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Hackneyed ‘ward hack’ theme won’t fly

Alaskdelegate Judy Eledge holds up Obamcountdown clock during Republican National ConventiTampFla. Tuesday Aug. 28 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Alaska delegate Judy Eledge holds up Obama countdown clock during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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Updated: September 30, 2012 6:30AM

TAMPA — Here we go again with this business about Barack Obama bringing “Chicago ward politics” to the White House.

John McCain pushed that notion to no effect four years ago, and one of my counterparts has never let up.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has now adopted it as part of his standup shtick, as if the Garden State was some sort of oasis of ethical government, though thankfully he dropped the theme from Tuesday’s keynote attack-dog speech.

It’s an easy hit. Our city’s politics are dirty, undeniably so. Obama emerged from our political system, therefore, Obama must be dirty.

May I just point out that you can’t even get elected mayor of Chicago any more on the basis of ward politics, not to mention U.S. senator, let alone president of the United States.

On the television over my shoulder here in the press center at the Republican National Convention, I just heard one of the speakers decrying the “Obama apologists in the mainstream media.”

I hate to rise to the bait, proud member of the “liberal news media” that I am, if only to avoid being too predictable.

The economy stinks. Obama has had four years to take a crack at it. If you want to try somebody else at the helm, I get it.

I even understand why Republicans are all worked up about the “you didn’t build that” business, a most unfortunate choice of words, even if they’re being taken out of context. In truth, the context doesn’t entirely repair the damage.

But I still can’t sit back while others pretend that Barack Obama is just another ward hack who miraculously rose above his station — or that he’s “Daley’s boy.”

When this emerged as a campaign theme four years ago, here’s what I wrote:

“We have lots of prominent politicians in Illinois who were ‘born of the corrupt Chicago political machine,’ as the new John McCain campaign commercial so ominously puts it.

“Some have the DNA to prove it. Others worked their way up through the patronage ranks.

“Barack Obama isn’t one of them.”

I stand by that.

I stand by that — not having forgotten that Obama’s first two White House chiefs of staff were Rahm Emanuel (who, yes, first got elected to Congress with some help from Don Tomczak’s troops, but hardly owed the election to them) and Bill Daley, brother to former Chicago Mayor Rich Daley (who dismantled the traditional ward political apparatus because it only got in his way.) In the most important election of Obama’s life, the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, the mayor was on the sidelines.

Nor have I forgotten Obama’s strange real estate deal with the now-convicted Tony Rezko, his first big campaign donor. I’m still troubled by their friendship, and still waiting for the day we hear the whole story.

I’ve never tried to tell anybody that Obama was a reformer. He was no crusader in the state Legislature, although nobody ever mistook him for just another hack either. It’s obvious he was always trying foremost to protect his options for pursuing higher office.

The story of Barack Obama is that of a politician who figured out he didn’t have to wait his turn, who didn’t have to pay his dues, who could take on the Machine boys and beat them at their own game — with the help of a shrewd campaign strategist and image-maker to sell him on television.

In Obama’s case, the image fit. He was somebody new, somebody different. He represented change, despite the fact that he hasn’t been able to achieve the changes he promised.

It may well be that American voters will soon be sending Barack Obama back to us. None of them should do so while laboring under the impression that he will find a new home with the Cook County Democratic Central Committee.

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