The decision by some in the Kennedy Clan to endorse Obama after the SC Primary last week may have surprised many, but it shouldn't. For in a very interesting way it represents the unification of two wings of the 1960 power center that elected John Kennedy. What should surprise is that so many of our pundits have missed the call.
Barack Obama is, without question, the candidate of the Daley Family wing of the Democratic Party. Democrats from Illinois simply do not move into a position to be elected Senator without the blessing of what remains of the Chicago Machine -- and much remains and is led by the current Richard M. Daley. But if you dig back into your Daley Family Political History -- all the way back into the 1950's you find the relationship with the Kennedy Family. Old Joe owned a significant part of what counted in Chicago, beginning with the Merchandise Mart managed by his son-in-law, Sarge Shriver, and if you dig into the other high gross commerce, you find the liquor trade, supermarkets, and much else in obscure Kennedy Family holdings. In the days before reporting of campaign funding -- the Kennedy Family was able to generate much of what Jack needed out of Chicago, and one of the principle players in this was Mayor Daley, then and now perhaps know as Hizzhonor. On election day in 1960, Daley was able to hold the vote in the River Wards out of the report long enough to make certain it covered the excess Republicans from downstate. When Daley controlled his city and its institutions, he made certain that Chicago never had enough old lever voting machines to cover all the precincts. When the number the city owned reached about 66%, he would surplus some. Voting machines went into Republican Wards. Paper Ballots went to the River Wards. And on election night, 1960, his services in making certain those wards covered the excess Downstate Republican vote, may have played a role.
The last call Robert Kennedy took at the Ambassador Hotel before he went to the Victory Party downstairs, back in May of 1968, was from Mayor Daley, who called to tell Kennedy that he would be holding a press conference the next day to pledge the whole Illinois Delegation to Bobby's campaign for President. As we know, that didn't happen, but those were the days when a Machine Boss could make such promises.
Most people think the days of the old machines are dead and gone -- I beg to differ. I simply think some have been smart enough to adapt to a new environment, and learn how to survive. Thus the attraction as a candidate to the Illinois State Senate of a Harvard Honors Grad Lawyer -- not part of the Black Establishment in Chicago, but at the same time a skilled organizer able to work with all sides, the Business Community, the Daley Machine, and yes, if Larry Johnson's material holds water, even some elements of "the Outfit" which is what the mob is called in Chicago. So when Obama had proved his skills in Iowa and South Carolina, why would anyone be surprised if the Daley Family did not call in a few chit's from the Kennedy Family?
Now my point here is not what I believe to be a marginal relationship to "the Outfit" and all -- rather it is to focus on a very long term political alliance between the Kennedy's and the Daley's and their organizations. It is, what Political Scientists call a Power Center. You can describe it with old slogans, "The City that Works" or "Chicago ain't ready for Reform." I rather suspect that what the Daley side wants out of this is to send that bothersome Jesuit, USA Patrick Fitzgerald, back to New York. He has been drawing the circle too close to Mayor Daley's office, and with the Former Republican Governor already in Jail, The local Newspaper Owner on his way, and the investigation getting close to the current Democratic Governor, it is easy to see how Power Centers are threatened, but the threat can't be easily upended.
But we need to understand the Political Culture here -- one anyone familiar with Chicago probably comprehends. This is a culture that takes care of its own. It isn't neo-Liberalism, or neo-Conservatism, it laughs at things like the DLC or many of the reform movements -- it is essentially Irish Catholic, it knows there may be a famine or worse just over the Horizon, and while one must be suspicious of power, one must also have a good deal of it in all the institutional structures.
Now in contrast, reflect on how different this is from the Clinton Power Center as it has been constructed by both Bill and Hillary. The so called New Democrats movements that made the coalition around the Clintons in the early 90's -- one that was not based in Urban America precisely, one that didn't have any sort of passionate connection with the Labor Movement, one based more in the academic Meritocracy, less in the relatively mundane problem solving approach of an urban political machine, this is the Clinton Power Center. It is the Robert Reich's who will tell you how the economy is changing in dramatic and revolutionary ways, eliminating the networks that were dependable in the past if you supported your Union and the local alderman, but offers nothing substantial as to how you can secure the life of your family if you haven't the talent or means to access post-modern skills. But all this is attractive to those who see old systems as a drag -- which probably explains why Hillary, who is unwilling to commit to a strong save Social Security plank ironically seems to attract the more elderly, the service jobs workers, and the all round more vulnerable, while Obama is attracting the wine and quiche crowd with advanced degrees. The irony is that no one seems to comprehend the competition within the Democratic Party Circle of this culture divide.