This isn’t an analysis you’ll see widely promulgated, however true it may be: The Chicago machine has passed away on this the 22nd day of February 2011.
22-year mayor Short Shanks Dick Daley II was off hiding in the British Virgin Islands in exile: a vestige of a political establishment that is now extinct. Am I adding a somber note to an occasion that ought not be so somber? Well, I am a Chicagoan by birth, so he is like my father.
But doesn’t Rahm just continue the machine lineage?
While Daley did gave Rahm Emanuel the nod to run for Congress back in ’02 when Blago was elected Governor, the two are from distinct political establishments, with their intersection being the commonality of Chicago. Daley is a south-sider, part of the dying breed of the Chicago Irish political racket. Meanwhile, Rahm is a Jew from the North: one whom many in the old machine would have considered some “fucking liberal.”
I won’t sidestep into discussion about how he isn’t liberal. In fact, he is quite “liberal” in the more commonly used sense of the word through the world: someone who opposes any interference in the market, even if your aim is merely socioeconomic justice. In the Land of the Free, sadly, almost everyone is hostile to such notions, even the majority that would benefit from social-democratic policies. So if everyone is a liberal, what’s the point in using the word?
A far more prescient term is “googoo”: the yuppie that thinks all will be Good as long as Government is in the hands of one of their own. I will give credit to the googoos for not holding some of the biases of yesteryear, as they did anoint this country’s first black President. In fact, some would argue that the googoo prefers a little color, for it serves to cloak the systemic biases of the liberalism they espouse.
I once saw Rahm on tape complaining about “gooogoos” and their lack of political organization. He rolled his eyes and muttered that which I have muttered many times before: “Fuckin’ googoos!” They aren’t adept campaigners, because they can’t stand in one place for more than a half hour passing out palm cards: they are far too important for that. For these purposes, Rahm prefers the “knuckle dragger,” which Daley has always provided a steady stream of.
Nonetheless, his core voter is still a “googoo,” as with former boss Barack, and most of the Democratic Party establishment. They have just anointed him to be the new Mayor of Chicago, thus ending a century of Machine rule. What little remained of the machine was out campaigning for Gery Chico, the old Chicago Public School boss, whose influence was largely contained to the rolling bungalows of the northwest side.
The only candidate resembling a progressive, City Clerk Miguel Del Valle, limped home with 9% of the vote: a sad reminder that populism is entirely dead in Chicago. He did inspire a fairly impressive ground game, but these don’t amount to votes in the era of the “googoo,” because these foul creatures demand that you have the endorsement of the daily rag for their approval. They will mock your leaflet, spite your populist rhetoric, disparage you for questioning the status quo, and flock to support anyone given the nod by the Trib or Sun Times
Here we see ourselves mourning the death of the machine, for it has been replaced with something even worse. We have gone from blue-collar semi-populist sensibilities to the singular class: the amorphous class of supposedly well-intentioned yuppies. While the machine diverted union interests to the corporate-laded Democratic Party to no one’s benefit, at least their organization required that support. On occasion, the unions could still flex their muscle in this old game. Nowadays, Rahm managed to win despite airing commercials dissing public sector workers, and calling for an era where they work on a purely contractual basis.
I spent the day campaigning for del Valle and myself in a vanity Green Party run for alderman in an abundantly “googoo” ward. Without much time and money, I primarily used my campaign as a chance to stump for Mr. Del Valle. In this ward, the corporate press manufactured an “upset,” by endorsing a nonentity of a googoo over the anointed machine hack (I did not participate in the corporate press endorsement process.) The victor, Ameya Pawar, is a 30-year old with no meaningful political background or coherent political philosophy. This is quite possibly the greatest political upset I have ever witnessed, as he knew little about the dynamics of campaigning, evidenced by the lack of “union bugs” on his material, and the absence of any visible ground game. The “corporate press” now possesses the unencumbered capacity to anoint victors. The unimaginative populace has almost no ability to think on their own, beyond trivial dichotomies. Both corporate newspapers painted this as an “us vs. them” race of a “David vs. Goliath” nature, wherein the longshot got their approval, in large part because he was a harmless googoo running against a machine charlatan.
I spent nearly the whole of Election Day striking up conversation with machine goons at polling places. We stood out in the cold, passing palm cards to voters as they trickled in. One yuppie googoo, en passant, refused both of our palm cards, declaring: “You’re the machine hack, and you’re a left-wing nut! Don’t bother me!” That was the microcosm of our day.
One of the goons I talked to for a while said “We like you better than that Indian, because at least you’re pro-union.”
I responded : “Well, you know, both my parents were union. I was actually born and raised in the city, not off in the suburbs.”
He continued: “Yeah, this guy is a fuckin’ jackass.”
I replied: “Well, he’s just a googoo”
Another goon chimed in: “Yep!”
So there I spent 15 hours on the sinking ship of Chicago’s machine, bonding with goons in the frigid temperatures, sensing that the sun was setting on a fabled era of Chicago history.
I then cozied into the comfort of O’Shaughnessy’s for a nip and pint, followed by several more, and watched Rahmbo give his victory speech. I had my epiphany: the new boss is not the same as the old boss. The culture has changed, the relevance of organized labor has waned, and the city has become a mob of narrow-minded yuppies that share and embody Rahm’s hostility to populism.
Most importantly, the corporate press enthusiastically trumpeted Rahm’s candidacy. They manufactured this consent, paid no attention to the field’s one progressive (and Miguel was no Hugo Chavez), and turned this narrative into the completion of a dream for a Chicago political hero.
Many in the neighborhood were enthused that the mayor will live amongst us in Ravenswood. The home he famously leased out whilst in Washington is literally blocks from where I sit typing. The current resident, Rob Halpin, refused to break his lease when Rahm returned to run for mayor, thus sparking Rahm’s residency-question debacle. My message to Rob on this somber occasion: “Trash the fuckin’ place!”
The narrative has come full circle. I initially returned to this city to run for Rahm’s old Congressional seat as a Green in the 2009 special election. He is now back and I will be gone. I have regretted the decision to return for most of the last year, as I have grown tired of Chicago’s “Second city complex.” Always beware the people a notch or two below the Jones’s, for they are the most arrogantly hostile people on Earth. Chicago has never been a worldly cosmopolitan city a la New York or Paris, nor did it develop a uniquely vibrant identity a la L.A. with Hollywood.
With the sun setting on the machine, so it has set on us, the children of it. I am off to warmer and more fertile pastures. See you in New Orleans.
But not before making another toast to the memory of the Chicago Machine.