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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, April 23

Gapers Block

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Your columnist apologizes for his exceptional busy-ness now that election day is upon us. For that reason, he offers an excerpt from the introduction to a non-fiction work, "Legion: For They Are Many: Chicago's Democrats and the Future of American Progressivism," which he has been researching and writing for over a year.

Late November days in Chicago are only one of two types: disconcertingly warm, or cold beyond belief. On this particularly cold November Sunday, the believers at St. Columbanus Catholic Church at 71st and King Streets in Chicago's predominately black South Side were being warmed up by the fiery words of their parish priest, known to them simply as Father Matt. His sermon focused on self-improvement through Christ, specifically an event from The Gospel According To Mark, Ch. 5.

"Christ came off the boat at Garasenes, and was confronted with a man possessed by demons," he said, "and Christ said to the demons, 'Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!' But the spirit did not come out; and Christ said to the man, 'What is your name?' The man replied, 'I am called Legion, for we are many.' Now, why did Christ ask the man his name?"

The assembled remained quiet, unsure how to answer.

Father Matt wasn't going to let them get off so easy. "Hello? Is anybody listening? I asked -- why did Christ ask this man his name? He's Christ—he knows everything. As it's said: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' Why should Jesus ask this man's name before he cast the demons out?

"Because -- because no man can cast his demons out, until he knows what they are called."


It is fashionable to accuse Chicago's Democratic Party of being un-Democrats, of being Democrats-in-name-only; it is fashionable to call them merely moderate Republicans. But the Democratic Party of Cook County is conceivably the most important municipal party organization in the entire country, and since the days of Richard J. Daley has set the course for national Democratic Party ideals and has been the model for urban planning nation-wide.

Chicago's Democrats are indeed true Democrats. More than that, they are progressives who, in almost every facet of political realities, spearhead Democratic attitudes for municipal organizations across the country.

It was in Chicago, remember, that the black reparations debate was brought to a head. And it was not just the black aldermen, either: old-hand white ethnic politicians offered sincere, tearful apologies for slavery and voted along with the reparations bill. It was Thomas Murphy's attempt to join the black caucus that sparked a firestorm of debate on racial politics in America's editorial boards. It was here that the PATRIOT Act and the War on Iraq were first formally repudiated by a major elected governmental body (Evanston's City Council -- a cute proxy of our own). And it will be in Chicago and Cook County that the course for the same-sex marriage debate will be decided.

And yet, we are renown in Chicago for an inherent lack of democracy. Chicagoans joke all the time about "King Daley," our Elective Majesty. City Council debates are about as rare as ousted Aldermanic incumbents (and the one has not a little to do with the other). Springfield, too, is affected by the stranglehold the Democratic Party has on the electorate: troublesome State Representatives and State Senators are routinely tossed out the window for more amicable Party Regulars.

How can a Party that seems so dedicated to progressivism, at least the broad strokes of progressivism, be so impatient with the mere formalities of "democracy?"

For Chicago's Democrats, party discipline is key. Without it, there would be no capital-p Party -- and without a Party, there could be no real agenda. A party with no agenda loses its ability to shape policy and wield national influence. It is Cook County's ability to generate inhuman numbers of Democratic votes -- and in essence deliver all of Illinois' electoral votes to a given candidate -- that makes Chicago's Democrats powerful, keeps them in the national spotlight, and makes the so influential. 

But all of this is a pipe dream without Party Discipline. This stretches across racial, ethnic, and geographic lines. For better or worse -- and often worse -— the Party must be kept in harness for the greater good, for the greater achievement of traditional Democratic Party ideals.

The infamous Ed Kelly, committeeman of the 47th Ward, was a bitter opponent of the great Harold Washington even though he outwardly espoused the bringing in of minorities and women to the Cook County governmental machinery. He did not oppose Mayor Washington ideologically, but because he flaunted Party discipline. There may be problems with Chicago, Mr. Kelly may have argued, but we must confront them internally. We must name them from within so that we may provide a united face without.

It is no crime to be a loner in Chicago's Democratic Party, so long as one does not try to weaken it. Like with the Bolsheviks, all loyalty must first be to the integrity of the Party, and only then may the Party solve the problems at hand. The greatest sin a Chicago politician can commit is to break ranks and fight injustice unilaterally.

Chicago's Democratic Party is progressive, all right. Democratic Idealistic to the core: the embodiment of Paul Simon's "socially liberal/fiscally conservative" ideal. But they also know how to mix in a healthy dose of Bolshevism.

But can progressivism survive in this city when debate is stifled, muffled, and cast out not by the voter, but by the all-knowing Party Leadership -- who was In The Beginning, With the Word?

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