Rahm Emanuel’s reelection as Mayor of Chicago shows the limits of much of modern progressive politics.
While much of the national media has been focused on important issues like spelling errors on Rand Paul’s new presidential website, a huge showdown over the future of Democratic politics played out in Chicago. It pitted what you might call the more moderate “Clinton-wing” of the Democratic Party against the more progressive and what you might call “Warren-wing” of the Democratic Party, and quite simply the more progressive wing lost.
The contest was over who gets to be mayor of President Obama’s hometown of Chicago and featured former Obama White House chief of staff, and current mayor Rahm Emanuel, against a rather obscure county commissioner named Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in a run off after Emanuel failed to win 50% of the vote back in February.
All sorts of progressive and other left wing types really don’t like Emanuel and his brand of politics and not without good reason. Emanuel has closed a number of floundering public schools in his first term, championed charter schools, been friendly towards Chicago business interests, overseen a police department that engages in flagrant violations of civil liberties, and engaged in a number of other changes that some progressives in Chicago and the rest of the country have found outrageous. As progressive writer Rick Perlstein put it, “…Rahm Emanuel is a flagrantly corrupt mayor, out for himself, and never for us.”
So on Tuesday Chicagoans tramped to the polls and…voted in Rahm Emanuel for second term by a resounding margin.
This whole story is a great illustration of a simple fact in party politics: American political parties are big coalitions with many different groups with different interests, political actors ignore that fact at their own peril.
So if you blast business interests (and in a one party town like Chicago business often sides with the Democrats) as “corrupt” and “special interests” don’t be surprised if take their money elsewhere. “Gentrification” is a dirty word in a lot of urban liberal circles these days, but young professionals tend to vote and so if you demonize them don’t be surprised when they take their support elsewhere as well. Likewise police corruption and brutality is one of the most talked about topics in liberal publications these days, but cops are still super popular among huge swaths of the public. Not to mention the fact that police unions are powerful political groups in their own right.
This is the hard truth: progressive ideas aren’t universally popular, and the Chicago election shows that they aren’t even that popular among inside the Democratic Party. If progressives want to win in Democratic politics they have to at try and address this fact. If they don’t, they won’t be winning many political battles in the future.
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Photo by M. Spencer Green/AP