Sunday, October 26, 2008

The First Metropolitan Machine Candidate

Recall my earlier post, "Loving America Means Having Small-Town Values."

Obama Mural

Well, apparently the Democratic campaign is sensitive to charges that Barack Obama's an "urban" candidate, so they've come up with a new line: Obama's the first metropolitan candidate in American history (via Memeorandum):
Republicans, looking to frame Sen. Barack Obama as a candidate outside the mainstream, recently settled on a new tack: deriding him as an out of touch and corrupt urbanite.

At the GOP convention last month, Rudy Giuliani -- the former mayor of quite a large city -- chided the Democratic nominee for minimizing Sarah Palin's experience as mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska: "I'm sorry that Barack Obama feels that her home town isn't cosmopolitan enough." The rest of Sen. John McCain's campaign hammered Obama as a product of the "Chicago political machine." And two weeks ago, Palin hailed "pro-America" small towns at a stop in North Carolina.

Many Obama partisans detected a vague racial appeal in the anti-urban framing. But the attacks also highlighted an overlooked aspect of the Illinois senator's rise: that in a country forever in thrall to its frontier and small-town heritage, he is the rare White House contender who really is a creature of the big city.

This raises two questions: Is Obama's ascent a further sign -- on top of volatile gas prices, plummeting home values in the exurbs and recent population upticks even in Baltimore and Newark -- that our cities are back and that the country is making peace with its non-agrarian side? And would a big-city president address as never before the problems of our urban cores -- blighted housing, shoddy public transit, dismal schools?

Obama partisans answer both questions in the affirmative -- with a key qualifier. The Democratic nominee, they say, should be viewed less as the first urban candidate in a long time than as the first metropolitan candidate -- a semantic distinction suggesting that the urban resurgence has a ways to go.
The article continues by discussing how American history shows increased urbanization, and says we haven't had a truly big-city candidate since Democrat Al Smith in 1928.

But even the Washington Post can't deny Obama's roots in Chicago's one-party machine poltics:

Obama grew up in Honolulu and Jakarta and has spent his entire adult life in big cities -- college in Los Angeles and New York, law school in Boston (okay, Cambridge) and 20 years in Chicago, the iconic American city, on which Obama settled as his home and launching pad. As a community organizer, he helped public housing residents take on City Hall; he married a native Chicagoan; and his campaign is based in a Michigan Avenue tower.

His style is as urbane as American politics get -- blazers with no tie, the slow stride across the stage. His political base is even more urban than is typical for a Democrat, while he struggles with rural voters despite playing up his mother's Kansas roots. One of the first interest groups he met with after securing the Democratic nomination in June was an alliance of bicycling advocates. Yet Obama has hardly adopted the sort of agenda we've come to expect from urban candidates -- much to the consternation of some of his supporters. With his organizer background, he could have cast himself as a knight riding to the rescue of cities neglected by Republican administrations. Instead, he has adopted the framing increasingly favored by many mayors and urban-policy types -- promoting America's cities based on their strengths, not their failings.
The fact is, Barack Obama is a classic big-city pol, and he'll take his radical community organizing model right into the White House, providing entrée to a long line of scurrilous associates and unrepentant domestic terrorists.

I laid out an analysis along these lines in "
Barack Obama and Chicago Machine Politics," where I link to the awesome essay from the Chicago Tribune's John Kass, "A Presidential Debate, the Chicago Way."

Kass indicates that Obama's roots on big-city machine politics is not something he wants to talk about, and this is why Democratic activists are redefining what it means to be urban versus rural in America today.

If there aren't really any heartland voters anymore, then Obama's not radically out of the mainstream of American political-culture after all. This is the biggest postmodernist scam of recent months in a Democratic election campaign of Orwellian proportions.

Barack Obama is
an old-fashioned, big-city, tax-and-spent, race-conscious, left-wing machine politician.

The Democratic Party establishment and
the pro-Obama mass-media will do anything they can to get folks to believe otherwise.