Damn good questions

I’m speaking about Kelly Swails’ honest questions – why aren’t people talking about Blago (the corrupt Gov. in Illinois) more in connection with Obama? She’s not saying that there’s any real link, just that they were part of the same system – and that she believes the system is corrupt. Isn’t that a good reason to be leery of Obama?

Yeah, I disagree. This isn’t a surprise. But it’s good – no, great – to have the question asked. Groupthink is a bad thing, no matter who is doing it. So here’s the three big threads of her post (as I interpreted it):

1) Corruption is everywhere in Illinois politics. How much can you trust someone who built their career in such corrupt place?
2) Obama moved to Illinois to get into politics – this wasn’t an accident of birth. See point #1.
3) Chicago’s Superintendent of Schools as being appointed the Sec. of Education is a bad thing

So, in reverse order, my reflection on the questions.

#3- I have no idea about this. I do know that it’s easy for a superintendent to make schools worse, but that it’s much harder to make them better. Other than that? I don’t know much either the schools there or the superintendent. Even the little I have heard (from This American Life) is dated from 2004, and only mentions Mr. Duncan at the end.

#2 – Obama moved to Chicago not for politics, but for a job as the Director of the Developing Communities Project, a church-based community organization. There’s more about the public details of his life on Wikipedia. (To be fair, I thought he went there for school, which is me getting my wife’s aspirations of being a student mixed up with Obama’s time teaching at the University of Chicago.) As someone who moved a lot and has felt the negative effects of relocation on social networks, I can understand returning.

#1 – Coming from a state with its own corruption issues with Governors (I’m originally from West Virginia), I think I can speak a little to this. The major factors in dealing with (and avoiding falling yourself) with corruption and incompetence are patience and will. The will is to keep going, the patience is so that you don’t give up and just go somewhere else. I’m notoriously short on the latter – and it’s one of the things that I admire about Obama. Had I been in any of the debates, it probably would have resembled a Springer show. Better ratings, more entertaining – but ultimately a Bad Thing. Openly denouncing people – especially when you don’t *have* to – doesn’t help you in any way. (see footnote below). The kind of crap that completely wears me down as I try to fight it is the kinds of stuff he had to deal with – and he’s somehow managed to be a reasonably sane person. Also, being an adult transplant makes it easier to see such systems as an “outsider” and not get sucked into them; I have a very different perspective on local politics than equally intelligent people who have lived here all their lives. Or to put it in parable form, seeds tossed onto the sidewalk or brush find it very hard to grow – but some seeds might just succeed.

And as a meta-reflection, I, like a lot of people who blogged and volunteered during the election cycle are *tired*. It feels like we passed the finish line, so the enthusiasm (and frankly, the amount that we’ve followed the news) has declined. Kelly’s perfectly right to point out that this isn’t a simple race to the top; it’s a marathon. Too often we just push until the election’s over, then give the politicians a free pass. All of them – Obama included – must be held to the standards we (and they) espoused during the election. A polite – but firm – skepticism like Ms. Swails’ is exactly what we need.

(The footnote: Let’s pretend that then-Senator Obama in 2005 had denounced Blago. What would have happened? Blago was already being investigated, as Kelly pointed out. It’s unlikely that it would have done anything save angering Blago and hurting Obama’s own efforts. It does NOT require being complicit himself. Sometimes one has to make the difficult but pragmatic choices of where to do the most good; it’s that choice that I tend to flub.)

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