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July 14, 2008


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Noel Maurer

An irrelevant quibble in terms of your point, but a larger point about the way you and Carlos use the word "machine": I used to think I knew what you meant by that, but I'm no longer sure.

Machine politics in the classic sense has been dead in America for several decades, as has the kind of widespread municipal corruption that used to characterize them. In other words, Chicago right now /has/ clean and relatively honest government. You don't have to regularly pay bribes to building inspectors, for example, or find police protection contingent on political support.

That's not to say that on some spectrum of municipal competence and impartiality Chicago doesn't rank lower than elsewhere. Nor is it to say that there aren't places with very well-developed GOTV operations based on patronage of some sort or another.

It's just that I wouldn't imply that Chicago politics is the same now as it was in the 1970s, let alone the 1950s.

Perhaps I am sensitive because there have been a lot of people who like to make exactly that implication --- that the Chicago of 2008 is just like the Chicago of 1968 --- in order to slime the candidate.

I also think that the New Yorker cover is horrible. It would be decent satire if ... well ... if it exaggerated the picture that the opposition is in fact trying to paint. It doesn't.

BTW, how will President Obama disappoint? I can guess what you're thinking, but I don't really know.


Oh, come on, Noel. Of course it exaggerates the picture the opposition is trying to paint. It reifies it and makes it laughable. Personally, if I were Obama, I'd frame the damn thing and put it on my wall, and laugh every time I walked past it.


Noel, I'm not responsible for other people's misconceptions about Chicago politics, and I refuse to let the opposition dictate my choice of terms. I prefer to dictate their choice of terms.

While it's true that Chicago politics of the 2000s are different from the Chicago politics of the 1970s, it's been an incremental change, not a revolutionary one. I don't think even Harold Washington's most devoted supporters would claim that he permanently broke the machine. A quick run through back issues of Chicago newspapers through Mayor Daley's past six terms -- I am coughing a little bit here -- would pretty quickly disabuse most people of this notion. (The name you want to search for most recently is Robert Sorich.) I will say there seems to be less punitive anti-patronage today, for want of a better word, than there was under Daley Senior.

Obama is interesting because he comes from the tradition of Washington's counter-organization, which used a rather fragile (and familiar looking) coalition to ride herd over the Cook County Democratic apparatus. But this is known stuff. There's not much new in terms of perception in Lizza's story, which is bothersome. Though the Bobby Rush redistricting story is good.

The cover is clearly satire, but it's also clearly stupid satire, the sort of thing an editorial cartoonist might come up with after drinking a few forties while watching reruns of Family Guy. Still, it's interesting to see that the Obama campaign can flex its outrage muscles too.

Okay, insomnia.

Noel Maurer

This could become a debate over the meaning of "is." When does a machine stop being a machine? When does corruption go from SOP to simply common? When does patronage stop being an important part of a community's economic and political life and become a sideshow?

Bah. The two of you get very stubborn sometimes.

The reasons why classic machines have pretty much disappeared:

(1) Suburbanization. City economies declined too much to support the graft associated with true machine politics. Daley Jr. is competing with Schaumburg and Naperville, let alone Dallas and Seattle, for both business and residents. http://www.econ.yale.edu/seminars/echist/eh01/menes-011206.pdf

(2) The press. Newspapers began to take on a serious muckraking nature. http://weber.ucsd.edu/~jlbroz/PElunch/Gentzkow_4th_estate.pdf

(3) Federal intervention. In Chicago's case, it would be the 1978 Mirage investigations, not Harold Washington, that reduced the machine to something unrecognizable. Of course, those investigations weren't exogenous: see points (1) and (2) above.

I'd add a fourth: federal anti-poverty programs. Food stamps, for example, eventually undercut and destroyed the Kelly machine in the Bronx, leaving a only sad successor for the Feds to clean up in the 1980s. Some enterprising folks like Ramon Velez tried to use the flow of funds to build something like a machine ... absent the GOTV operation. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9F0CE6D9173CF936A25756C0A965958260

Ed Glaeser and Raven Saks, meanwhile, would add a fifth, and probably elevate it to first place: rising educational levels. http://www.nber.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/papers/w10821

The upshot is that you can do business and get involved in politics in Chicago today --- or get pulled over, or apply for a permit for a garage, or re-do your lawn --- and never need to deal with a machine.

Old-fashioned machines --- real machines, worthy of the name --- persist in places like Detroit and Newark. (Well, not the latter, not now.) That was a serious problem for those places.


I'm not sure how much that cover actually exaggerates views on the right: after all, that a Obama presidency will turn into a dictatorship, that Obama is a Secret Muslim, and that he will bring us to defeat in our Existential Battle With The Islamic Menace, are all fairly common Repuplican talking points.

There are an alarming number of people who actually seem to think we are in some danger of falling under Sharia rule: it's _hard_ to parody the far right.

To use a perhaps shaky analogy (and Noel, I apologize for Godwinizing), if a liberal European paper of the 1920s ran an issue on antisemitism, would they decorate the cover with a picture of huge-nosed, sidelocked jews kidnapping Christian women, poisoning wells, etc? [1]

[1] And no, I'm not comparing OTL USA with Weimar Germany: the American republic has, thank God, a lot more ruin in it yet.


Bruce, I take your point -- it IS hard to parody the far right -- but I get a sense that by throwing up our hands and never mentioning their fantasy world because to do so would somehow be offensive, it stays down in society's subconscious, so to speak.

Isn't it better to drag it out into the daylight where it can be confronted?


Reading Nixonland right now, Michael, and that makes me think the answer to your question is no. If we're striving for social or societal control of wacko, poisonous views of Obama (and African-Americans more generally), then the way to do that is to keep them marginalized, not on New Yorker covers that could just as well be National Review covers. I agree also with comments I've seen in various places that the New Yorker doesn't have the stones to do a similarly outrageous cover of McCain. And btw, the magazine was on Germany's cable news today, guaranteeing international exposure.

Doug (not Muir)

Previous comment is also me and not Doug Muir. One more for a three Doug night?

Colin Alberts

unlike most other big cities, Chicago has never had a golden age of relatively clean and honest government.

Is that strictly speaking true though? Not about the nature of Chicago politics, mind you--but about the "golden age" for other cities. I seem to recall someone--Schlesinger, I think--once saying that the one point that a 20th c. American liberal and an 18th c. Founder brought back to life would agree on was that municipal government has been the single biggest perpetual disappointment in US political life and history.

New Yorkers may look back to Tammany with nostalgia, but not because they think it was "relatively clean and honest". Ditto for Angelenos looking back to the days of say, 1945-1965.

The only exception I can think of is Milwaukee and memories of German socialists, but that is one city and very much an outlier.


So, I had to take my blog down and accordingly, I come back here for various fixes.

As a native of Chicago and a member of one of those Daley-backing families, Chicago is the triumph of the machine, and Carlos is right. I'm going to add some more things to the mix, though.

What's striking, Noel, is that you have Detroit and Newark, but not Philly. Having criss-crossed the country for the campaign, Philly, oddly, struck me as a smaller, sadder version of Chicago (like Cleveland, with better "culture," education, and Black Muslims). Chicago certainly has the Machine and anti-Machine factions that Carlos sites, (realignments are ongoing. The core Irish police/fore families are edging away from the Daleys, sort of), but the difference between Chicago and Philly is that after Philly's mayor bombed MOVE in 1972 is that Philly attempted to decentralize its machine, but that Chicago has emerged with an ever more powerful mayoralty and a higher degree of centralization. Philly's machine works, but it's blind and deaf and sort of flails about in a St. Vitus' dance; it has no major place for the Hispanic population, and the black-white power sharing arrangement feels staid and dated.

In Chicago, had Harold Washington lived, the instruments would still be there, but used by different people. Council Wars was sort of the last gasp of the opposition. Perversely, 21st Chicago's triumph feels like that of the French monarchy over the French state/people. The Mayor of Chicago controls the governor, and it's the mayor who's the most powerful man in the Midwest.

Colin; I'd add Minneapolis/St. Paul and Portland to that list. I don't know enough about Seattle, though.

But when we go back to the list of "machine" cities with corruption that everyone thinks of historically, what exactly to do we get? Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago. Those are, in a sense /old/ cities, whose machines emerged in what's now the historical past (Tammany dating back to the Revolution) aided and abetted by immigrant groups of the late 19th century, and entirely northern. The machines in Boston and Chicago were Irish; in New York, Immigrant Roman Catholic.

That sort of drops off after the 1960s, where the extant machines sort of calcify after "everyone" becomes white; Jews, Irish, Italians, etc. sort of converge into one category.

And then, something...

I'm not confident enough to make remarks about the emerging Hispanic population, the politics of New Mexico's cities, San Antonio or Houston, or the potential for machine-ism in the New South; though I think the whole county seat thing structurally favors such an event, longstanding party decentralization seems to move against it.

Colin Alberts

"I'd add Minneapolis/St. Paul and Portland to that list. I don't know enough about Seattle, though."

Meaning those are city governments that "work" now, or where the inhabitants labor under the impression (true or not) that Once Upon A Time the city fathers were all clean and honest and Everything Worked.

Maybe Carlos could shed some light on the question of whether ordinary current residents of Cream City have any sort of residual memory of folks like Daniel Hoan, and of Sewer Socialism, or if it is all just a footnote for history buffs.

I don't know much about St. Paul, but my rough understanding of Minneapolis is that while the age of the Humphrey-DFL mayoralty might have been progressive, and relatively clean, it wasn't noted as being extraordinarily efficient, certainly not that much more than other big cities.


Minneapolis works *now*. In the past, hoo boy. It was actually too crooked for a machine. Minneapolis was home to some of the most open class warfare and naked power grabs in the country until the Humphrey era, like something out of a Jack London novel. There's a reason Minnesota today has a Democratic-Farmer-Labor party.

Milwaukee remembers its Socialists fondly, although at this point it's mainly through Golda Meir and Wayne's World, and in a weird way, through the '93 Cryptosporidium outbreak, the Socialists having built Milwaukee's previously excellent clean water systems.

It's interesting. In 1950, an outside observer comparing Milwaukee to Minneapolis would likely have given Milwaukee the thumbs-up. But Milwaukee had the double whammy of Rust Belt industries and white flight, while Minneapolis didn't.

(Of course the Milwaukee area should have switched to the German pattern of high-end metal manufactures and decent beer, but the investment money wasn't there, guess why. A little further north, Kohler prospered doing exactly that; and Harley-Davidson legendarily came within 24 hours of shutting down before they switched to their current lifestyle motorcycle focus. I won't get into the evil Schlitz recipe change.)

Noel Maurer

Luke, in all seriousness, Carlos is not right.

As you said yourself, Chicago does not have a political machine in the traditional sense of the term. There is an establishment referred to as the "machine"; there is no more machine.

Machines haven't emerged in the southwest, either, for many more reasons than the one you cite. Modern American life is not amenable to machine politics, outside some rather horrible places whose people are mostly cut off from it. Like Newark.

But don't take my word for it. Take the article Doug is discussing:

"Obama had won his first campaign by using old-fashioned Chicago machine tactics at a time when the notion of machine politics was increasingly anachronistic. As the political consultant Don Rose and his colleague James Andrews explain in a chapter for a book about the current Mayor Daley’s first victory, the machine literally provided voters with access to food, health care, and a job. In most American cities, that model vanished after the Second World War; by then, the blue-collar base was leaving for the suburbs and reform movements were challenging machine politics. In Chicago, Rose and Andrews say, the elder Daley updated and preserved the system by creating a modern machine that combined “big labor and big capital, blue and white collars, and minorities”—a hybrid model that died with him.

"Gradually, Chicago caught up with the rest of the country and media-driven politics eclipsed machine-driven politics. “It became increasingly difficult to get into homes and apartments to talk about candidates,” Rose said. “High-rises were tough if not impossible to crack, and other parts of the city had become too dangerous to walk around in for hours at a time. And people didn’t want to answer their doors. Thus the increasing dependence on TV, radio, direct mail, phone-banking, robocalls, et cetera—all things that cost a hell of a lot more money than patronage workers, who were themselves in decline, anyway, because of anti-patronage court rulings.” Instead of a large army of ward heelers dragging people to the polls, candidates needed a small army of donors to pay for commercials. Money replaced bodies as the currency of Chicago politics. This new system became known as “pinstripe patronage,” because the key to winning was not rewarding voters with jobs but rewarding donors with government contracts.

"E. J. Dionne, Jr., of the Washington Post, wrote about this transition in a 1999 column after Daley was reëlected. Dionne wrote about a young Barack Obama, who artfully explained how the new pinstripe patronage worked: a politician rewards the law firms, developers, and brokerage houses with contracts, and in return they pay for the new ad campaigns necessary for reëlection. “They do well, and you get a $5 million to $10 million war chest,” Obama told Dionne. It was a classic Obamaism: superficially critical of some unseemly aspect of the political process without necessarily forswearing the practice itself. Obama was learning that one of the greatest skills a politician can possess is candor about the dirty work it takes to get and stay elected."


Noel, I think we're having a debate about word usage more than anything else. You're making the argument that a machine is defined by what it does, and since the political apparatus in Chicago no longer acts like the machine did in 1973 or 1962, it is no longer a machine at all. But this sounds very odd to people who grew up hearing it referred to as a machine, as Luke and I (and Harold Washington) did.

(I followed Council Wars religiously on late night Chicago AM radio. Don't ask.)

And we both agree that there is a difference between the two eras. The problem I have is that this definition obscures an interesting story: how did the same people within the same organization change their ground tactics, while maintaining the organization's continuity and vast political leverage within the city of Chicago?

I should also point out that 2006's Sorich convictions show that the classic patronage tactic of giving city jobs to campaign workers was very far from extinguished in Chicago by the 1970s Shakman rulings and Mirage stings. The trials were probably one of the biggest stories in Chicago politics of the last few years, including the Rezko flap. (Sorich's lawyer himself said that this sort of patronage was already present in 1993 when Sorich came to office, which would mean that they were firmly in place only four years after Daley Junior came to office.)

And this would fit the classic definition of machine. Although I believe we both would agree that this style of patronage is less important today than it was in 1973 or 1962.

(I kind of suspect Doug will bring up the Communist Party in post-transition Europe here.)

Dionne's op-ed piece, which Lizza refers to, predates the Sorich trials by several years. However, it's not journalism, but a Washington Post op-ed piece. Worse, it's op-ed stenography. He's quoting _Obama's_ opinions on Chicago politics, and also Ed Rendell's opinions on Chicago politics, but not actual Chicago politics himself. There is neither independent journalism or independent analysis in Dionne's column. You can look it up: Washington Post, February 26, 1999, "A Mayoral Confession".

Finally, if the worst thing that to befall Obama in 2008 is innuendo about Chicago politics of four decades ago, it's going to be 538 to -4 in November. Steady on.


Just for people who don't have the nervous tic of following Chicago politics, here's a nice timeline of the Sorich trial:


The legally documented interregnum between the "old machine", when City Hall agreed to abide by the court ordered Shakman rulings, and the "new machine", when Sorich began patronage hirings of campaign workers, was ten years.

Doug M.

The Mirage stings! Damn, that takes me back.

From memory: It was 1979 or so. The Chicago Sun-Times invested about $100,000 in buying and renovating a neighborhood bar. The "new owners" were Sun-Times reporters, as was the head bartender. Over the course of ~6 months, they meticulously documented all the payoffs, kickbacks, crooked inspectors (building, fire, liquor, health...), skeevy cops, Mob heavies, cash-filled envelopes, and general unpleasantness involved with running a small business in Chicago.

IMS they got several weeks of headlines, a number of indictments, a variety of awards, and even made most of their money back when they resold the bar.

It's the sort of journalism that, AFAICT, vanished forever sometime in Reagan's second term.

Doug M.


The numbers are interesting. In 1980, there were 40 thousand Chicago city jobs, of which 25 thousand were career jobs (15 thousand in the police and fire departments). The 15 thousand non-career jobs were alloted by the Mayor's Office. They tended to be distributed by ward.

Harold Washington cut the number of city jobs down to 35 thousand, putting in various procedures recommended by the Shakman rulings to make city hiring more competitive. The Shakman rulings only allowed 3% of these jobs to be exempt. (It's complicated.) The city of Chicago job force has only increased slowly since then. There's a small burst of celebratory papers in the late 1980s concerning Chicago's successful civic reform -- which it was. You had a burst of applicants leading to many more black, female, and Hispanic hires.

In 1989, Daley Junior was elected to the mayorship for the first time. I think you know where this is going. At first, the style of patronage was more nepotistic. (Given that in Chicago, political activity runs in families, there was nothing necessarily too wrong about that, although some of the specific cases might be eye-widening to a non-Filipino.) And the classic hiring of campaign workers scheme appeared to have migrated to the Secretary of State of Illinois' office, which is another story. The Illinois governorship is not the cleanest office in the land.

But black hiring stagnated under Daley's first ten years -- blacks were 28% of the city of Chicago workforce in 1984, 35% in 1989, but 34% in 1999 -- although significantly more minorities and women appeared in higher positions than ever before.

Sorich and his associates controlled access to about 13 thousand jobs out of 38 thousand Chicago city jobs, although not all of them were available at any given moment. As determined in the trials, race and gender were a definite factor in how these jobs were distributed. There were several thousand people on the "blessed lists", and the quality of salaries was high. Sorich's *defense* was that the system was already in place.

I am positive that "pinstripe patronage" now has a much greater effect in Chicago area election campaigns than ever before, simply due to the much higher cost of elections in general. And the rich Chicago elite have always wanted to be civic-minded in just that way. (My God, they take hiring a new *conductor* for their symphony incredibly seriously.)

But it's not obvious to me that the level of old machine style patronage between Daley Senior and Daley Junior diminished to a level where one could say that it no longer existed in Chicago.

(Numbers from Freedman, "Doing Battle with the Patronage Army: Politics, Courts, and Personnel Administration in
Chicago," 1988; and Hamilton, "Is Patronage Dead? The Impact of Antipatronage Staffing Systems", 2002; and of course, trial coverage.)


Hm. Working the numbers, let's say only 5000 city jobs were affected by Sorich and company, with an average salary of 50K. Let's also assume the recipients were reasonably competent, that they functioned at 90% the level of hires that would have been made under a fully competitive process. (Presumably hiring cousin Timmy who ate the lead paint chips would have been a red flag to Shakman enforcers.)

That works out to be 5000 * $50K * (1 - .90) = $25 million.

In comparison, Representative Rahm Emanuel spent $1.3 million the last election cycle, while Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. spent $946 thousand. Daley Junior collected about $6 million for his last election.


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