Daley and Bush: A Perfect Match

I respect this president.  I respect his family and his public service.   


- Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago, February 9, 2006



How Stupid Does Daley Think We (and Kerry) Are? Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley should apologize to the city for being so stupid and/or so Republican. As most of the country knows by now, U.S. Senator John Kerry D-Massachusetts) recently stepped into some hot water when he said the following to a group of college students in California: “You know, education …if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make the effort to be smart,” “you can do well.  If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”


Kerry would have gotten in less trouble if he had not neglected to add the following line from his prepared comments: “Just ask President Bush.” As anyone with three functioning gray cells can discern, George W. Bush is lying (imagine) when he claims that Kerry meant to say that U.S. soldiers deserve to be in Iraq because they are stupid, uneducated or lazy.  Kerry is a Vietnam veteran who has highlighted his military service in his political campaigns. The notion that he meant to take a vicious slap at the nation’s troops is ridiculous. What would his motivation have been to do that? A politically suicidal desire to alienate blue-collar voters from the Democratic Party on the eve of the mid-term elections by saying that the disproportionately working-class armed forces are full of dummies? Of course Kerry’s comment was a botched joke directed at the nation’s president. Anyone who claims not to understand that is being either incredibly stupid or remarkably disingenuous. How interesting, then, to learn from the Chicago Tribune how Daley “said that Senator Kerry was wrong for telling students they will ‘get stuck in Iraq’ if they don’t make the most of their educational opportunities. The remark was ‘uncalled for,’ Daley said. ‘I think he should apologize.’” By Daley’s account, Kerry had suggested that U.S. troops “are dumb and they are stupid and that is why they are over in Iraq.  He owes them an apology and all their families(Washburn 2006 A) Having flunked the bar exam at least twice (Rossi et al., 2001), the mayor has never accused of being a genius.  It’s unlikely, however, that a true dummy could have stayed in power as long as Daley.  My guess is that he knows very well that Kerry’s botched joke was directed at the mayor’s curiously special friend, George W. Bush.



“He Talked to Middle America


Daley has telling people that he might as well be a full-blown Republican for some time. In January of 2003,  he joined his “good friend” Bush on an imperial helicopter flight that passed over some of the city’s many ghetto-poverty communities on the way to address the rich and white “Chicago Economic Club” at the Sheritan Chicago Hotel and Towers in January of 2003.  The purpose of Bush’s visit was to sell his call for the elimination of taxes on American corporate dividends – a measure that was designed to “cost the government $300 billion over ten years” and “create much bigger budget deficits for the future. More than half the benefit of eliminating dividend taxes,” the New York Times reported at the time, “would flow to the wealthiest 5 percent of taxpayers.”  Bush also used his trip to Chicago to call for the acceleration of preexisting steep income tax cuts and the repeal of the estate tax, which meaningfully affects only a tiny and super-privileged and very disproportionately white segment of the population. 


Bush accused those who opposed his profoundly regressive tax “stimulus” plan of engaging in “class warfare.”  Yet his package was designed to increase the already formidable accumulation of private wealth in disproportionately white zones of hyper affluence like Chicago’s North Side Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, and suburban Lake Forest while further bankrupting already inadequate social programs serving devastated black Chicago neighborhoods like North Lawndale and Grand Boulevard, where  corporate stock ownership and high incomes were too rare for many residents to applaud the plutocratic president’s tirade against the “double taxation” of corporate dividends.         


After soaring above the impoverished black West Side and listening to the president’s disgraceful “middle-class tax-cut” pitch, the “Democratic” Daley told reporters that Bush “hit a home run in that he talked to middle America.  I don’t think it was good versus evil,” Daley said, or “‘rich versus poor.’”   


Daley’s concept of “middle America” left out much of his own city, including fifteen predominantly nonwhite community areas where more than a quarter of the children were living at less than half the poverty level in 1999 (Street, 2003).. 


 “I Respect This President”   Then there was the time that Daley criticized Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen for not meeting with Bush after the Sox won the 2005 World Series.  “I respect this president,” Daley said in explaining his displeasure with Guillen. “I respect [Bush's] family and his public service” (Washburn, 2006 B)     


No reporters asked the “Democratic” mayor to elaborate on which part of Bush’s “public service” record he respected most.  Was it the disastrous, illegal, racist and mass-murderous occupation of Iraq?  The numerous administration deceptions created to sell that criminal invasion? The administration’s catastrophic environmental policy?  The massive plutocratic tax and social service cuts that have deepened the already extreme over-concentration of wealth and income in the U.S.? The resident’s sterling performance during and after Hurricane Katrina. All of the above?


Siding with Wal-Mart (and Robert Novak) Against the People    Then there’s the Mayor’s recent action for Wal-Mart and against his own City Council and citizenry.   For the first time in his seventeen years as the Mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley found it necessary last September to veto a minimally decent ordinance passed by his normally obedient City Council. The measure he stamped out was widely supported by rank and file citizens, community-based organizations, and labor unions in his city’s black, Latino, and working-class wards. .  Originally passed by the council under pressure from a remarkable grassroots campaign, the measure would have required giant retail corporations like Wal-Mart, Target, Lowes, and Home Depot to pay workers in the city a modest minimum wage of ten dollars an hour by 2010. The ordinance led leading retailers Wal-Mart and Target to announce that they were putting a number of “big box” retail developments in the city on hold.  They launched a preemptive capital strike, threatening to disinvest in the city unless and until the popular ordinance was shelved and a “favorable business climate” restored in the City of Big Shoulders.


According to a rigorous and reasonable study by the Economic Policy Institute, the cost of a  “basic family budget” – the real no-frills cost of living (taking into account housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, and other necessities and taxes) – for even a small family of one parent and two children in Chicago in 1999 was $35,307. The minimum wage that would have been set by the dead ordinance would have required that Wal-Mart pay its employees no less than $20,000 four years from now, when the minimum basic family budget for a mom and two kids in the city will certainly cost more than $40,000 a year, particularly when you factor in the ever rising disappearance of affordable housing in Daley’s gentrifying metropolis. The measure that the business-friendly privatization advocate Daley killed wouldn’t have put Wal-Mart wages at more than half the escalating cost of being a poor single mother with two children in the city (Street, 2006).


After vetoing the big-box bill, Daley sat down in his City Hall office with the reactionary Chicago Sun Times columnist Robert Novak. As union members and community activists chanted against Daley’s veto outside his office, Daley told Novak that “I have a lot of respect for President Bush”  Novak is the nationally syndicated right-wing “journalist” who broke the Valerie Plame story that brought the attention of federal prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald to the White House.  Novak was the vehicle whereby Bush officials illegally exposed former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent in order to punish Wilson for publicly questioning Bush administration lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.


In a complimentary column published one week after the big-box veto, Novack praised Daley for standing up against “Big Labor.”  He noted that Daley is “only a vaguely a Democrat” who is “much admired by Republicans and talks occasionally on the phone with the target of Democratic abuse, George W. Bush.” (Novak, 2006)



The Color of Pinstripe Patronage


In killing the minimally decent big-box bill, Daley accused the ordinance’s proponents of opposing the “economic development” for the black ghetto. Never mind that the Daley machine has been running the metropolis during the years of ghetto abandonment that Daley claimed to oppose A close friend and supporter of big white-run business, Daley’s de facto Republican reign of corporate-neoliberal “pinstripe patronage” (Simpson et al., 2004; Ranney, 2003) has more than accidentally coincided with persistent and deepening black misery on the outskirts and in the shadows of Daley’s ever more “beautified” and expensive downtown business district and its growing ring of glittering condominium and entertainment complexes. Endemic deep poverty across the city’s vast stretch of highly segregated and conspicuously non-beautified black neighborhoods has never struck the city’s wealthy or this mayor as a “big ticket” item requiring concentrated private or public investment.


The $475 million that Daley got the city’s rich and powerful to spend on the city downtown’s spectacular new Millennium Park would have been more than welcome in those communities.  It would be especially appreciated in the form(s) of job training and/or child welfare and/or after school programs and/or “green space” expansion and/or drug treatment and/or…fill in the blank. The list of unmet neighborhood requirements goes on and on. It includes a crying need for affordable housing in the face of the mayor’s dedication to the gentrification of centrally located neighborhoods that are marked out as the preserve of affluent urban professionals deemed vital for the city’s ascendancy to the status of a “global metropolis” (Street, 2007). 




“Happy Birthday, Mr. President”


Last summer, the arch-Republican Bush and the “vaguely Democratic” Daley celebrated the president’s Sixtieth birthday by having dinner together in the mediocre Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, located in one of Chicago‘s affluent, gentrifying neighborhoods (the South Loop).  As Chicago Sun Times reporter Neil Steinberg noted, “the restaurant is a regular Daley hangout – he has his own little room – owned by a consortium of Daley pals headed by Mathew O’Malley, the same Mathew O’Malley who got a sweet 20-year lease on the restaurant concession at Millennium Park and sparked a scandal by placing a bun in the oven of a Park District official running shotgun on Millennium Park” (Steinberg, 2006).


The dinner took place on the same day that a federal court convicted Daley’s former city hiring chief, Robert Sorich, and three cronies on corruption charges.  After the convictions were announced, the mayor read “a quick, grim statement about shocked, shocked he was” and then ran off for dinner at “the Cloutville Café” (Steinberg 2006)with Bush, whose administration was being investigated for the Valerie Plame affair by the same federal prosecutor (Fitzgerald) who busted Daley’s patronage chief (Sorich)  By the account of Tribune reporter Patrick Reardon, “there was no mention of the scandal when reporters were allowed into the restaurant toward the end of the dinner to watch Bush [get] presented with a white birthday cake with strawberries while Daley and other guests sang ‘Happy Birthday’” (Reardon, 2006).



Two Peas in the Same Plutocratic Pod


It’s hard not to wonder if Bush and Daley’s special friendship isn’t rooted in some disturbing parallels. Both executives were mediocre, unimaginative students and are less intelligent than their elevated offices would suggest.  Both are know for speaking in malapropisms.  Both are agents of business-class rule who mask their allegiance to the economic “elite” by appearing to be bluntly conversant with ordinary working people. Both prefer authoritarian policymaking conducted with the least possible outside, democratic input


Both of them have been dogged by Fitzgerald and corruption scandals reflecting their ruling coalition’s alliance with big money special interests.  Both of them enjoy the privileges of one-party rule across their respective jurisdictions (though Bush appears to be blowing his congressional majority with his botched war). And both of them owe their political careers to the simple facts that they have same exact first and last names as their fathers – Richard [J.] Daley (Mayor of Chicago 1955-1976) and George [H.W.] Bush (U.S. President 1989-1993).   Both have enjoyed the political windfall of magically inherited name recognition.



Richard and George the Second are two peas in the same putrid, plutocratic pod.


When will Dumb Daley’s closeness to Dumber Bush become a political liability in a city whose many disproportionately nonwhite poor families and communities are being especially victimized by the Republican Party’s racist, radically regressive policies? Hopefully the mayor will soon face opposition from a candidate smart enough to include the mayor’s disturbing closeness to the worst president in U.S. history in the long list of indictments against the current Daley regime.






Robert Novak (2006). “Mayor Daley vs. Labor,” Chicago Sun Times, 18 September 2006).


David Ranney (2003).  Global Decisions, Local Collisions: Urban Life in the New World Order (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2003)


Patrick Reardon (2006).  “Bush Gets Sweet Spotlight,” Chicago Tribune, 7 July 2006.


Rosalnd Rossi et al (2001).  “5,243 Teachers Failed Key Exams,” Chicago Sun Times, 6 September 2001)


Dick Simpson et al. (2004). “The New Daley Machine: 1989-2004,” paper delivered to The City’s Future Conference, July 2004, retrieved on September 25, 2006 at www.uic.edu/cuppa/gci/programs/chicagopolitics.htm


Neil Steinberg (2006).  “Blowing Smoke at the Firehouse Restaurant,” Chicago Sun Times, 19 July 2006.


Paul Street (2003). “Just Don’t Call It Class Warfare: Invisible Neighborhoods, Irrelevant People from Baghdad to Chicago,” ZNet Magazine (January 16 2003), at www.zmag,org; http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/inequal/ 2003/0116classwar.htm


Paul Street (2006). “The People of Chicago vs. Wal Mart: Urban Neoliberal Racism and Civil Rights Sell Out,” Black Agenda Report (November 1, 2006), available online at http://www.blackagendareport.com/002/002d_ps_chicago_vs_wal-mart.html   Paul Street (2007). Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York, forthcoming)    Gary Wasburn (2006 A). “Daley: Iraq Remark “a Sad Joke,’” Chicago Tribune, 2 November 2006, section 1, p. 9)   Gary Washburn (2006 B). “Guillen Skipping D.C. Trip Irks Daley,” Chicago Tribune, 10 February 2006)



Paul Street ([email protected]) is a writer and speaker based in Iowa City, IA.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), and Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, and Policy in Chicago (Chicago, 2005) Street’s next book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York, 2007).



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