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« Homeless "Sweeps" in Edgewater A Few Instances Where President Obama Has Broken, Despite Being From Chicago »

Economics Thu Jul 23 2009

The Chicago Boys Go To Washington

2008: President Obama grandly alludes to a new day in America by using allegory and eloquence in speeches to excite the electorate. 2009: Congressional Democrats can barely shut down another pointless spending spree on the military by Republicans while other Democrats seek to enact laws that would allow for permit-holders to carry concealed weapons across state lines into states that do not currently allow them. The economy hasn't recovered as expected, universal health care still sounds like a pipe dream, and Wall Street's profits and bonuses are coming roaring back. What gives?

To be certain, Barack Obama brought a sense of optimism to this country with his groundbreaking 2008 election. The trouble is, the massive problems in America, caused by 30+ years of neoliberal and neoconservative policy, aren't scared of Obama's words - as eloquent and well-chosen as they may be. It's going to take a nice, hard fight on the part of working people to keep our politicians on the straight-and-narrow and fighting for our interests.

Politico reported recently that at a worst-case scenario, the tax-paying populace could be on the hook for over $23 trillion dollars as a result of the bailouts. As they point out, that's more than all of the wars that we've ever fought, combined. And this being America, that's a lot of money spent on wars.

What does this have to do with Chicago? As Chicago citizens, we need to be mindful that problems here and problems nationally are interconnected, especially when some of the same players are involved. There are many parallels between the way that Barack Obama has chosen to run our country and the way that Chicago does its political business. Sure, Obama has not visibly engaged in the kind of crony capitalism that ol' W and our man Daley are so fond of. But the public's concern about a lack of transparency and broken election promises are starting to sound like an echo chamber of Chicago's own political dissenters. Furthermore, the massive budgets that Obama inherited are being stretched even further with all of the industry bailouts and haphazardly-planned stimulus packages that Obama's team has come up with, without evidence of a real recovery.

The administration's logic on economic issues is similar to Daley's push for the Olympics. Forget about the potholes, lack of plows, and overall lousy City services. As long as we have the Olympics, we can create hundreds of low-wage, temporary jobs for people! Instead of creating a task force of unemployed Chicagoans to fix potholes, clean up neighborhoods, and transform our intra- and intercity train network into a high speed modern marvel, our politicians worry about privatizing meters and getting more Wal-Mart jobs into the city - telling organized labor to zip it. And here, I thought that unions created our middle class... Looks like Chicago's own Milton Friedman has made a bigger impact here than some of Chicago's other class warriors.

Obama's own mantra of keeping health insurance in private hands - ruling out single-payer health care from the get-go, and recently, Rahm Emanuel's "blue dog" tendancy to snuff out the public option - have shown how willing Democrats are to keep public assets out of public hands. Furthermore, generating real economic recovery for all of us doesn't seem to be a consideration - instead of reviving manufacturing, Obama's team doesn't even flinch when GM talks about making cars in China after getting bailed out by the US taxpayers.

That's right, folks. This isn't your daddy's Democratic party of Teamsters, moustaches, and a fighting allegiance to the working man. Today, Democrats from all over the country - many of them in Chicago - are working faster than anybody to neglect (at the very least) or completely sell away some of our most valuable public assets. What's so great about the government owning and operating Midway Airport, you may ask. Well, look no further than the giant boondoggle created by Daley and his buddies at LAZ Parking to see just how profitable these entities are. Personally, I miss meters you can lock your bike to and popping in $.25 for an hour of parking time. But more importantly, I now also have no say as to how these decisions are made - because they're being made in private boardrooms, rather than by politicians over whom we have some degree of control.

They say that Richard J. Daley, an old school machine politician, got John F. Kennedy, a young and eloquent Democrat elected. Maybe Richard M. Daley, a new school machine politician, has more influence on our country than previously thought - with his unfortunate free market logic. Let's hope that Barack, Rahm, and the rest of the crew don't let one of the most definable issues of this election - health care - be left in private hands once again. Because if there's one thing I like less than corrupt City officials running programs over-budget and over their timelines, it's when their robber baron buddies in the private sector make off like bandits because of these overruns.

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Dennis Fritz / July 24, 2009 12:37 PM

Excellent post.

On issue after issue, Obama's soaring rhetoric has been coupled by a tendency to seek the path of least resistence when it comes to actual policy implementation. No doubt, he sees this as "realistic."

It reminds me of nothing so much as Daley's veto of the Chicago big box ordinance. In that case, the proposed ordinance had massive public support, plus support from two-thirds of city council members. It was deemed veto-proof. But Daley vetoed it, subsequently strong-arming select aldermen into changing their votes to let the veto stand.

This says something about Daley's power vis-a-vie the city council. However, even more disturbing was Daley's logic. Were the big box ordinance to go into effect, he argued, retailers would flee the city. It didn't matter that the people wanted the ordinance, that it's passage could have sparked a wave of similar ordinances in other cities and perhaps breath new life into the idea of a living wage nationwide. No, that wasn't "realistic." Realistic was accepting, without complaint, the fact private, for-profit retailers like Target have the power to override decisions reached by democratically elected governments.

The same logic is at work in Obama's retreat from his former support for a single-payer health care plan. We are in the midst of a major crisis of democracy in this country, and our leaders seem resigned to it.

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