By Marta Mossburg
— For those looking for insight on the scandals engulfing the Obama administration, read “Boss,” Mike Royko’s classic 1971 biography of former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.
The IRS targeting of conservative groups and the Department of Justice criminalizing reporting will make more sense after understanding how the infamous Chicago Machine, the one that birthed President Barack Obama, worked.
It’s the one where honest police “were distinguished by their rank, which was seldom above patrolman.” It’s the one where millionaires were allowed to “contribute to the party, serve on advisory boards, take on time-consuming appointments, and help elect Machine Democrats to office.”
And it’s the one where everyone knew their role without being told. In order to be elected, one had to make it through the system, “beginning as doorbell ringers, working in the jobs their sponsors got for them, pushing the ward book, buying the tickets, doing the favors, holding the coats, opening the doors, putting in the fix …”
Obama did not rise through the Machine like Daley or his son Richard, Mayor of Chicago from 1989 to 2011. He adopted it, by moving to Chicago for good after Harvard Law School.
As he told the Hyde Park Herald in 1995, “I came home in Chicago… I began to see my identity and my individual struggles were one with the struggles that folks face in Chicago.”
The man who had never been a ward committeeman or moved up the patronage job ladder originally saw himself as above its parochial maneuverings. But he learned the hard way after U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush decimated him in a 2000 primary that he would get nowhere as the proverbial “nobody nobody sent.”
So he embraced it, ingratiating himself with the proper pastors, politicians, and now-Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker, the billionaire whose family founded Hyatt Hotels and who raised millions for him. And life was good. He moved from Illinois state senator to U.S. Senator under their tutelage.
Schooled in its powers, he moved key sections of the Democratic National Committee to Chicago in 2008 so that it could be fully integrated into his campaign, thereby Chicago-fying national Democratic politics. And its imprint can be found all over the scandals, even if Obama’s official fingerprints aren’t.
It can be seen in Lois Lerner, the head of the section at the IRS that handles tax-exempt applications, declaring that she broke no law and did nothing wrong before she took the Fifth. And it can be seen in the focused auditing of conservative groups, the coordination across multiple federal agencies of audits, inspections, and investigations of some and in one case, the release of IRS records to a group’s political opponent. Like exemplary patronage employees who worked their way up the local Democratic ladder by following its rules, she and her managers methodically accomplished party goals, the only law they knew.
When President Obama’s re-election campaign said “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records” are donating to his political opponent Mitt Romney, they used their power to audit them! When the president berated Supreme Court justices sitting in front of him at the 2010 State of the Union speech for making it easier for corporations to donate to political causes, they targeted groups, hundreds of them, funded by the new cash flowing through the political system, for special scrutiny, delayed their tax-exempt applications for years, and coordinated the operation across the country like a well-oiled … machine.
When Obama in 2010 called Fox News “destructive to [America’s] long-term growth,” Eric Holder’s Justice Department took it one step further by labeling one of its reporters a criminal co-conspirator in a national security investigation.
The Obama administration keeps acting as if it knew nothing about the yin to their yang. The distancing has become so scripted it was almost comical when on May 15 President Obama took to the airwaves to announce the firing of the acting IRS commissioner without mentioning his name, as if he was so far removed from the operations of the organization he didn’t know its leader.
That posture didn’t work for an embattled Daley in his second term. As Royko writes, “But since everybody took orders from him, nobody was impressed by his pose…” Daley fixed his problems by launching a public relations program and was soon on top again, “treated like a hero and a reformer.”
There are no government heroes in this story, however. Only people who deserve the full consequences of a rule of law that applies to everyone, even them.
— Marta H. Mossburg is an independent columnist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.