Next week, President Barack Obama will travel to Chicago to deliver a farewell address. Though Obama built his political career there, it is a strange setting for a valediction.
No place better represents Obama’s failure as president than Chicago, which has suffered mightily on his watch. More people were murdered in Chicago last year than New York and Los Angeles combined, and this week’s live-streamed torture of a disabled white teenager is a reflection of the sad state of race relations.
Chicago is important to Obama’s biography, but it has been totally unimportant to his presidency. Aside from the occasional speech — such as a 2013 “economic” speech primarily devoted to gun control — Obama has barely done anything to help the city where he built his political persona.
Not that he did much as a state senator, either. He had no achievements in Springfield until Senate Majority Leader Emil Jones decided to “make me a U.S. Senator” and gave Obama credit for others’ legislation.
What impact State Sen. Obama had on Chicago was usually negative. While Obama’s team of consultants carefully managed his image in the Chicago press, and later the national media, it was the Boston Globe that exposed the rot in Obama’s housing record, where he shunted public funding to politically-connected private slumlords, who forced Chicago’s poor to live in “uninhabitable” conditions. (One of the main beneficiaries was Valerie Jarrett, still Obama’s most trusted and feared adviser.)
When Obama won in 2008, he and his Chicago coterie left behind a city and a state mired in corruption and debt. Voters elected a reformist Republican, Bruce Rauner, who has been stymied by Chicago’s Mike Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House. For eight years, Obama has had nothing to say about it, short of denying ties to disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich and dispatching his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to run for Chicago mayor, where he has been ineffective.
Arguably, Obama made Chicago’s problems worse. There is some political science research to suggest that states do worse, not better, when their U.S. Senators ascend to more powerful committees. The anticipation of pork from Washington distorts decision-making at home.
So it is with Obama and Chicago. Until the Tea Party election of 2010, which put the U.S. House beyond Democrats’ reach for a decade, Illinois Democrats thought Obama would bail them out. Perhaps some of them still do.
Meanwhile, Obama’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement has been a disaster for the city. As Mayor Emanuel said himself in 2015, commenting on the increased scrutiny of police — a result of BLM’s nationwide rise: “We have allowed our police department to get fetal and it is having a direct consequence … They have pulled back from the ability to interdict … they don’t want to be a news story themselves, they don’t want their career ended early, and it’s having an impact.”
The violence has been concentrated in the city’s poorer areas, but occasionally makes it to the suburbs, as it did in my home town of Skokie, where a swimmer on my old high school team was shot and killed in 2014.
Bizarrely, the city’s violence has created a trendy “Chiraq” hip-hop counter-culture, which lives and breathes on social media — hence the Facebook live stream of a hate crime, accompanied by shouts of “fuck Donald Trump” — the refrain of a popular hip-hop song during the election.
Chicago also made Obama a worse president — at least, the lessons he drew from Chicago, where he became convinced that a strong executive should dictate radical change rather than negotiating with the opposition.
On Tuesday, he and the city will celebrate each other, and reminisce about that glorious victory speech in Grant Park. It was a moment to remember, because it was the peak for both. Aside from the Cubs and Blackhawks — teams Obama never supported — it has been downhill since.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.