I don’t know about you civilians, but whenever I’m stuck for something to say about politics, I just do what my colleagues in the Mainstream Media — Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, showbiz wannabes both — do: I reach for the cheap pop-cultural reference, and let my readers do the heavy subtextual lifting. I mean, what could be easier, other than simply phoning it in from the Richard Rodgers Theater or the Blarney Stone on Seventh Avenue?
So here goes: Chicago. Yes the town of Kander and Ebb. But also the town of Big Jim Colosimo, Al Capone, Bathhouse John Coughlin, Hinky-Dink Kenna, Deanie O’Bannion, Murray “the Camel” Humphreys, Bugs Moran, Hymie Weiss, the “terrible Gennas,” Sam Giancana, Moses Annenberg (race-wire crook, confessed tax-evasion felon, and father of the father of the eponymous “Annenberg Challenge”), Frank Nitti, Willie Bioff, Tony Rezko, William Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, the “Westside O’Donnells,” Jake Lingle, Richard J. Daley, Richard M. Daley, William M. Daley, future Daleys almost as numberless as future Kennedys, The Front Page, and David Axelrod.
Oh yes oh yes oh yes they both, oh yes they both oh yes they both reached for, the gun, the gun, the gun, the gun, oh yes they both reached for the gun, for the gun. Ring any bells, Roxie Hart?
If you’re getting the impression that I’m smearing the great city of the plain as a gangland metropolis controlled for decades by Irish, Italian, and Jewish crooks, well, you bet your bupkes I am. Even more than New York City — or, as we former New Yorkers call it, “Tammany Hall’s Home Town” — Chicago is a unique combination of predators and prey, of urban gangster/politicians, cynical, double-dealing newspapermen and salt-of-the-earth white, black, and Latino working ethnics, whose most fervent desire is to keep the streets clear of snow, to keep their alderman paid off. Polish, Lithuanian, Mexican, whatever — what do they care as long as the Cubs finally win a World Series? They have Countrywide mortgages to pay, unless Chris Dodd finally stops pontificating and ponies up on behalf of the little guy he professes to care about so much.
In a show of great numbers — “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “Mr. Cellophane,” and “Razzle Dazzle” — the best of all is “The Press Conference Rag: a Ventriloquist Act,” led by the defense lawyer, Billy Flynn. Flynn was based on the great Hell’s Kitchen shyster William J. Fallon, a.k.a., “The Great Mouthpiece,” a.k.a. “I’ll never bribe another juror, ”who lost not a single one of the more than 120 homicide cases he defended in Manhattan, and who managed to get Arnold Rothstein acquitted of fixing the 1919 World Series when he convinced a jury that the featherweight boxer Abe “the Little Hebrew” Attel, who made the payoffs on Rothstein’s behalf, was an entirely different person from the Abe Attel who had been indicted for the same crime in, of all places, Cook County. Imagine that!
In that little number, Billy Flynn transforms his client, Roxie, into a ventriloquist’s dummy and soon has the entire Chicago press corps singing along with her oh-so-innocent tune. Roxie becomes the people’s choice, the innocent, sort-of virgin educated in a convent school, the victim of a runaway marriage, who may or may not be guilty, but if she done it, the dirty bum had it coming.
The point is: the press loves a narrative even better than it likes a story. And that’s where David Axelrod comes in.
Because the “Axelrod of Evil” (as you wingnuts call him) understands something you dopey conservatives don’t. It doesn’t matter what’s true: It only matters what you can get the suckers to believe. And if you’ve got the media on your side, well, that’s more than half the battle. Just look at Massachusetts, where another Axelrod client, “Cadillac Deval” Patrick, somehow got elected governor.
As Axelrod, a former “City Hall reporter” — in other words, “Daley Machine hack” — for the Chicago Tribune well knows, the journalistic “narrative” is the whole battle. And when you can effortlessly move from the newsroom to City Hall to the political consulting firm to the campaign managership of the man who’s the odds-on, Abe-Attel favorite to be elected the next POTUS, well . . .
Can you spell Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw, Gwen Ifill, and Bob Schieffer, the hosts of the forthcoming debates? Even Arnold Rothstein couldn’t have fixed that fight!
Which, besides Joe Biden’s mouth, is what worries me a little. For years — hell, decades — we on the virtuous Left have gotten away with hiding behind the First Amendment, blah, speaking truth to power, blah blah, all the news that’s fit to whatever, blah blah blah. That’s partly because we realize we’re the Tammany party and you’re the Stupid party. Thank Gaia.
But now we know that you know what “what’s fit” means: Whatever we say it is. After all, your definition of “fit” and ours is radically different, and we’re just amazed that you’re finally, belatedly waking up to that fact. In the end, it really is all about premises. Or “talking points,” as we say.
And we’ve got ‘em and you don’t. We’ve got New York and California and all of New England — places where, on balance, life is pretty good as long as you’re rich and you can afford to hire your Mexicans instead of competing with them for jobs and seats on the commuter trains. We’ve got the okey-dokey, you betcha, Scandi-doofus upper midwest and Pacific northwest, where life is either real good (Minnesota and Washington, until the al-Qaeda cells and footbath agitators take over and put an end to “liberalism”) or real bad (Michigan, where your beauty-queen governor has gone, as they say in Britain, “tits-over-teacups”)
Meanwhile, you’ve got Kansas, the Little Bighorn, the south, and the rest of those gun-totin’, God-fearin; Christian states where nobody we know lives, and who knows, maybe even Ohio and Pennsylvania, where they still cling to God, guns, and coal miners.
But so what? We’ve got the ADD, ADHA, trial lawyers, shrinks, grief counselors, teachers, public employees’ union, gays, lesbians, and transgendered, ABCNBCCBSMSNBCPBSNYT crew. And now we’re about to find whether there are more of us than there are of you, at $175 an hour.
Which gets me back to Chicago. In the end, Miss Hart beats the rap, but she’s superseded at her moment of greatest triumph when a random broad pops a cap into some sucker’s keister outside the courtroom and the media — excuse me! The Chicago Tribune! – scuttles off in pursuit of the latest sensation, and the not-quite-pregnant Ms. Hart is left to face her “loving husband” Amos, and the rapacious Billy Flynn.
You can imagine how well that works out. The next thing we know, she’s hawking a cheap vaudeville act with one of her fellow murderesses from the Cook County jail. But hey — it’s all showbiz!
As I said, that’s what worries me. Because, as Frank Rich and Mo Dowd might say, any resemblance between these fictional characters and real persons is entirely coincidental.
– David Kahane is entirely fictional character. Which doesn’t mean that he’s not always right. You can remonstrate with him, or not, at kahanenro@gmail .com, c/o [email protected]. Or not, as the Billy Flynn/Billy Fallon case may be.