Saturday, January 31, 2015
The Democrats Are Still The Party of Richard J Daley
During the last five years Republicans have been taking radical actions on the state level, fulfilling Tea Party ambitions that have been thwarted in Washington. The new wave of conservative governors and legislators has enacted a massive wave of abortion restrictions, has gutted social services (with Kansas as a prime example), busted public worker unions, and slashed money drastically to public universities. Just this week it appears that Scott Walker is trying to essentially destroy the public university system in Wisconsin, and Sam Brownback is willing to keep massive tax decreases in place that have made it extremely difficult for the state to finance itself.
You would think that in response to this onslaught that Democrats would be using their power in Blue States to enact a progressive agenda. If you thought that, you are sadly very wrong. Democratic politicians in blue states and cities that vote overwhelmingly for their party have turned around and offered conservatism lite, as opposed to any kind of progressive agenda. In Chicago Rahm Emanuel has sought to fire unionized teachers and replace them with Teach for America recruits. In New York Andrew Cuomo keeps pushing the testing of teachers, despite the positive results so far on previous tests. His bloodlust for teacher firings must be filled, I guess. Other Democrats are more concerned about lining their pockets than anything else, as this week's revelations about Sheldon Silver revealed. Here in New Jersey local Democratic bosses like Joe DiVincenzo and George Norcross continue to support Chris Christie in a cynical power play. With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?
Rahm Emanuel, who's re-election bid as mayor of Chicago is less than a month away, is perhaps the best example of the continuities of the worst aspects of the Democratic Party. Chicago is as true "blue" as they come; I can't imagine a Republican ever getting elected to be mayor of that city. At the same time, it has been ruled for decades by Democrats who have impeded progressive political action at every turn and have favored corporations over their own people. Rahm has attacked teachers and privatized key public functions of the city while refusing to listen to calls to reign in police violence. He is governing much the same as his predecessor, Richard M Daley, who never met a corporation that he didn't like.
Of course, little Richie never lived up to his father Richard J Daley's reputation. The elder Daley ruled Chicago with an iron fist from 1955 to 1976, and in the process became one the most important Democrats in country, despite holding only a local office. As the book American Pharaoh points out, he used his immense power and ability to tap federal largesse to keep the city segregated. Interstate highways formed walls between black and white neighborhoods, and massive housing projects warehoused the black poor. Today it might be easy to look at his racial politics and see a man from a bygone time, but modern Democratic mayors have done little or nothing to fight the growing waves of gentrification that bring segregation in their wake. They are more likely to welcome it for boosting the tax base. Just like Daley, politicians like Cuomo and Emanuel are primarily interested in one thing: the preservation and expansion of their personal power.
They are allowed to do sobecause the old party apparatus has a stranglehold on Democratic institutions on the local level, and because too many rank and file Democrats are unwilling to push for better. Back when I lived in Chicago, at a time when Richie Daley's administration was allowing mass transit to rot while throwing out tax giveaways to Boeing, most locals seemed to respond with the old chestnut "Chicago is the city that works!" As long as the Loop looks spiffy and they have jobs, these types won't complain. Organized labor is so cowed that even though the likes of Emanuel and Cuomo have been actively hostile to unions, they still fall in behind them. By undercutting labor these modern day bosses have effectively neutralized the one institution that has any chance of challenging them. It's hardly a surprise that Democratic bosses like Norcross and DiVincenzo have been Christie's buddies, they're cut from the same venal cloth.
Bill de Blasio gives me hope that genuine progressives can gain power in Democratic strongholds, but he has faced an unprecedented rebellion by police for daring to publicly utter the obvious truth that blacks and whites have a different relationship with the police. He is effectively being punished for not governing in the style of Emanuel in Chicago, where the cops still have free reign. If he governed like Richard J. Daley, "shoot to kill" order and all, the police would be just fine with him.
Progressives rightfully fear the things that Walker and his radical ilk are doing on the state level, and rightfully excoriate the inability of the president and Democrats in the capital to consistently push a progressive agenda. Something they ought to be paying more attention to is that in supposedly "blue" territory like Chicago and New York, that the Democrats are still the party of Richard J Daley.