December 7, 2011

JOEL KOTKIN: Illinois: State Of Embarrassment.

Most critics of Barack Obama’s desultory performance the past three years trace it to his supposedly leftist ideology, lack of experience and even his personality quirks. But it would perhaps be more useful to look at the geography — of Chicago and the state of Illinois — that nurtured his career and shaped his approach to politics. Like with George W. Bush and Texas, this is a case where you can’t separate the man from the place.

The Chicago imprint on Obama is unmistakable. His closest advisors are almost all products of the Windy City’s machine politic: ConsigliereValerie Jarrett; his first chief of staff, now Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel; and his current chief of staff, longtime Chicago hackster William Daley, scion of the Windy City’s longtime ruling family.

All these figures arose from a Chicago where corruption is so commonplace that it elicits winks, nods and even a kind of admiration. Since 1973, for example, 27 Chicago Aldermen have been convicted by U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois.

That culture of corruption affects the rest of the state as well. Both Gov. George Ryan (who served from 1999 to 2003 and and his successor Ron Blagojevich have been convicted a major crimes. So have four of the state’s last eight governors. Blagojevich’s felonies are part and parcel of a political climate that also includes the also newly convicted Antonin “Tony” Rezko, a real estate speculator and early key Obama backer, sentenced late last month to a ten-year prison sentence.

Crony capitalism constitutes the essential element of what the legendary columnist John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has labeled both the “Chicago way” and the “Illinois Combine”, not primarily an ideology-driven movement. The political system, he notes, “knows no party, only appetites.”

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