • Rioting and trying to occupy the 1968 Democratic convention
  • Alinsky-style radical politics, and Alinsky himself
  • All those 1960's radicals who ruined America with their hippie, Marxist, druggie, free-love, communal, do-gooder agenda
The picture it dredges up is pretty bad, but the reality of the charges are much less. Here are some actual (yes, actual, as in reality-based) charges of Chicago-style politics:
But why bother with details of actual slightly shady practices when insinuation can do so much heavy lifting with one word? You can smear Obama with "Chicago" and people will think this:
"If Obama gets re-elected, I seriously think Chicago Mafia, Ballot rigging, Lying, cheating, is going on!" -- blog comment
However, my favorite is from Michael Barone: "Loose campaign rules typical of Obama's Chicago style." He labels a common campaign practice--not verifying names and home addresses of donors-- and labels it as a Chicago trait when it's not particularly connected to any place or group. And then, with that Chicago opening, he trots out these well-worn charges, skipping any detail or evidence:
  • The Obama quote: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." (What a Chicago thug.)
  • "... endlessly plunder the local private sector without penalty."
  • "And don’t appeal in court unless you hire the lawyer with the right connections."
  • [A Chicago mayor] gets all the credit for all good things that happen on his watch, as Obama is attempting to do on the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The Chicago connection is such a payoff... unless you have personal honor and therefore want to deal in facts. At least I'm now ready to rip anyone who plays the Chicago insinuation card. 
Chicago mob boss - probably Obama's barber
Photo: suntimes.com

Extra: More real, not imagined, Illinois corruption, but not connected to Obama, as far as I know.

Update 10/5/12. Former GE CEO Jack Welch tweets a high-profile use of the Chicago allusion and gets a lot of pushback, but mostly for saying data was fixed. I guess the short-hand use of "Chicago" is so common among the GOP and conservatives that no one besides me notices.

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