By John Kass
For a man who really, really knows politics I’m shocked that my friend Tom Bevan–co-founder and president of Real Clear Politics and guest of this week’s The Chicago Way podcast–has never seen “The Great McGinty.”
“Can I watch it with my kids?” he asked.
Of course, if they don’t mind black-and-white films from the 1940s without superheroes.
The delicious Preston Sturges satire features Brian Donlevy as a bum named McGinty, who rises up through the ranks of corruption in the crooked city by the lake. The film is set in a not-so-mythical Chicago and McGinty advances The Chicago Way.
McGinty begins his political career by casting votes that don’t belong to him on election day. There is no Voter ID, so he’s able to vote for the living and the dead. He votes some 38 times. He’s so good at his job that he’s promoted up the corruption ladder, up and up, until eventually he’s slated and elected as the machine’s “reform mayor.”
Later, the machine makes him the governor.
Though Bevan has not seen this fine film, it’s a good thing for me that he’s seen “Thelma & Louise.”
“Thelma & Louise” is a buddy picture about two women on a spree that ends up in the death of a beautiful car. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis drive that gorgeous turquoise 1966 Ford Thunderbird of a cliff. I’ve never watched it to the end. But I’m glad Bevan did.
On the podcast (you can listen by clicking on the link at the top of this column), Bevan compares President Biden and Sen. Chuck Schumer to “Thelma & Louise.”
And that’s how my Sunday column was hatched.
“I tweeted a GIF, that he and Chuck Schumer are like ‘Thelma & Louise’ putting petal to the metal going over the cliff,” Bevan said. “I mean they know it’s coming, but they don’t care.”
Not all metaphors for the November 2022 mid-term elections are superb. But this one is. And so, another tip of my hat to Mr. Bevan.
Because in a speech last week, Biden denounced all Americans who disagree with him on Election Integrity laws as hateful racists and “domestic enemies.” The president did this shamelessly, leading up to Monday’s federal holiday honoring the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
What is so bizarre about this banana pudding of the presidential mind, is that Americans are not being denied voting rights. This is not the 1950s of the Jim Crow South where Democrat segregationists ruled. . We are not that nation anymore.
Does racism still exist? Yes.
But it is unacceptable and hateful to most of us–independents, Democrats and Republicans–except perhaps for politicians who exploit it while accusing others of their own sins.
I hope you listen to “The Chicago Way” for Bevan’s razor-sharp analysis, for co-host Jeff Carlin’s smart questions and his mastery of sound. And, perhaps for my beautiful voice of a nightingale that would charm the birds from the trees, the fish out of rivers and coax the rocks to dance.
Oh, OK, on second thought, my voice nothing like that. I don’t sound like Alistair Cooke on “Masterpiece Theater,” nor do I sound like Orpheus singing at the Gates of Hades.
I sound like a rusty hinge on the back door of a three-flat, looking down onto the alley, a chunky guy smoking a fine Maduro cigar. Or perhaps a man dreaming of summers long ago, sitting out on his backyard deck in the suburbs, having a scotch with Zeus the Wonder Dog at his feet.
But the podcast does allow careful readers in on a writer’s secret. This is why my friend and co-host, WGN radio executive producer Jeff Carlin, convinced me to do The Chicago Way podcast years ago:
Jeff wanted to give readers a window made of sound, so they might get the back story of the column, hear how columns are born, how ideas are incubated by colleagues talking things out. This is no different than writers talking things out with editors before they sit down to carve out a column.
Actually, it’s the same thing.
I’m not going to spoil our podcast, but again, I do hope you listen.
(And, if you know anyone who might want to advertise on the podcast—so Jeff Carlin can finally get paid—tell them to drop me a line. Email me at email@example.com, and type “sponsorship” in the subject line.)
Oh, and one more thing about “The Great McGinty.” It is contained in movie clip audio that Mr. Carlin has carefully inserted.
The art of the bribe, The Chicago Way.
In the scene, Mayor McGinty is speaking to a greedy Chicago businessman who desperately wants city business and begs McGinty to grant his wish.
The crafty McGinty tells him that he’s not the one who makes decisions on contracts. A commissioner makes those decisions, not the mayor, McGinty insists.
Rejecting the businessman’s clumsy appeal to corruption, the mayor walks him to the door. McGinty tells him that he needs to stop worrying, to get outside, relax, fill his lungs with fresh air and go to a ballgame. Just then as if “by coincidence” Mayor McGinty points to a large photo on the wall.
It is a photo of a massive crowd at the ballpark. McGinty asks the businessman to guess how many sports fans were in attendance.
“10,000?” says the businessman.
“Not even close,” says McGinty, frowning.
No way, say he, as if 20,000 was an insult.
“50,000?” says the businessman hopefully.
McGinty is not pleased, but says the man is getting warm and asks him to guess again about how many fans are in the ballpark.
“75,000?” says the businessman.
With that McGinty slaps him on the back and says the commissioner who decides such things will be happy to meet him.
And that’s the Chicago Way, too.
It applies wherever favors are granted to and by political figures who use their government as a personal hammer to pound agreeability into others.
Consider if you will (hypothetically of course) some idiot, drug-addled son of a prominent politician, perhaps a vice president. The idiot kid flies with daddy to a foreign land on a government jets bearing the national sigil and that’s when powerful foreigners decide, as if “by coincidence” that the vice president’s son would make an ideal business partner.
They shower him with contracts, cash, jewelry and other treasure until it starts coming out of the kid’s ears.
And later, daddy gets into that 1966 Thunderbird with Chuck Schumer and drives off the cliff.
It’s like that.
Even if it takes place in China or Ukraine (again, hypothetically) it’s still The Chicago Way. Calling it the Delaware Way is just plain stupid.
The Delaware Way? Nah! Feesah.
The Chicago Way is not only about broken knuckle logic and force, as when some jamoke brings a knife and then you bring a gun, blah, blah, blah blah.
The Chicago Way is also a subtle pathway. It involves all those tiny, delicate bones in the human ear that transmit vibrations to the cochlea and then on to the brain to become sound.
You don’t need giant flashing neon signs spelling out the words “Quid” and “Pro” and “Quo.” But you must be perceptive enough to take the hint and dance.
With so many Chicago aldermen indicted–with another wearing an FBI wire for years picking up great lines like “Did we, ah, land the tuna?”–I wonder:
Will they’ll ever play “The Great McGinty” for a jury in federal court?
But that’s for another column, and another episode of The Chicago Way.
(Copyright John Kass 2022)