The Conversation

Obama's Way is the 'Chicago Way'

John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has long explained that if you want to understand Obama's confrontational style, you have to understand the lessons he learned in his adopted hometown of Chicago.

Today he illustrates the point with a personal anecdote about how members of his own family who loved to discuss politics would never do so in public for fear of retaliation by public officials and agencies.

That fear is still very potent in Chicago. When I ran for Congress there, many people were afraid to help me publicly because they feared for their jobs--or they feared that their trash wouldn't be removed.

(My own father did stand up to the "Chicago Way," very publicly--and until the federal prosecutor backed him up, the powers-that-be did everything they could to make his, and our, lives difficult.)

That fear of the people we (theoretically) elect to serve us doesn't just hit the little people. As Kass points out, it also hits billionaires--people like Joe Ricketts, patriarch of the family that owns the Cubs:

One hard-working billionaire whose children own the Chicago Cubs dared to open his mouth. Joe Ricketts considered funding a political group critical of Obama before last year's campaign. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, made it clear that if the Cubs wanted City Hall's approval to refurbish decrepit Wrigley Field, Ricketts better back off.

It happened. He backed off. It was sickening. But it was and is Chicago. And now — with the IRS used as political muscle and the Obama administration keeping that secret until after the president was elected — America understands it too.

If you want to survive in Chicago, you learn to play by their rules. As Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business noted earlier this month, the Ricketts family just hired some former Obama aides to help with PR.

Obama first came to Chicago to overturn all of that. He fought the "Chicago way" in his first, failed run for Congress in 2000, when he was thumped in the Democratic primary by the decrepit Bobby Rush.

Then he met David Axelrod, who ran Mayor Daley's PR machine for a while, using his media contacts and the lessons of a career observing Chicago politics up close. Suddenly Obama... changed.

He's now capable of such Daley feats as carving up a runway in the dead of night (above) to settle a public debate about an airport's future. Forget democracy; forget restraints on power; just exert your will.

And punish your enemies, so badly that you intimidate anyone thinking of becoming one. It's how they do it in Chicago. Not that Chicago's doing too well--but never mind: the Mayor of America has bigger X's to carve.


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