Tags: Dyja | Chicago | Daley | political

Chicagoland — The Third Coast

By    |   Wednesday, 03 Jul 2013 02:07 PM

Over the past weekend, C-SPAN's Book TV broadcast a presentation on Tom Dyja's book "The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream," an impressionistic account of Chicago's place in the life and culture of America.

This article will discuss the views of the author and some of my personal thoughts. Perhaps this discussion will stimulate readers to do further research and to develop their own thoughts about Chicago.

The author's main thesis is that between the Left Coast and the Eastern corridor that is dominated by New York City is the "third coast," which represents the hinterland, a huge swath that established itself as a power center in North America. Chicago was a mandatory stopover for railroad passengers traveling between New York and California, and the stockyards made it the destination for livestock and agricultural commodities.

When blacks migrated out of the South, they competed for jobs and living space in Chicago. When neighborhoods changed, mortgage underwriters downgraded home values, and government policy after World War II fostered the destruction of established black neighborhoods under so-called "urban renewal."

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), subject of several articles in this space, helped to finance this internal migration, and black Americans suffered discrimination as they sought to establish their livelihoods. Dyja found that hundreds of racial clashes occurred each year that went unreported by tacit agreement among the major newspapers, including the black Chicago Defender. Other ethnic groups settled in Chicago as immigration laws permitted and made places for themselves as they did in other major economic centers.

Because of its central location, Chicago became the first choice as host of political conventions. Perhaps the most startling revelation for some readers is the fact that a clear forerunner to the famous "I Have a Dream ... Let Freedom Ring Speech" by Martin Luther King had its roots in a speech delivered by Archibald Carey, a Chicago politician and jurist at the 1952 Republican convention in Chicago.

From the author's perspective, the notorious political machine eventually run by Mayor Richard Daley and his sons brought together politicians, labor unions, financiers and mobsters to form a more efficient enterprise, but the basic ingredients already existed before the Daleys took charge.

As radio grew in the city, as the acknowledged forerunner of television, the improvisational comedy movement, soap operas and serials were created in Chicago to provide cheap programming by minimizing the need to employ scriptwriters and musicians.

Eventually, the industrial base in Chicago declined, as it did in the rest of the United States, in response to competition from cheap foreign labor. Although the effect was less pronounced than in Detroit and Cleveland, 800,000 people left the Chicago area.

Still, the political power of Chicago has never been greater, as a Chicagoan leads the national administration, and one of his key political allies, Rahm Emanuel, serves as mayor of the city while remaining influential in Washington as he struggles to gain control of the bureaucracy and the school system as headlines dominated by gang shootings threaten the mayor's campaign to restore Chicago's image as "the city that works."

For me, the reference to the 1952 Republican convention conjures memories of newsreels of Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill, shaking his finger at former presidential candidate Thomas Dewey in the audience and bellowing, in Dirksen's famous voice, described as "a matched set of steamboat whistles," "You led us down the road to defeat!"

The establishment faction, with Dwight Eisenhower as its ambivalent standard bearer, fought for control against a heartland faction led by Sen. Robert Taft, R-Ohio. Eisenhower's victory not only led to two terms of indifferent party leadership, but also to the appointment of the polarizing California Governor Earl Warren, who had run for vice president with Dewey as chief justice of the Supreme Court, later followed by Warren Burger of Minnesota, both rewarded for delivering their state delegations to Ike.

Mayor Daley reached the height of his national influence as a leading backer of JFK, and it was the ability of the Daley machine and the Texas Democrats to eke out wins, which are still disputed, that put Kennedy in the White House. Richard Nixon decided not to contest the outcome, because he feared that he would be ruined politically. Of course, he was ruined anyway, first in a disastrous 1962 run for governor that led to the "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" press conference, and then by the Watergate scandal. In between, Nixon barely won the presidency in 1968 as a direct result of the inability of Daley to prevent an ugly riot at the Democratic convention.

I experienced a brief political moment in 1980 when, after a speech to a powerful legislative committee, the group responded that they trusted the speaker more than they did Reagan to carry out the conservative platform. In fact, this reaction presaged a disorganized administration that led to the resurgence of the Democrats under Presidents Clinton and Obama with the stage set for a new chapter to be written in 2016.

Before leaving the staff of the House Banking Committee in 1985 there were two more trips to Chicago in 1984 to work on the case of Continental Illinois National Bank, one of the largest bailouts in American history and a direct forerunner of the 2008 bailouts of the Wall Street banks.

For further reading and possible inspiration, readers might consult a book from 1950 titled Chicago Confidential, by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, which explains how both parties worked together to share power in the state with the same elements that later constituted the Daley machine, while extending protection to the vice industry in the city. This little book can serve as a primer for all of the scandals that would follow under crooked governors of both parties.

Two prominent names to search are Jacob Arvey, an immigrant who rose to the top of the political heap in Chicago and recruited Daley to lead it while also seeking to draft Eisenhower to run for president as a Democrat and was later discarded by the very machine he worked to build, and Saul Alinsky, a left-labor theoretician and agitator who taught Jesse Jackson how to throttle and co-opt corporate interests and provided the playbook Obama would follow to the presidency.

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Robert-Feinberg
Over the past weekend, C-SPAN's Book TV broadcast a presentation on Tom Dyja's book "The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream," an impressionistic account of Chicago's place in the life and culture of America.
Dyja,Chicago,Daley,political
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2013-07-03
Wednesday, 03 Jul 2013 02:07 PM
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