In a speech at the last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival, former Mayor Richard M. Daley attacked the federal government for destroying American cities, and suggested Washington should butt out of urban affairs. The Atlantic Monthly compared Daley’s appearance to “a Ron Paul rally,” and called him a radical libertarian.
“Once the federal government said it was going to control urban education, it destroyed the cities,” he said. “People fled. It didn’t matter who you were ...They mandated everything in big cities. They destroyed us and they destroyed the middle class.”
Despite his fierce support of local regulation on certain issues (gun control, climate change to name a few) Daley’s reflection of his 22-years in office conveyed a hopelessness in federal power. “It’s not the Obama administration. It’s every administration since Roosevelt,” he said. From immigration to education to foreign policy to Congress, he described an entire system of bumbling bureaucracy. “Could you see your board of directors meeting every day, continuously, all year around? Congress meets every day, all year around. They have more bureaucracy than the executive branch.”
He introduced a utopian vision of the 21st century in which the federal government was reined in domestically and internationally to make way for a more nimble power structure of mayors working together. “We should dilute the power of the federal government,” he said. “The more we do that, the better the city and state and the better it is for international relations.”
Daley didn’t detail how the federal government’s control of urban education destroyed the cities, but my guess is that he’s referring to busing. In the early 1970s, federal judges began ordering school districts to bus children between schools in order to achieve racial integration. The orders set off riots in Boston and bus burnings in Detroit. While well intentioned, busing ended up making segregation worse by causing white parents -- the “middle class” to which Daley refers -- to move to the suburbs or send their children to private schools. Chicago spent years developing a desegregation plan to meet federal requirements. Meanwhile, the schools’ white population dropped until there were hardly enough white kids left to bus around. School integration peaked in 1988, and has been declining ever since. The Chicago Public Schools are now 8.8 percent white, compared to a citywide population that is 31.7 percent white.
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