Politics & Policy

Republicans Must Save the Cities

Emanuel at a campaign stop in April. (Joshua Lott/Getty)
If Rahm Emanuel is the best the Democrats have . . .

A Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was wielding a knife and who had PCP in his system. Chicago authorities apparently went to some trouble to sweep the case under the rug: A $5 million settlement to his family already had been approved; the officer wasn’t charged until nearly a year after the fact; a police-camera video of the shooting was suppressed for more than a year, until an FOIA lawsuit forced its release.

Chicago is a city under impeccably progressive governance. Its mayor is Rahm Emanuel, former right hand to President Barack Obama. So in response to the shooting of a young black hooligan by a police officer in one of the nation’s most corrupt cities and the dodgy handling of that by the city’s Democratic mayor, we have a thousand protesters harassing shoppers and blocking retailers’ entrances down on the Magnificent Mile, wherein is found Neiman Marcus and Cartier.

It takes a special kind of nose to detect the connection between Cartier shoppers, police shootings of young black criminals elsewhere in Chicago, and the municipal maladministration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but such a nose has the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who can sniff out a payday with the reliability of a French hog hunting truffles. Our friends in the community-organizing racket — whether from Chicago’s South Side or the campus of Yale — are a remarkably consistent bunch: Whatever the real or perceived social problem, the answer is the same: Write a very large check that eventually will make its way into the pockets of such people and organizations as those that organize these protests.

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Protesters are chanting “16 shots,” in reference to the number of police bullets that struck McDonald. But the criminal question as regards Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who is charged in the shooting, isn’t whether he was justified in shooting the young man 16 times, but whether he was justified in shooting him once. Lethal force is lethal force, and the standard practice in most police departments is to aim for the target’s center mass and keep firing. Chicago police commonly carry the Glock 17 pistol, which has a magazine capacity of 19 rounds. If the first shot was justified, then 16 shots were justified.

It is much more difficult to think of a justification for the way in which the Emanuel administration has handled the episode. In the words of the Reverend Jackson, authorities “sat on the tape for more than a year, buried the killing in an unending investigation, gave the officer a pass, and got through the elections.” Rahm Emanuel, who is incompetent, faced a strange situation in his election this time around: an unprecedented mayoral runoff that found him “limping” to eventual victory. Big-city Democratic coalitions are a tricky thing: It is difficult to win in a place such as Chicago or Philadelphia without the black vote, but it also is difficult to win without the support of the city-workers’ unions and other public-sector special-interest groups — the police prominent among them — who provide much of the financial firepower and ground-game foot soldiers that a successful campaign needs. In the post-Ferguson age, those groups often see themselves as something other than natural allies.

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This is where progressive urban governance leads: The combination of over-promising and under-delivering, corruption, institutional ineffectiveness, and clientelist politics ruptures the relationship between so-called public servants and the public they purport to serve. Chicago isn’t Detroit or Cleveland: It isn’t some lost city that has in effect been left to weed over. But employing the same kinds of institutional approaches with the same values and the same assumptions will produce — surprise — the same results. The Jesse Jacksons of the world instinctively respond by threatening to immiserate the functional parts of Chicago. But Jackson et al. shouldn’t be leading a march on the high-end retail district — they should be leading a march on the Democratic-party headquarters, which is the actual locus of malice in this sorry affair.

#share#Republicans for the moment are pleased to be a non-factor. But that eventually is going to have to change. There is no city in the United States larger than San Diego with a Republican mayor. A Republican and a pseudo-Republican were, for a time, able to thrive politically in New York owing to the unusual character of Rudy Giuliani and the fact that the millionaire residents of an economically resurgent Manhattan wanted to be able to travel from a Broadway theater to a Soho restaurant without passing through Beirut. (New Yorkers, alas, have short memories, and thus have turned the city over to Bill de Blasio, with predictable results.) Conservatives as such are not players in the real-world politics of our largest cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia. They are a relatively minor factor in some large metropolitan aggregates such as greater Houston and the DFW metroplex, but as for the cities themselves — not really. Consider that even in conservative Texas, the big urban political fight this season was whether Houston’s crusading lesbian mayor could subpoena church sermons as part of her campaign to pass a city law guaranteeing certain toilet privileges to men who pretend to be women. That bespeaks a certain battiness, to be sure, but it also suggests an operative political model that should not be that hard to beat: Houston, which is largely working-class and overwhelmingly non-white, rejected that ordinance by a wide margin.

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Non-whites, lower-income workers, and those whose economic condition has necessitated welfare dependency at some time do not much trust Republicans, because they believe that Republicans do not have their interests are heart. Republicans have over the years given them some reason to believe that, too. But it shouldn’t be too hard to look at a place such as Chicago and ask: “Does Rahm Emanuel really act in your interest?” The answer is obviously not. Crime, corruption, dysfunctional schools, unsatisfactory public services from transit to sanitation: There’s a great deal of fertile ground for Republicans and conservatives there. Rudy Giuliani won in New York on a single issue — crime — and delivered on it. On a smaller scale, Rick Baker had a very good run as mayor of St. Petersburg, and won 90 percent of the vote in the city’s low-income black precincts on his second go-round.

In the long run, conservatives need the cities. And the cities need conservatives right now.


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