New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman usually reports from such Third World dictatorships as Pakistan, Syria and Egypt. Friedman is used to dealing with autocrats. But this Sunday, Friedman reported from the Chicago mayor’s office, where he found … an autocrat.
As part of the run-up to Rahm 2016, Friedman portrayed Emanuel as “a progressive in the age of austerity” whose task is “a microcosm of what the whole country will have to do for the next decade: find smart ways to invest in education and infrastructure to generate growth while cutting overall spending to balance the budget -- all at the same time and with limited new taxes. It’s a progressive agenda on a Tea Party allowance.”
To a Chicagoan, Emanuel’s plans aren’t so interesting -- we know he wants to lengthen the school day and put more cops on the street. What’s interesting is hearing him declare that the city’s financial crisis requires a strongman whose policies are above democratic give-and-take.
“I want to be honest about this budget,” the mayor declared. “Almost every one of these ideas has been discussed and debated before. But politics has stood in the way of their adoption. Maybe in the past, we could afford the political path. But we have come to the point where we can’t afford it any longer. The cost of putting political choices ahead of practical solutions has become too expensive. It is destroying Chicago’s finances and threatening the city’s future. In all of these reforms, we will be guided by principle, pragmatism and progress -- not politics. What we simply cannot do is to temporize any longer. We can’t kick the can down the road because we’ve run out of road.”
As an example of a decision corrupted by politics, he cited the 2003 Chicago Teachers Union contract, in which teachers got a pay raise and a shortened school week. In exchange, “politicians did not get a teachers’ strike.” Most people would call that collective bargaining. Emanuel wants to be even more of a one-man show than Richard M. Daley, who once told a new speechwriter that he’d like working in Chicago because it was not a political city, but a city where, as the speechwriter put it, “consensus has become more conspicuous than conflict.”
When Emanuel proposed his longer school day, he said the time for arguing was over. It was time to do what was best for the children.
“Rahm is not negotiating, he’s announcing," Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University's Center for Urban Education, told the Tribune.
After meeting with Congress as president-elect, George W. Bush cracked, “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, as long as I’m the dictator.”
Deep down, most mayors, governors and presidents probably feel that way. But our system is built on give-and-take, not one-man rule. So far, Emanuel’s dictatorial instincts have been counterproductive. His high-handed attempts to steamroll the teacher’s union seems to have made its leaders more determined to resist a longer school day. Last week, they filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, seeking to block schools from extending their days.
It’s good to be king, but there’s a reason the prime minister makes the laws.