Rahm the Edible (February 25, 2015)

Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote a piece for the now-defunct online magazine RootSpeak entitled, Rahm the Inevitable. The column was published just before Chicago’s general Mayoral election that year, a time when Rahm Emanuel’s march to City Hall had the pre-ordained feel of a Hillary Clinton 2008 – without the Barack Obama spoiler. Here’s a snippet of my February ‘11 observations:

“Now that the wide variety of political shenanigans that have come to exemplify the 2011 Chicago mayoral race have been exhausted, it seems there’s nothing left to do but wait for Tuesday’s electoral returns. At that point we may stop referring to former U.S. Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as the ‘presumed favorite,’ move beyond his Goliath campaign and start seeing the new CEO of Chi-town in action.

After all, there’s no way anyone could take him at this point, right? Rahmbo has five times more campaign funds at his disposal than nearest fiscal competitor, Gery Chico. His slick print ads and television spots depict the handsome, well-dressed former ballet dancer as a family man who cares about the middle class, ready to make the ‘tough choices’ that will put Chicago back on the fast track to claiming its status as an affordable, world class city. A few of his TV plugs contain public endorsements from not one but two U.S. Presidents, current POTUS Barack Obama, as well as immediate predecessor William Jefferson Clinton.”

Back in 2011, Emanuel emerged as the Windy City’s clear victor, logging 55.35 percent of the total vote count, compared with Gery Chico’s limp 23.97.

Well kids, what a difference a leap year makes, eh? Over the course of his first term, “the ‘tough choices’ that will put Chicago back on the fast track to claiming its status as an affordable, world class city” turned out to be a complete gutting of the Chicago Public School system, while siphoning funds to promote North Side charter schools for the elite. South Side children that were redistricted without their consent have been forced to hoof it through dangerous gang territory.

Another of those “tough choices” was the privatization of the Chicago Transit Authority’s payment operations, with the 2013 debut of the Ventra card system. I think Rick Perlstein of The Nation spoke for many of us when he observed:

“The problem is not just the profusion of private contractors who do the public’s business so poorly; it’s the fact that the public’s business is being so relentlessly privatized by the government executives in charge. Slowly, the perceived imperative to privatize has become the political tail that wags the policy dog. The results are before us. Why, indeed, was this massive change in how Chicagoans pay for their bus and train fares initiated in the first place?”

Coming off predecessor Mayor Daley’s absurd parking meter lease “deal” which screwed Chicago for 75 years, a repeat of this type of performance wasn’t interpreted as very populist of Rahm. But if the ravaging of public education and the city’s transit system were not enough, there was plenty else about Emanuel to rankle Chicago’s largely blue color spirit: the close ties with new Republican Governor and enemy of organized labor, Bruce Rauner, the arrogance, the bullying, the closed door meetings. The antithetical “man of the people” conduct that exemplified the Mayor’s first term finally led Rolling Stone to declare, Rahm Emanuel Has a Problem with Democracy.

Well after yesterday’s general re-election performance, in which Rahmbo was forced into a surprising April runoff against second place finisher, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, he certainly has a bigger problem with democracy now.

Here’s the pesky thing about voters. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to persuade them that you’re in their corner, they take a look at your record and decide not to believe you. The tide of public sentiment was running against Emanuel before the first polling place ever opened its doors. And here’s what else changed since I wrote about Rahm’s first Mayoral run in 2011.

  1. This round, Emanuel had THIRTY times more campaign funds at his disposal than his nearest fiscal competitor.
  2. He is the sitting CEO of Chicago, and incumbents are generally considered the electoral favorite with few exceptions.
  3. It seems unbelievable even as I type, but Garcia entered the race a mere four months ago. Rising from relative obscurity as a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, he took an astounding 33.9 percent of the popular vote compared with Rahm’s 45.4.

    That last number is the most important one. Because having failed to secure the required 50 percent plus one vote, the former Rahm the Inevitable must now face an April 7 runoff against Garcia in which nothing is certain. All that money. All that love from the political elite. And yet it’s more than possible that Emanuel could be out of a job in six weeks.

The people spoke yesterday and I suspect they’ll raise their voices even louder in the coming days. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Tuesday’s near record-low turnout was a combination of bad weather and voter apathy. When folks stop believing they can change anything, they tend to stay home.

By any measure Rahm Emanuel already lost on February 24, 2015. A megawatt celebrity sitting Mayor with 30 times the budget, and infinity political supporters (including the POTUS), is back shilling for votes today. But he’s been wounded. The previously scared but hungry can smell his blood. I relish the pile-on, not out of spite or schadenfreude, but because like most citizens, I understand that what’s good for the Windy City is good for me. And another four years of Rahm is a bad deal. I’m grateful that my fellow Chicagoans finally feel empowered to reject it.

Bill Clinton Restores Democrats’ Lovin’ Feeling (September 6, 2012)


No matter on which side of the ideological spectrum you sit, it’s difficult to avoid political engagement this week. The Republican National Convention, which resulted in the official nomination of the Romney/Ryan ticket, has been followed thus far by the blinding spectacle of the Democratic counterpart. A thought occurred to me last night after the conclusion of Bill Clinton’s return to convention glory, a nomination speech punctuated by a virtuoso display of GOP myth debunking that must have left leaders from the right reaching for the Neosporin.

The thought was this: not only do the 2012 Presidential election and the respective nomination fetes offer a”clear choice” that candidates and pundits love to discuss, but moreover there is a clear dichotomy in the motivations of the two conventions themselves. Simply put, Mitt Romney and his team sought to recast their robotic candidate as a human being with middle class appeal(a goal that arguably fell totally flat). The idea, after a brutal primary season in which the former moderate sold his record as a compromising Governor, for the opportunity to appeal to the dogmatic Tea Party zealots which now represent GOP leadership, was that Mittens hadn’t moved so far to the right that he’d lost touch with regular middle-of-the-road America.

Contrast this with the mission of the DNC. A report from my hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, shared the results of a Reuters/Ipsos poll yesterday which indicated that the POTUS doesn’t have any trouble with popular appeal. To quote the article, “The online poll showed that voters found Obama more likable than Romney by 50 percent to 30 percent. Forty-one percent said they believed Obama ‘understands people like me,’ while 28 percent said that about Romney.” It’s only natural that voters would tend to gravitate toward a man of modest beginnings, with the power to elicit action and emotion with relatable personal anecdotes and a wondrous oratory gift. It’s almost unfair to place Barack Obama’s considerable magnetism and think-on-his-feet intelligence next to a wooden, scripted man who looks like the enemy from Wall Street and admits to loaded offshore bank accounts. No matter how hard he and his team try to prove otherwise, Mittens is not one of us.

Nevertheless, Barack Obama faced a considerable challenge heading into this week’s events in Charlotte, NC, one faced to a lesser degree by Romney. The President and other scheduled speakers had to re-energize the Democratic base, the disillusioned who voted for “Yes, We Can” in 2008 only to see the slogan perverted into “Yes, We Can…But Only if House Republicans Cooperate.” Over the last four years, hope and optimism have taken many hits in the face of unprecedented Congressional gridlock that seems to worsen with each important issue requiring decisive action.

Though one may disagree with the right on many, many issues, no one doubts the party’s commitment to unseating the President by any means necessary. For reasons ranging from respectful academic disagreement to the worst kind of racial intolerance, there is little doubt that the GOP can anticipate record turnout at the polls this November. However, there is ample reason to suspect that some of the interest groups which carried Obama to victory in 2008 – voters under 25, women, the gay community and the impoverished – may not be motivated to complete their registration applications this round. In addition to disappointment in the Obama agenda’s success already mentioned, nefarious attempts by Republicans to disenfranchise minority groups and the poor have already met with a great deal of prosperity.

Against this backdrop, the primary goal of the DNC must have been abundantly clear to Team Obama: get those 2008 voters, many of whom cast a ballot for the first time, back to their polling centers. See San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro deliver a rousing speech about his immigrant family and the hard work and sacrifice required to make it in America. See Michelle Obama, the most capable First Lady since Hillary Clinton, humanize her cerebral husband with tales of date nights in a rusted out automobile. See Elizabeth Warren’s massive appeal to the 99 percent with a stirring repudiation of the GOP’s obsession with treating corporations better than people.

And last but not least before the current POTUS has the opportunity to address his constituents directly, see former President William Jefferson Clinton bring a convention center and millions of voters to their feet with the answer to all our disillusioned liberal prayers. Bill Clinton is considered a political genius for many reasons but his ability to meld lofty policy discussion with a relatable, folksy charm that doesn’t talk down to Americans…well last night’s speech was simply a master class in connection. All that was wanting was a microphone drop to complete the President Emeritus’ triumph.

I am one of those voters who has occasionally felt letdown by the conflict between the theoretical Obama of 2008 and the practical limits of governing. However if the endgame of this week’s convention is a restoration of enthusiasm, and a renewed commitment to ensuring a second term for the President, then mission accomplished. Whatever the roadblocks of the past four years, the current Commander-in-Chief is the only candidate who cares about the recent decline of the middle class and possesses the policy tools to put it back on the road to success. I’d like to thank Bill Clinton for the impassioned reminder.

Romney’s Latest Scandal: Twittergate? (July 24, 2012)

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During the 2008 Presidential race, then-candidate Obama showed his competitors how to leverage the Internet and a variety of social media platforms to reinvigorate the notion of a grassroots campaign for the 21st Century. It was largely upon the shoulders of individuals who reposted and retweeted his messages that the POTUS was carried to victory – by small donors who contributed their last $100, those who believed that the nation could ill-afford another four years of Republican top-down cynicism disguised as patriotism, morally and fiscally bankrupting the nation. Don’t like continued tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy during a time of war? Then the terrorists win!

It is a savvy marketing template that ensuing candidates from both parties have sought to emulate, with varying levels of success. Former Maverick John McCain captured the public imagination however momentarily with his selection of social media darling Sarah Palin as his running mate, unfortunately learning the hard way that stupidity is no more appealing in the digital age, but we can never take that moment of cultural zeitgeist away from the Republican ticket. All credit goes to the Obama team for forcing all walks of political dinosaur into accepting new media as part of the deal. It does not matter if one appreciates the value of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like. They are modern campaign tools that one must utilize in order to compete. We can never turn back the clock.

And as social media strategy becomes synonymous with campaign activity, reports of potential misuse become a common feature of the news cycle. For example, this morning Yahoo News ran a story via Mashable: “Mitt Romney Sees Sudden Unexplained Spike in Twitter Followers.” At first glance this appears to be an unlikely tale of crashing bore Romney enjoying unexpected appeal in the Twitterverse. Could it be that dull messaging is somehow inverted when permitted only 140 characters?

Ah but no. To delve deeper into writer Alex Fitzpatrick’s story is to uncover a common feature of new Republicanism: if you can’t engender love the old-fashioned way through sound policy and dynamic personality, just go out and buy it. After Romney’s Twitter feed gained a plethora of new followers over the weekend – 23,926 on Friday, 93,054 on Saturday and 25,432 on Sunday – Zach Green of 140elect.com, a blog which monitors Twitter trends relative to the presidential election, couldn’t help but notice per the Mashable piece that, “analysis indicates that Romney hasn’t seen a noticeable uptick in other metrics, such as mentions, which would suggest Romney was getting these followers organically.”

In other words, there are no more people interacting with he of the slick hair on Twitter than before. Well then, what’s the dilly yo? Do we really believe that nearly 150,000 individuals suddenly couldn’t resist the bon mots of the Romneybot on a weekend when campaign activity was suspended? Sometimes the easiest answer is the right one. For whatever reason, the campaign bought the followers, in a wrongheaded, simplistic attempt to make Mittens appear beloved. As the Mashable piece highlights:

“Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director, has denied buying Twitter followers. Moffatt has in the past stressed that his strategy revolves around targeted engagement and not simply accumulating massive numbers of new followers. Buying fake followers doesn’t mesh well with that approach (plus, follower totals mean very little for politicians if real voters aren’t interacting with the message being sent).”

So the Romney campaign has flip-flopped on a previously stated position? The hell you say! Now granted this is not the type of scandal for which a Congressional investigation must be called. It is merely another example of how very out of touch Team Romney is with reality. Did they think no one would notice this latest shell game? Hide your tax returns! Change your tune on health care reform! Buy some Twitter followers! But all the money in the world can’t make you a real, relatable homo sapiens Mittens. The human touch can’t be purchased.

(May 8, 2012)

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President Barack Obama, who frequently appears battered and weary at the tail end of a bruising first term, came to Virginia this past Saturday in a vigorous mood. The POTUS chose the swing state he won in 2008 to formally launch his drive for re-election, casting the 2012 race as “a make or break moment for the middle class.”

Compare this rousing event, where Obama declared himself “still fired up,” in front of a crowd of 8,000 at VCU’s Siegel Center, many of whom braved a downpour to get into see the president and first lady, to Mitt Romney’s own opening salvo a little over two weeks ago. Romney officially launched his general election campaign in the State of New Hampshire at an afternoon barbecue held at the Bittersweet Farm, operated by Republicans Doug and Stella Scamman. Zzzzz…..

It’s true that Ron Paul and Newt Gingrinch had not formally decamped at that time, which may account for some of the event’s timidity. But Ron Paul never believed he had a shot anyway and as for Gingrich, this might be the last political office for which he was momentarily considered a serious contender. He was going to roll around in the spotlight and savor every ray before he and third wife Callista retreated to their cynical Catholic piety.

But back to Romney. CBS News noted the symmetry of the campaign’s pivot toward the general election in New Hampshire, with reporter Sarah B. Boxer writing, “Romney’s current bid for the White House began on June 2, 2011 on Scamman Farm in Stafford, N.H., and the campaign considers his return Tuesday as a full circle moment for the candidate.”

Have we REALLY been enduring Romney’s second Presidential campaign for nearly a full year? It’s like the network television procedural that goes on for seasons while an entertaining, witty gem struggles to find an audience. He is the CSI: Miami of the political playing field. And perhaps for the second time that week, Team Romney selected an ill-advised locale for a photo op. Remember that shuttered dry-wall factory in Lorain, Ohio in mid-April? The one held up as an Obama policy failure that actually closed under the Bush regime? Yeah. Oops.

And it appears that the Romney people, sensing an obvious dearth of triumphant environments in their man’s history, were poised to occupy their rightful place once more as fish in a barrel. As CBS News went on to note, “On Monday evening, the University of New Hampshire released a new poll showing President Obama ahead of Romney 51 percent to 42 percent in New Hampshire. Mr. Obama’s re-election team is quick to point out that Romney’s campaign cleared out of the state immediately following the primary – often noting that his bustling headquarters in Manchester went dark the next day.”

By now we’re used to this from Romney, right? Wherever he needs to go is where he wants to be! The trees in New Hampshire are so green! The people are so real! And what’s that noise? Why it’s the shaking of the Etch-a-Sketch, the sound that may preclude residents of New Hampshire from remembering that Team Romney skipped town the moment the State stopped suiting his immediate purposes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Romney folks are strenuously refuting any suggestion that their candidate is out of touch with local voters. Mitt’s senior adviser in New Hampshire, Jim Merrill was quoted as saying, “I would characterize what the Obama campaign says as nonsense, complete nonsense.”

Ah yes, the “I’m rubber you’re glue” deflection, a time-honored tool in the GOP debate arsenal. Game on. Good luck Mittens!

The Maverick Returns (July 28, 2011)

Had I been a Republican during the 2000 Presidential primaries, there is no doubt I would have voted McCain instead of Bush. At the time, the man came off as relatively uncompromised. As a decorated Vietnam veteran and a legislator who had a record (at the time) for rejecting pandering in order to reach across the aisle and get things done, he had my respect. Had he made it to the general election, I might have even considered casting a ballot in his favor instead of Al Gore.

By the time the 2008 campaign rolled around and McCain had morphed into a man who suddenly wanted nothing to do with immigration reform, labeled Barack Obama “that guy,” and selected Sarah Palin as a running mate, effectively putting an idiot one heartbeat away from the Oval Office, I was glad I was never faced with a real opportunity to punch a hanging chad in his favor. Turned out McCain was just like all the rest. He would say or do anything to get elected.

But all it once it appears that the removal of the Holy Grail chase, the end of his POTUS dreams, have freed John McCain to take a real stand where certain issues are concerned. Or it could be that at nearly 75 years of age, he just doesn’t give a shit anymore what anyone thinks.

And so yesterday, I read this report from Yahoo News’ The Ticket: “John McCain Unloads on the Tea Party,” and my stunned heart sang. Not so much because I care about McCain’s rediscovery of his backbone, but I was enthralled because finally SOMEBODY is pointing out the Tea Party Emperors are not wearing any clothes.

I could care less about his pity for John Boehner’s attempts to cobble together a last minute deficit reduction/debt ceiling compromise, but seriously, what’s not to love about quotes like this:

“The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . . Barack Obama,” McCain said, quoting a Wall Street Journal article. “The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.”

“This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees,” McCain added, still reading from the article.

Squee!!!! I know he’s basically regurgitating the work of another writer, but the fact that he does so on the Senate floor, with C-Span cameras rolling, provides a tacit blessing to the Journal’s indictment. Like it or not, McCain remains a standard bearer of the GOP and though it is unlikely, this should give pause to intolerant right extremists.

Allow me to quote another Open Salon blogger I greatly admire, a gentleman by the name of Cranky Cuss. I published a post this past Tuesday entitled, “The Party is Over,” where I detailed my general disgust with the current “work” and comprehensive ineptitude of both political factions. That said, Crank offered a fairly prescient indictment of the Republican caucus in particular:

“The Republicans would rather have the nation default, with all the devastation it would cause our already teetering economy not to mention the world economy, than allow Obama to be re-elected. I consider that treason.”

Thank you Mr. Cuss for calling a spade a spade, and grazi Senator McCain, however belatedly, for trying to lead your party by example.