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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Obama’s corrupt Illinois alliance

    With barely seven months remaining until Election Day, Barack Obama is on the verge of becoming a Teflon candidate, all but immune to criticism.

    There’s good reason for this. The most important thing to criticize about Obama’s career is invisible, because the media doesn’t talk about it. By that I mean the growing debt Obama owes to the very worst element in Illinois politics, Mayor Richard Daley’s political machine.

    The first hint of this came in January 2007, when Obama endorsed Daley’s run for re-election, calling him one of the best mayors in America. Many observers were startled, not merely because many had expected Obama to endorse one of Daley’s two more liberal opponents, but because Daley’s administration was awash in scandal.

    Son of the legendary Richard J. Daley, who ruled Chicago with an iron fist for 30 years, the younger Daley may be the most powerful city boss in America. He “”wields near imperial power,”” as Time magazine’s Nancy Gibbs put it in an admiring profile. “”He controls public housing, public schools and the city council.””

    Like all political bosses, Daley has built his machine on corruption, dispensing favors and special privileges to the companies and hack politicians who keep him in power. As Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has put it, “”Thugs, morons, idiots and convicts were put on the city payroll to work the precincts so that Daley could keep getting elected.”” By 2006 a federal investigation had been launched into what prosecutors called “”pervasive fraud”” at Chicago’s City Hall.

    By any standard, Boss Daley represents the ugliest, most undemocratic side of the Democratic Party. That’s why it came as a surprise to many when Obama praised him as one of the best mayors in America, “”as somebody who’s innovative, as somebody who’s tough, as somebody who’s willing to make the hard decisions.””

    The reason for Obama’s move was simple and obvious. A month earlier, Daley had come out and endorsed him for the presidency – something he’d never done before – and given him an enormous boost.

    Obama didn’t stop there. In March 2007, he endorsed one of Daley’s most corrupt hacks, Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman. Tillman is famous locally for opening a community center – a few months afterward a local community paper exposed that center as a money-wasting exercise in cronyism and nepotism, stocked with Tillman’s relatives and campaign contributors.

    Obama’s shameless attempt to help out an exposed mountebank to impress a powerful ally didn’t work: Tillman lost anyway. The ward she had represented for 20 years, the Dallas Observer grimly noted, “”comprised the city’s largest concentration of vacant lots.”” That, I suppose, was one of those “”hard decisions”” that had to be made.

    The Daley machine is primarily responsible for the rot that blights Chicago – the same rot that Obama allegedly set out to fight during his vaunted years as a community activist. The same rot that he claims to have fought in the state senate, when, according to an article in the Observer, “”Obama evaded leadership on a host of critical community issues, from historic preservation to the rapid demolition of nearby public-housing projects.”” In other words, Obama avoided taking a strong stance on any controversial issue that might have brought him into conflict with the Daley machine.

    City machines don’t have much time for high-minded outsiders, and Obama duly lost his first run for Congress to a Daley candidate in 2000. In 2004, Obama ran for the Senate, ran a better campaign and elicited the mayor’s grudging endorsement after the primary.

    From then until Daley’s surprise endorsement, Obama did not make a single significant criticism of Daley, even when indictments and shame-faced resignations began to make the headlines and tear at the revered mayor’s reputation. In August 2005, Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times that “”Some of the reports I’ve seen … would give me huge pause”” about endorsing the mayor’s re-election. An hour later, he called the reporter back and retracted his statement.

    A year later, he was praising his newest benefactor as a man “”constantly thinking about how to make the city better.””

    It might be argued that Daley is so powerful that it would have been useless for Obama to oppose him. In fact, Daley’s power is entirely a product of the failure of anyone to oppose him. Illegitimate power in a republic crumbles at the first touch of daylight, like a vampire. That is why merely exposing Daley’s corrupt power threatened it; a nationally famous politician’s opposition might well have toppled it.

    It could also be argued that Daley’s support was necessary for Obama to win the presidency, so Obama could not afford to oppose him. This argument won’t wash, since it makes no sense to entrust a man with the welfare of 50 states if he turned his back on the welfare of his own state.

    In fact, Obama didn’t even do that. Instead of merely ignoring Daley, he endorsed him, using his own reputation for honesty and forthrightness to help salvage and shore up a tyrant. By doing that, he betrayed the interests of his constituents in the interest of his own career. For a man who seems likely to become our next president, this is not a hopeful beginning.

    Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in history and political science and the arts editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at

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