The Chicago Way
Obama’s coterie of insiders is worth a closer look this time around.

President Obama walks with Eric Whitaker while golfing on Martha’s Vineyard.


John Fund

Whitaker left his job under Blagojevich in 2007, and is now executive vice president of strategic affiliations at the University of Chicago Medical Center. He is in charge of its Urban Health Initiative, which this May won a $5.9 million federal grant. As Brennan reported, the UHI “is a microcosm of Obama’s small and incestuous corner of Chicago’s elite politics.” Michelle Obama, as an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center, created and developed the UHI program until she took a leave of absence during her husband’s 2008 campaign. Valerie Jarrett, now perhaps the most powerful staffer in Obama’s White House, approved the program as chairman of the medical center’s board, and Obama strategist David Axelrod was hired to promote its minority-outreach efforts.

The program itself is controversial, with several medical groups claiming its efforts to shift poor patients to local clinics and away from hospitals such as the University of Chicago’s amount to a deliberate effort to dump uninsured and unprofitable patients onto clinics so that the hospitals can treat insured patients instead.

Fran Eaton, the editor of the conservative blog Illinois Review, says the Whitaker–Reverend Wright controversy is fascinating because it exposes the cozy world of the “Chicago Way” that brought Obama to power. Everyone in the drama is involved in the Richard Daley machine. Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama first met while working for then-mayor Daley. Obama ran for the first time for the Illinois state senate unopposed after Daley-machine lawyers knocked every one of his primary opponents off the ballot by successfully challenging the validity of their nominating petitions. Rahm Emanuel, the current mayor of Chicago, was elected to Congress in 2002 with Daley’s help and went on to serve as Obama’s White House chief of staff from 2009 to 2010.

None of this suggests Barack Obama was directly involved in the seamy underworld of the Daley machine — on the contrary, he was always protected from any hint of corruption because he was clearly being groomed for higher office. But it certainly demonstrates just how little scrutiny Team Obama got over its Daley connections during the 2008 campaign and how far removed the “hope and change” theme of his campaign was from the rough-and-tumble reality of Chicago politics.

John Heilemann, co-author of a definitive work on the 2008 election called Game Change, writes in a new piece in New York magazine that for “anyone still starry-eyed about Obama” the 2012 campaign will disabuse them of that notion:

The months ahead will provide a bracing revelation about what he truly is: not a savior, not a saint, not a man above the fray, but a brass-knuckled, pipe-hitting, red-in-tooth-and-claw brawler determined to do what is necessary to stay in power — in other words, a politician.

If the mainstream-media journalists who spent so little time in 2008 looking into the Daley machine that Barack Obama sprang from want to do more due diligence this time, they could start with a closer look at Eric Whitaker and the rest of Obama’s inner circle. It’s probably a much richer mine of stories than any investigation of Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital days or Ann Romney’s obsession with expensive horses is likely to provide. 

— John Fund is the national-affairs columnist for NRO.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review