Wednesday, November 5, 2008

If Obama is Harold, then who’s the national scene’s version of Fast Eddie?

It strikes me as ironic that Edward R. Vrdolyak is back in the news these days, having pleaded guilty earlier this week to mail fraud and wire fraud for real estate deals that federal prosecutors say border on criminal activity. For I have been trying to figure out in my mind who is going to become the national version of “Fast Eddie.”

By that, I mean I expect the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States to anger a certain portion of the U.S. populace, and I expect they are going to spend the next four years doing whatever they can to thwart an Obama presidency from achieving its goals.

THERE ARE TOO many people who have gotten it into their heads (on account of all the campaign trash talk) that Obama is a socialist who will wreck havoc on this country. That, plus the racial angle, will result in the nation getting its own version of what we in Chicago remember as “Council Wars.”

The era of Harold Washington as the city’s first black mayor (1983-87) is mostly remembered for the partisan (racial, not political) fights in the City Council between the mayor’s allies and his opposition – which at 29 aldermen held the majority, and used it to dump all over anything Washington hinted he might support.

In Chicago, the opposition was sparked when Vrdolyak, then the alderman from the ward with all the steel mills down by Indiana (in short, not a haute portion of Chicago), sensed that the outrage to Washington’s mayoral victory in 1983 remained so intense that he could get away with openly defying Washington.

Is that what we’re destined for in the District of Columbia – a Congress where a Republican minority will find enough rural Democrats and others whose constituents are uneasy with race to create a “majority” that will think it is engaging in responsible government by “standing up” to a President Obama?

FOR TWO YEARS, we got “Council Wars” (the name was inspired by comedian Aaron Freeman, who did sketches comparing Chicago political activity to the early “Star Wars” films – Harold was the Luke Skywalker figure, while the evil Empire was run by “Darth Vrdolyak.”)

Some people might think it ridiculous that a serious political figure could get away with such trash in opposition to a president. Yet to this day, there are still people in the 10th Ward who insist Vrdolyak is the reason their neighborhoods didn’t decline – and by decline, they mean have an increase of non-white people move in.

What a legacy for “Fast Eddie” (the nickname came from his early years in the City Council, long before the Washington years). He got to be the namesake for the racial opposition to the city’s first black mayor (the Vrdolyak 29), whose antics reached such intensity that those who are still a part of the City Hall scene continue to offer up apologies for their past behavior.

In short, Chicago in the 1980s was a place that was having trouble coping with the fact that white people were no longer the majority of the city’s population. The reason why I think a national version of Council Wars is coming to Capitol Hill is that I sense the same attitude on a national scale in this year’s presidential election.

I SENSE THAT a slight majority of the electorate consists of people who either are sympathetic to Obama, or were so repulsed when Republican presidential nominee John McCain picked “that woman” to be his running mate that they figured Obama was more rational.

But I sense that the people who didn’t vote for Obama, while NOT a majority, were serious in their opposition. They really have been worked up into a lather in believing that the junior senator from the Hyde Park neighborhood is going to take a sledgehammer to the way they perceive their country ought to operate.

Let’s be honest about one factor. For some, it IS a racial issue.

Their perception of “better qualified” is always going to be someone who is white, or who goes out of his way to “act white.” Louisiana Gov. Piyush Jindal, whose attempts to be “more American” included a first-name change to “Bobby,” is their ideal of a “good” minority, not some guy running around with a name like “Barack” who thinks the fact he once lived for a couple years in Indonesia is a positive.

FOR OTHERS, I think their opposition is a reliving of the 1960s. They are comfortable voting for somebody of that age who was alive and active during the Vietnam era and who did things that indicate they supported that particular war.

McCain being a POW fits into their “world view,” while Obama does not (he was only 12 when the last U.S. troops left the country) because he has associated with people who were so opposed to that war that they were inclined to commit vandalism and mess with explosives.

They want to believe the anti-war movement of that era died off in failure, and an Obama victory is evidence that the movement’s values continue to live on and inspire younger generations.

My point in hashing through this litany is to show I don’t doubt the seriousness of the people who were ABO in this election. Voting for “Anybody But Obama” means they are experiencing feelings of revulsion and disgust – probably more intense than anything felt by “the left” when it was learned in December 2000 that George W. Bush REALLY WAS going to be the next president.

DID YOU HEAR the boos when McCain mentioned Obama’s name while making his concession speech, and how McCain had to beg his followers to not be so bitter? The ABO’s of this country didn't want to hear it, and they clearly are not going to meekly slink away for four years. I sense their disgust will be as intense as the feelings that went through Chicago in those months following Washington’s election.

I fully expect that the people who perceive it as their “patriotic duty” to oppose anything Obama wants will engage in antics that cross the line into racially offensive activity.

Think I’m kidding? I’m already hearing some pundits trashing the McCain campaign for not making a general election issue out of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Got to get those crazy black preachers into the campaign mix, even though I think McCain himself realized that making too much of Wright would have backfired and made him look like a racist half-wit to a large chunk of the electorate (like what happened to Bernard Epton, whose serious record as a Republican state legislator from Chicago is forgotten because of all those mayoral campaign ads warning people to vote for him, “before it’s too late.”)

So I expect a President Obama to endure a hellish experience in D.C. But the Washington era did have one benefit – it made many people in Chicago realize in retrospect how ridiculous their attitudes were.

SINCE HAROLD WASHINGTON, Illinois has managed to elect some African-American officials to statewide office, and none of those Chicagoans endured anything resembling the Council Wars treatment. Is it possible that the nation now needs to experience a President Obama in order to work through its feelings and allow us to fully enter the 21st Century?

So once again, I have to ask, “Who’s going to be Fast Eddie?”

Which one of the Washington officials is going to have the ego and local constituents backward enough to support him to be willing to take on an effort to coordinate an Obama opposition? Who’s going to be the official who causes people to apologize two decades from now for the gross overreactions they are going to engage in during the next couple of years?

For my part, I must confess to feeling sympathy for Obama at this point in time. His presidency is not going to be easy.

HE IS GOING to be restrained by the economy (the federal government can’t afford to do many of the things Obama dreams of) and an ongoing war in Iraq (whether we like it or not, we’re stuck in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if U.S. troops remained there on Inauguration Day in January 2013).

On top of that, he will have a particularly outspoken opposition that will thrive on making him look bad.

Will we someday remember the 1990s and think that Bill Clinton had it easy from the Republicans who tried to impeach and convict him, compared to the treatment Obama will get?


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