Key to understanding the unraveling of Obama's Power at Any Cost, American Be Damned, is an article by Michael Gecan - who worked as a community activists in Chicago and understands first hand the manipulation of the Obama administration:
The first quarter of the Obama administration is finally over. The
key issue was not health care, not terrorism, not jobs. Nor was it the
promise of “transformational change” that permeated the presidential
campaign. The key issue was power—how the power of Washington’s
political culture would respond to the power of the Chicago political
culture imported by the Obama team.
When the media mentioned the administration’s “Chicago tactics” or
when opponents complained that the White House staff behaved like
“Chicago pols,” they were saying that the Obama team could be
aggressive, tough, even mean.
That mild and broad critique missed the more important features of
the Chicago way of doing politics: an approach that translated
brilliantly in the presidential campaign and miserably after the
inauguration. Here are those features—as I’ve observed them for 50
years, first as a young person growing up in a blue-collar Chicago
neighborhood, then as an organizer in Chicago, New York, and
elsewhere—and a look at how Washington has responded to their presence.
1) The Man on Five. The mayor’s office in Chicago is on the fifth
floor of City Hall. The Man on Five is the hub, center, source of all
good, generator of all punishment. This has nothing to do with charisma.
The two mayors named Daley and most other machine mayors have had
little personal pizzazz, no speaking skills, and a more transactional
than transformational approach. Decade after decade, they have
methodically consolidated and centralized power and influence. There is
no counterweight—no House of Representatives, no Senate, no independent
committee chairs. The City Council is a vaudeville show directed by the
mayor. His power is unilateral, one-way, top-down. The key White House
staff—Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett—inhaled this
culture and carried it with them to Washington.
2) Control is God. The organizing principle in the Chicago
political culture is control—control of who gets to the Man on Five and
who doesn’t, control of how a bill or event burnishes the mayor’s myth
or doesn’t, control of who runs for other offices and who doesn’t. The
mortal sin of this culture is independence based in any value higher
than loyalty to the Mayor.
3) Elections Mean Everything. The one thing that the political
machine excels at is managing the electoral process from start to
finish. Selecting and grooming candidates. Buying or scaring off
reformers. Marshaling election lawyers to knock out other candidates’
petitions. Using only paid public employees to work (illegally,
but with almost no chance of being caught and prosecuted because of the
care taken to avoid detection) in campaigns and on election day.
Filling vacancies produced by indictments and convictions of insiders
with even tighter insiders. Nobody does it better. This is why the
presidential campaign did so well in caucus states and less well in
those with open elections: the machine thrives on narrow or limited
4) Other People’s Money. The Chicago political culture is run
by families or tribes—Daleys, Strogers, Madigans, Mells, Jacksons, and
others—that have been on the public payroll for as long as 85 years.
Most members of these tribes have never earned a dollar in the
private or nonprofit sectors. They have grown accustomed to drawing
their salaries from public agencies, sequestering and spending tax
dollars, and using their public positions to grow even richer as lawyers
and consultants to private interests who need public favors, ultimately
drawing pay for their private efforts from the public coffers. Back in
Illinois, leaders of both parties—Democrats in the northern part of the
state, Republicans in the suburbs and central parts of the state—have
grown up in this culture, reinforced it, and prospered because of it.
They take other people’s money for granted the way most people take
oxygen for granted. Suddenly, the Chicago cohort finds itself surrounded
by an opposition party and moderates within their own party who come
from states and regions where there is no such sense of entitlement.
Does all this add up to the end of this administration, as some have suggested? Not at all. I’d argue this could mean that the administration, having squandered the first quarter, is finally ready to play.
But first it would have to draft some new players, remove most of the
Chicago crowd and shed many of the political habits developed in a
machine political environment.
Then it would have to stop playing by the rules set by the permanent
elite in Washington and approach the nation’s core concerns in a very
The administration’s proposal to create a new federal agency to hold
financial institutions accountable is an excellent example of not
doing things differently. It plays right into the hands of the
Washington political and bureaucratic establishment. Until the late 1970s, the United States
capped interest rates at 9 percent in most circumstances, and banks were
still profitable. Since then, the economy has operated without fiscal
speed limits. Reestablishing those limits on credit cards, payday loans,
and other predatory credit vehicles would do more for the majority of
Americans than another new agency or several thousand pages of
regulations. The appeal for this basic restraint has been heard even by
titans of finance: the CEO of Citigroup surprised the financial industry
by recently agreeing that a cap on interest rates, with certain
conditions, would be possible.
As presently constituted, the White House cannot undertake these
sorts of necessary and far-reaching initiatives. The president packed
his staff with those who grew up in the unique political culture of
Chicago and Cook County, one of the last remaining islands of machine
domination in the nation. When the machine went to Washington, it did
what it has always done and what worked back home: try to crush or
co-opt opponents, project and promote the image of a mythic leader,
tightly control the media, and rely on those who helped win the
election. The disarray that the administration finds itself in after its
first year is a direct result of the failure of this culture to
function under new circumstances.
Different players, with a different approach, can tackle the
lingering and deepening problems that plague huge numbers of Americans.
These Americans have a mind to work and are waiting to support and lead
After all, power, properly understood, is still just that: the ability to act.
Related: Obama stacks Department of Justice with cronies from elite law office; not with Justice as goal, but with blackmail. https://web.archive.org/web/20131101212940/http://mag.newsweek.com/2012/05/06/why-can-t-obama-bring-wall-street-to-justice.html