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Obama and Chicago Politics

Monday, 22 Dec 2008 11:26 AM

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Barack Obama might have benefited from Adlai Stevenson’s advice on big-city machine politics: learn how to lie down with dogs and get up without fleas.

That former Illinois governor was referring to the Democratic organization in Chicago, to which Adlai owed his own start on the road to what he hoped, vainly, would lead him into the White House. That was half a century ago, but his counsel remains as good today as it was then.

Asked just how an aspiring politician might learn that art of bedding safely with flea-infested dogs, Adlai responded that no one knows because it’s never been attempted successfully. Still true.

Flash forward to today.

On a recent segment of Bill O’Reilly’s show, Dennis Miller, that incomparably hilarious wise man, was musing about the fetid political swamp that is the Windy City. An imaginative graphic artist had sketched a loathsome monster worthy of “Jurassic Park” to help Miller make his point.

The thing had four necks, at the end of which perched four heads with photos of faces anyone who’s been watching television this year could recognize instantly – the rookery of slimy celebrities who’ve come to caricature Chicago.

There, in his patented caveman hairdo, was the newly renowned current Illinois governor. Next was a sleazy political fixer, currently resident in prison, who specialized in corrupt housing deals. Then appeared the bomb-planting domestic terrorist-turned-college professor, who counseled students to kill their parents. And the fourth, the ever-popular black racist preacher who screeched at God to damn the United States.

Miller implied something might be missing from that picture and invited O’Reilly’s viewers to fill in the missing fifth face. It would be fair to suggest that among the millions watching the program that evening there may have been some who guessed right.

There wasn’t time remaining for Miller to romp around with that imagery, and he moved on to other satirical delights.

Take the time now, though, to think it through. Start with the fabulous four faces. Which one of them had, over the years, maintained direct, close and extended relationships with the other three?

Was it the potty-mouth governor who would like to auction off a U.S. Senate seat? There is ample evidence he had such a relationship with the convicted fixer. But none suggests he had much, if anything, to do with the other two.

How about the fixer, himself, before he landed in prison? Sure, he had the same connection with the naughty governor as the naughty governor had with him. But anything much to do with the other two? No evidence of that.

The terrorist who liked to play with bombs? So far he’s not been linked with any of the three other undesirables.

And No. 4, the ranting, raving minister in the pulpit of hatred? No visible ties connecting him with any of the others.

Ah, but there is someone who did have such strong, lasting relations with each one of the four. Go ahead, think it. Just don’t whisper it. That would make you politically incorrect. Also a racist.

So, regard him simply as No. 5. If it will help, visualize him as not an insignificant hub in Chicago’s well-greased political machine of corruption, with his spokes radiating out to each of the four other luminaries.

Back now to Adlai Stevenson and the machine of his days with its political dogs and their enduring fleas. Does anyone honestly believe No. 5 could have lain down for decades with the same machine’s latter-day dogs without encountering a hopping flea or two here and there?

Keep your eye, then, on No. 5 in the months and years ahead. Should he exhibit a tendency to itch and scratch, you’ll have some idea where those acrobatic fleas acquired him.

John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com. Read John Perry's columns here.

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