By John Kass
It’s days like this one that I’m so glad I’m not a political cartoonist.
I’d have been tempted to draw a cartoon of two presidents–former President Barack Obama and current POTUS Joe “The Big Guy” Biden–kissing their own behinds with politicians and media applauding and Chicago bleeding from all the violence on the streets.
Obama broke ground on his gigantic Obama Temple of Adoration and Fealty on priceless lakefront land, with shovels wielded by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The temple is a monument to what clout can accomplish in this city of clout.
I don’t begrudge Obama his temple. He began his political career in Chicago, was America’s first Black president, a smart and cunning political strategist, a silky talker, not to mention he’s now a Netflix bigwig. Can’t the man have a nice place to visit when he flies in from his mansion in Martha’s Vineyard? It might be nice if they build him a reflecting pool so he can gaze at himself.
But I’d hoped he’d put his temple in a neighborhood like South Chicago, or in Englewood, a neighborhood that needs all the help it can get. But not on lakefront park land that was supposed to be kept forever open, clear and free.
And Biden had been scheduled in Chicago on Wednesday to heap praise upon his federal vaccine mandate. But at the last minute, “The Big Guy” cancelled his trip. This saddens me. I’ll have to erase him from the cartoon I can’t draw. And Illinois Democrats miss the chance to suck up to power.
“The Big Guy” doesn’t want to face questions about his poll numbers dropping with Black voters who don’t want to take the vaccine, or his son Hunter’s now-confirmed emails referencing “the Big Guy,” or what the generals said Tuesday about Americans left behind in Afghanistan, or the Biden lies about those alleged “whips” in the hands of U.S. Border Patrol officers, and many of the agents are Latinos. They don’t have “whips.” They use reins.
The Big Guy might want to answer those questions, angering the mysterious, unseen cabal he often refers to as “they,” who tell him what to do.
Better for him he stays home where its safe with the lid on. Sadly, Illinois politicians are denied the chance to bask in his light.
Either way, one POTUS publicity tour, or two, Chicago keeps bleeding. So far this month, there have been 89 people shot and killed, according to crime stats compiled by the crime website heyjackass.com
and almost 400 people were shot in September, including children, with Chicago headed for its highest homicide numbers since crack cocaine took over the streets in the mid-1990s. And carjackings continue and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is secure.
And none of the politicians are doing much about it. They talk and talk and spin numbers and talk some more and cozy up to each other since they’re all Democrats with elections to win. They bask in the reflected glories of the current and former POTUS. They get their photos taken with shovels in their hands and faces free of masks.
But like I said, such a cartoon would be “disrespectful,” perhaps “cynical” or even worse, “divisive.”
So, I’m glad I’m without artistic talent and didn’t draw the darn thing. And with Biden putting a lid on himself and skipping Chicago, c’mon man, what’s the point? So just do me a favor and erase my entire disrespectful word picture from your minds. Thanks.
But Obama was here. In a heartwarming speech before the ceremonial shovels came out and Pritzker and Lightfoot got their publicity photos, the former president said his temple would combat “a culture of cynicism” and the “politics of anger and resentment” and “tribalism, where might makes right.”
All these were components in his rise to power in Chicago. As the president, he all but ignored the city violence. But he did take good care of politics the Chicago Way, installing his White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as mayor to replace the faltering and looney tunes former Mayor Richard M. Daley, and then taking mayoral brother Billy Daley on as his new chief of staff. Cynical? We need hope.
As Obama spoke, I hoped the Obama Machine favored mayoral candidate, Arne “The White Shadow” Duncan would wear a little white jacket while passing out hors d’oeuvres, joined in eager serving duties by convicted Obama real-estate fairy Tony Rezko, and the 60’s left wing radical and leader of the violent Weatherman group, William Ayers, at whose South Side home Obama launched his political career, long before temple talk.
Just the thought of the three of them wearing waiter garb, passing out Obama Temple groundbreaking snacks—not peppers and sardines but real fancy fare–to Pritzker and Lightfoot would have been an elegant touch.
Ayers and Rezko have been relegated to the ash heap of Obama’s history, but Duncan is still out there, getting great media love day after day in his soft mayoral rollout.
It’s all having an impact on Lightfoot, because the day before she and Obama made with the shovels, Lightfoot, who may be seeking re-election after all, joined her Police Supt. David Brown in speaking, and spinning about crime at the City Club of Chicago.
I was there too, listening and watching and scribbling. I waved at my former friend, the mayor. She didn’t wave back.
Lightfoot did some creative and questionable bending of data to suggest the violence isn’t all that bad. And Brown, whom she once unleashed to criticize catch-and-release judges and prosecutors had his leash yanked on by the tiny mayoral hand.
He said he’ll be meeting with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans.
They’ve made careers of dismantling the criminal justice system once designed to keep the violent away from the public. Now they’re all about helping keep violent offenders out of jail and on the streets where they can victimize others. All this makes Cook County Democratic boss Toni Preckwinkle happy, because as they’ve reduced the size of the jail population, they’ve saved her some $160 million a year in her budget as president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
Brown didn’t mention Foxx (Preckwinkle’s protégé) in his speech, or Evans. But in responding to questions from City Club members, Brown said he’d meet with Foxx and Evans later this week, saying “If we’re going to have to work together, we HAVE to work together.”
And he said picking a fight with the state’s attorney and the chief judge isn’t healthy.
He didn’t say it was unhealthy for his boss, Lightfoot, who endorsed Foxx for re-election and now must tread softly around Preckwinkle. Though Lightfoot rolled Preckwinkle in their mayoral runoff, Lightfoot is flailing desperately now, and Toni remains the party shot caller in Cook County.
Any Democrat running for the job of mayor will have to kiss Preckwinkle’s ring. I think of Lightfoot having to kiss it, and getting her lips stuck on the ring, frozen, waving her arms frantically, like the hapless kid who licked the frozen pole in the movie “Christmas Story.”
After his speech I asked Supt. Brown about his change in demeanor. He chuckled, knowingly.
“It’s complex,” Brown told me. “So, where we can work together, we’ll work together. Where we can’t, we won’t be bashful in expressing frustrations.”
The people of Chicago are frustrated too, with the violence, with the fear of violence, with the body count. But this is a one-party town in a Democratic run state. The Republicans—those who aren’t cutting deals with Democrats—don’t count.
The politicians say they’re concerned. But the frustrations of the people are annoyances to overcome, or as distractions from the true priorities:
Like holding gleaming shovels in groundbreaking ceremonies, and getting along and getting elected, as the city bleeds.
(Copyright 2021 John Kass)