Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chicago-Style Politics

One of the favorite anti-Obama talking points these days is that he practices "Chicago-style politics." Google it, and you'll get a good sample quickly; it's used a lot. Not just Obama, either; the Sunday NYT profile of Rahm Emanuel (on which more later) quotes CA Rep. Darrell Issa saying that "the best way to describe Rahm is that he’s a brass-knuckle Chicago politician.”

I have two questions about it. First, is this something that really resonates with people? It doesn't seem that it would to me, but political junkies aren't really well-situated to have any sense of what normal, non-C-SPAN viewing people know about political culture. I'm assuming it's targeted at voters, not elites, and I just don't see people really thinking: Chicago? Ugh. But I don't have any confidence in my sense of it.

Second, it sure seems to me that this is another difference between the parties. Republicans bash San Francisco liberals, and Taxachusettes, and I seem to recall anti-Arkansas rhetoric during the 1992 election (certainly from Perot, but I think from the Bush campaign as well. Certainly, there was anti-Texas junk that was common to Democratic activists during the Bush years, but I don't think there was much of it from the Gore campaign, or from elected or official Democrats. I don't remember any anti-Arizona stuff in the last campaign, or anti-Kansas stuff in 1996, or anti-California stuff in the 1980s; I don't remember Democrats sneering about "Houston Republicans" during the 1992 campaign, even though the Republicans didn't behave themselves very well at that convention. Democrats run negative campaigns just as often as Republicans, and demonize their opponents as much as Republicans, but it seems to me that Republicans are far more likely to attempt to demonize not only portions of the country (as in Palin's comments about what constitutes "real" America) but also specific states and cities. So, my questions are: am I right about this being a GOP thing, and if so, isn't it a terrible long-term strategy, even if it works okay in the short term? Aren't there some people from Chicago who might be open to voting for Republicans but who don't like to have their politics insulted? Or do all Republicans and independents from Chicago like to hear that sort of thing?

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