Friday, February 22, 2008

Chicagoans got the presidential political brawl New Yorkers fantasized about having this year

Chicago political geeks should celebrate this year’s presidential primary season because it has given us something our New York brethren fantasized about, but will not achieve.

Chicago South Side resident Barack Obama is challenging Chicago north suburban native Hillary R. Clinton for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Once John Edwards of South Carolina had the decency to step aside (along with the other Dems who had dreams of someday living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.), the primary became a good old-fashioned Chicago brawl.

THE SAME POLITICAL tactics that have often been used by our politicos whose ambitions are limited to City Hall, the County Building or (occasionally) the Statehouse in Springfield, Ill., are getting a viewing on the national scale.

Although Hillary left the Chicago area to go to college and never came back (similar to how Ronald Reagan left Illinois after college and never returned – see, she and Ronnie do have something in common), her political style has a strong Chicago streak. It is tough, willing to do whatever is necessary to gain support without regard for whose feelings are hurt, and figures that someone who is sensitive enough to hold a grudge was probably never going to support you anyway.

It’s actually a shame that Hillary Clinton did not decide to return to her roots in Illinois when she decided she wanted a political career of her own after her husband’s presidency ended. The adopted-New Yorker’s tough personality would have complimented the Chicago political scene, and could have provided our politicos with a worthy competitor.

The aggressive campaign style used by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the presidential primary is identical to what happens every day at City Hall, where pols play to win.

With such an attitude, nothing she has done in this campaign has been particularly surprising. Hillary wants to win this thing, and she’s not giving up.

HER ATTACKS ON Obama have been trashed by some as uncalled for, and callous and cold-hearted. But for those of us who appreciate good ol’ campaign brawls, this is the stuff that interesting politics is made of. We are living through the “war stories” that will be told to future civics classes, and will be thrashed about by political professionals of the future.

Not only that, but Hillary Clinton is correct when she says that Obama has not been “vetted” on the national scale anywhere near the degree to which she has. Of course, no one outside of her husband has. And I personally believe the Clinton critics in our society detest her even more than him.

So the key to observing the Clinton attacks is not so much about whether or not she’s got a legitimate charge that Obama plagiarized the written works of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (not really, it’s not plagiarism if the source gives you permission).

What we should be watching for is to see how Obama responds. Can he handle the heat? Can he even manage to swat a few of these ridiculous charges back at Clinton and make the mud stick to her clothes so badly that the symbolic stain never truly washes away?

TAKE THEIR DEBATE Thursday at the University of Austin, when Obama naively tried to take the high road by saying, “we shouldn’t spend our time tearing each other down, we should spend time building our country up.”

How sweet. Hillary rebutted by trashing Obama on the use of Patrick’s political words about words, and said of their rhetoric, “that’s not change we can believe it. It’s change you can Xerox.”

Some might say Clinton hurt herself by noting the boos and hisses that came from the debate audience. But many more are going to note Obama’s reaction. He hemmed and hawed and (visibly shaken) accused her of, “being unfair.”

How is Obama going to be able to handle the attack dogs working on behalf of likely GOP nominee John McCain and the rest of the Republicans if he can’t even handle a Hillary slam? She’s actually performing a public service of sorts by getting him ready for what is to come.

THOSE ATTACKS HAVE already started. McCain is already starting to talk Obama smack, and he’s got his wife taking on possible first lady opponent Michelle Obama. Of course, I’m sure he also has a whole mess of Clinton material stored up so he can shift gears and bash her about – should she manage to overcome her campaign problems and beat Obama.

Should Democrats actually prevail on Nov. 4 and the United States of America winds up with an Obama presidency, the intensity will ratchet up a few notches higher.

Obama talks about change in the mindset of government. The Youth of America say that is why they like him so much.

But when it comes right down to it, every politician claims they are for change. The word “change,” in and of itself, is empty rhetoric. Obama’s vision of change is not going to be accepted by everybody.

MORE CONSERVATIVE ELEMENTS of our society probably think the change that is needed is to take progressives like Obama and get them out of government – thereby allowing “more respectable” elements of society to set public policy.

We saw the degree to which they played politics with the Bill Clinton presidency and unleashed their wrath on Al Gore when he tried in 2000 to get a full accounting of the vote tallies in Florida to see if he really did win the electoral college tally as well as the popular vote.

Those people who liked the idea of George W. Bush in the White House the past eight years and who remain among the roughly one-third of the country that still supports his performance (consider that one congressional candidate in Illinois – James Oberweis – is saying in campaign commercials he agrees with “nearly everything” President Bush has done) are going to try to make political life as uncomfortable as possible for an Obama presidency (or a Clinton or McCain one, for that matter).

In some ways, running an election campaign by Chicago Rules is a good way to determine if Obama has what it takes to be Leader of the Free World.

IF IT TURNS out his old Illinois Statehouse critics are correct that he’s too much of an academic to play power politics, then we’re better off knowing now rather than next year after he’s taken an oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

Besides, there is one other plus to getting to see a Chicago political brawl. It is the fact that Chicago, in a sense, has prevailed upon the snotty, often-elitist political geeks (as though anybody from Brooklyn should think they’re superior) from New York City.

I can remember when the New York Post early in 2007 made an effort to start selling a national edition of the newspaper in Chicago. I occasionally plunked down my $1 to buy a copy of the paper, and took particular interest in the supposedly entertaining (more often trivial) way in which it covered politics.

Their occasional Obama stories tried to dismiss him as a fringe candidate worthy of less attention than Dennis Kucinich. I can remember one story that was a five-point list of trivial Obama facts, including that his middle name was “Hussein.” Another story dismissed him as a “surfer dude” from Hawaii who would try to, “ride his wave of popularity” into the White House.

THEIR COVERAGE KEPT playing up the notion that Hillary would overwhelm her Democratic opponents, while former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani would stomp all over the GOP competition.

The general election would become an All-New York political brawl. Residents of the Big Apple (which is a nickname that has always struck me as more ridiculous than calling Chicago the Windy City) would finally get to see the Giuliani/Clinton fight they wanted in the 2000 U.S. Senate elections, but were deprived of when Giuliani had to step out and lightweight congressman Rick Lazio (anybody remember him) wound up being Hillary’s whipping boy.

Some New Yorkers even envisioned the general election as a three-way, All-New York brawl – Mayor Michael Bloomberg would supposedly run as a political independent and stage a major third-party candidacy for the White House.

ONLY A NEW Yorker could be arrogant enough to think that scenario could ever happen.

Personally, I feel fortunate that the rise of Obama-mania and the failure of Giuliani to gain much of any support among rank-and-file Republican voters make it possible NONE of the New Yorkers will be in the general election.

So the provincial New Yorker will decry that 2008 will not be the first time a woman, Italian or Jewish person was elected to serve as president.

INSTEAD, WE’LL JUST have to settle for the first African-American as president, and it won’t be somebody from Harlem. It will be someone from the South Side of Chicago (someone to whom the name Hyde Park means the neighborhood on Lake Michigan, not the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt). And if either of those thoughts make you uncomfortable, then think of Obama as potentially the first Hawaiian (he was born and raised there) to be president.

Just imagine how much fun life at the White House could be with a Polynesian flair.

The only problem? Hula dancers at a January inauguration ceremony in the District of Columbia would result in serious cases of frostbite.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Even the New York Times (the newspaper that supposedly publishes “All the News that’s Fit to Print”) bought into the idea of a presidential campaign between ( three New Yorkers.

After reading all the early coverage that tried to trivialize the concept of Barack Obama, it was hilarious to see the New York Post finally came to the realization that Obama was the best bet for the Democratic nomination for president. They endorsed him. (

For those who want a more thorough accounting of Thursday’s debate between Obama and Clinton, check The South Chicagoan (

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