Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Personal Aside: Two Political Events-My-Dear-Boy: Vallas and Wright.


I: The Non-Announcement.

It was a typical political tease. A proven administrator with boundless energy leaps up to the rostrum and executes an enthusiastic stream-of-consciousness about his goals and objectives. He was greeted with a standing ovation and when he completed his breathless talk, the audience arose to its feet again. Midway in the talk he gave a gentle slip…which was not a slip really but was intended to be such…that if he talked too long he would “lose votes” in the future. Everyone applauded and nodded while he softly declaimed and said it was a slip of the lip. This was Paul Vallas, a friend of mine, at the City Club of Chicago of which I’m chairman. Jay Doherty, City Club president who has instilled energy and vision into the Club had been deeply involved in Vallas’ prior campaign in 2002 for the Democratic nomination—which he lost by inches.

Probably the most significant thing Vallas said was not fully amplified by the media which covered it as a major league event (which it was). At least the major newspapers didn’t cover it. Vallas opined that if…if…he were to run for governor again, he would campaign fore-square for educational choice since he would do nothing for political accommodation that could possibly hurt school children. The heavily Democratic component in the audience did not give him an applause at that point because as everyone knows, the teachers unions have held that party’s educational programs in a hammer lock and vouchers or educational choice…the granting of state aid to students enabling them to go to private or public schools…is regarded as a disincentive to public education by that lobby. I watched Zoe Mikva, the ex-congressman, ex-appellate judge’s wife, at that point. She batted not an eye.

Vallas noticed the air going out of the balloon temporarily (it returned soon after) and leaned across the rostrum and asked me if this means that the Republican party would support his candidacy. Of course! I said but I have no idea really if it would. There are other things of interest to Republicans than vouchers or educational choice. Social programs are one and in his race in 2002 Vallas didn’t budge on abortion or any of the issues of interest to social conservatives—but it is fair to say neither did he as a candidate hustle them with the energy that Rod Blagojevich did.

Nevertheless, there are several aspects about the Vallas presumptive candidacy that are interesting.

First, he makes it clear that he will finish his contract as chief of public schools in New Orleans before he can decide his future. That contract ends next year which is coincident with the year’s grace that a candidate will have to have to run an acceptable campaign for governor in 2010. He is interested in appearing on my radio show via telephone hookup at a future time which of course would be highly appropriate. But his signaling his likely intentions now will lead House Speaker Mike Madigan who has a daughter potentially in this race to…do what?

Second, Paul Vallas was an outstanding campaigner in 2002 with one flaw. It was his refusal to fly. He despises flying; it is a phobia that grips many people. But the 2002 campaign was severely limited by this malady…if I can call it that. Transporting a candidate downstate and then back to northern Illinois is insuperable with wheels and not aircraft. I suppose one could negotiate it by scheduling events at a clump here and downstate so he accomplishes them in a workmanlike way. But as all of us who have been in campaigns now, events…my dear boy…events…occur that necessitate quick trips to Chicago or other outlying sections of the state. Finally, were he to become governor, how would he handle necessary trips on occasion to Washington, D. C., to testify in behalf of, meet with key agency heads. Would he have to be driven there? Is it possible he can overcome this severe disinclination to fly?

Third, magnificently equipped candidate he is…a former city budget chief, a former top aide on budget to Sen. Phil Rock who was the longest-serving state senate president…what about financing his campaign? Paul Vallas is not an independently wealthy man. We know the perils that befall campaign funding especially in this cesspool environment that Rod Blagojevich has left as legacy. If he runs again (barring an indictment) the governor will have a hefty fund of many millions for his campaign. Dollars are not the indispensable ingredient but how will Paul…a clean, honest, I believe incorruptible man…manage in the battle for funds?

Fourth, I suppose I should know this but the legend of how Paul Vallas improved the Chicago school system has not dawned on me yet. I always keep hearing how the grade scores are mired in mediocrity. I am not aware that for all the hard work Paul has provided, the city schools are a shining exemplar…are they? Or am I wrong?

Fifth, was his overture made from the rostrum that perhaps…just perhaps…there could be a place for him in the Republican party, an intriguing flirt—or does it have substance? There are several well-qualified names that have been raised as Republican candidates. If it is to be assumed that a Vallas would have to face a hefty battery of challengers in the Democratic side, it is also to be ascertained that he would face a group of similarly equipped people on the Republican side. If he is serious about a party switch…and I frankly don’t think for a second he is…he has to weigh the alternatives.

I suppose it is always great to have a policy wonk run for office because you know he won’t be controlled by other policy wonks. For that reason, I would love to see Paul Vallas run and be opposed by a Republican policy wonk who would not need to resort to bumper-sticker mentality to get his points across.

II: The Anti-Obama Wright.

When Barack Obama made his Philadelphia speech which many heralded, I was a dissenter because I saw the impossibility of his being able to mediate between the ranting racist raves of Jeremiah Wright and reason. Impossibly, Obama decided to do just that. He announced that he could no more repudiate Wright that he could the black community. That nonsense became a total disaster. For one thing, Obama was implying that the black community was joined at the hip with this demagogue!

I said that the prudent thing for Obama to have done is to blame himself for not becoming aware of Wright’s intransigent racism earlier but now that he has become aware, he was severing connection with Wright and the congregation. That is unconventional politics but for Obama it would have been the only prudent course to follow. He would not lose many votes doing this and the statement would have protected him from a future eventuality which happened earlier this week.

That was when Wright did the inevitable. He moved so far to extremism that barring his ability to excite an immature and emotional crowd of adult-children, he could cause no harm to Obama whatever. Now Obama is typically going half-way. He is excoriating Wright, not shim-shamming him.

The positive thing that has happened in the rupture with Wright is that this devil is being exorcised. If the media follow suit, the next rants by Wright will be downplayed…which will interfere with Wright’s very cynical stratagem: to become the leading black demagogue and thereby reap the rewards of a profitable book deal, big speaking fees and national celebrity. Ostensibly this rupture will not hurt Obama at all and will in fact aid him since he has no reason whatever to fool around any further with this racial racketeer.

But with this episode we have learned much about Barack Obama. He has the courage of a mashed potato sandwich. He wants to become mediator-in-chief. He has failed in his first test by not understanding the nature of his enemy. His desire to take this mediator-in-chief on tour to Iran and Syria shows its folly. He who can’t apprise his own community has no call to pretend he can do so for the world.


  1. elizabeth alexanderApril 30, 2008 at 2:17 PM

    I think Obama's tragedy is that he has tried to span his two worlds. (I told you that you do not understand the world that black people live in. Wright has given you an excellent example).

    While Obama has lived in the world represented by Wright, he has at the same time been part of the world of intelligent, elegant people -- the world away from black roots. This may be how he hoped he could bring people together: show them the two kinds of thinking in America could co-exist.

    Now, both worlds have turned on him. Maybe no one can be in both cultures and exist peacefully.

    I find it tragic and sad.

  2. Oprah Winfrey, the popular television host, who aided Obama with her endorsement, reportedly visited Wright's church once and decided not to return to it.

    The question about Obama's connection to Wright is why did it take him so long to realize that Wright was spewing forth angry rhetoric and vitriolic hate speeches from the pulpit? Likewise, how could he not know that the controversial comments would become public when Wright had advertised the same materials on his web site and sold copies of the sermons on tape?

  3. One of the bigger fictions of the 2008 election campaign is that Sen. Obama, in addition to his $300 Million PR machine, somehow unifies voters in the United States.

    Sen Obama is the most Left Wing voting Senator. When he got around to voting, he was also one of the most partisan members of the Senate. Throughout his career he has repeatedly voted against his own neighborhood on issues such as school choice. Leading a bought and paid for rally against Wal Mart in your neighborhood, despite 500 people lining up to apply for jobs their is not unifying leadership.

    Housing Crisis? Obama wants to jail the lenders. Gas Prices too high? Lets charge the Oil Companies with price gouging. Making too much money in the stock market? No problem, Obama thinks your profits are too high, and will double your capital gains tax.

    Sen. Obama has learned the methods of dividing the country very well from Rev. Wright. I don't think it is time to have such a wrong leader for this country.


  4. Elizabeth: There is only one world for us to live in. Why do you insist that blacks live in a different world from Whites, Asians and Hispanics?