Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff in President Barack Obama's White House, has written an op-ed in the Washington Post advising America, and Democrats in particular, to follow Chicago's example in designing their policies, arguing that doing so will help the economy and keep Republicans out of office.
Emanuel advocates heavy investment in public infrastructure, funds for competition among public schools, spending more money for skills training at the collegiate level, and pushing for "comprehensive immigration reform." He also cites Democrat successes from Bill Clinton's second term, such as balancing the federal budget.
Yet there are a few features of Emanuel's tenure in Chicago that the nation would be wise not to emulate.
Murder. One is a massive violent crime wave, resulting in more than 400 murders by October 1. The city has already passed last year's total of 435 murders, and the murder rate is rising in Chicago despite drops in other major American cities and in spite of the nation's most restrictive gun control laws outside of Washington, DC.
Taxes. Another is the enormous tax burden Chicago imposes on its residents. The city has the highest sales tax in the nation, at 9.5%. That is partly why in his own budget for 2013, Emanuel refused to raise taxes--and, in fact, cut certain taxes. Instead, he proposed raising revenues from other sources, and cutting spending in several areas to balance the city's budget. (Curiously, Emanuel does not offer that same advice to President Obama.)
Debt. One way in which the nation already reflects Chicago's policies is massive, unfunded liabilities. Chicago faces unfunded pension liabilities of at least $26.8 billion--far higher, according to some estimates--and will need to cut spending dramatically or raise taxes to astronomically-high levels in the near future. Emanuel has not yet done much to reform Chicago's entitlements; Obama merely campaigned on demagoguing his rival's plans.
Unemployment. Emanuel cites job growth in Chicago. But Chicago's unemployment rate, at 8.4%, is still higher than the national average. And while the city was once a hub of entrepreneurship, the top four employers today are all government agencies, in order: the federal government, the public school system, the City of Chicago, and Cook County. Chicago has essentially become a government with an economy, rather than the other way around. That is a model that President Obama and his Democrats have already been following for the nation.
Emigration. As for comprehensive immigration reform, a large influx of immigrants could not prevent Chicago from suffering a population decline over the past decade. People are voting with their feet, and those with the means to do so are leaving Chicago--and leaving the debt-laden, Democrat-owned state of Illinois as well.
Corruption. Finally, as Emanuel well knows, there is one "Chicago way" for which the city has become famous--or infamous--and which he himself implemented at the highest levels of the Obama administration. That is the practice of paying back political favors with lucrative government business. The evidence suggests that Emanuel was involved in pushing the failed Solyndra deal, for example, in which hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars were shoveled to a failing solar-cell company with ties to Obama donors as part of a "green jobs" agenda. Chicago today remains the city of big favors, of pay-to-play politics and crony capitalism.
If President Obama were to adopt Emanuel's conservative approach to balancing the budget--and if he were to confront union special interests more aggressively than Emanuel did this fall in the Chicago teachers' strike--then America would indeed be better off, and the public would be sure to return Democrats to office. But that is not what Obama intends to do, and not what Emanuel recommends, which is little more than a re-hash of Obama's first-term promises.
Decades of Democratic one-party rule in Chicago have created a nationwide fan base for the Chicago Bears, as people who would have loved to stay in town have chosen, reluctantly, to try their luck elsewhere. The truth is that the nation could use a little less Chicago, and a lot more Wisconsin or Indiana--two Republican-governed neighboring states to which Chicago businesses and residents have been relocating.