Friday, January 7, 2011



There are plenty of reasons that even those of us who frequently agree with Grover Norquist on politics, or at least on policy, should not like the guy. I, for example, once had breakfast with Mr. Norquist in Washington and, when he learned that a third party that had set up the meeting could not make it, Mr. Norquist treated me like something he would like to scrape off the bottom of his shoe. (The story of and behind this meeting is a very funny and entertaining one, though not quite up to the standards of my long seminal 1/6/10 post TALES FROM THE SOUTH SIDE, which, if you haven’t read it, you really should read. However, I can’t tell the story of the ill-fated Norquist breakfast because there might be repercussions for some third parties whose identities could not be concealed merely by omitting their names.) While I try, with varying degrees of success, to adhere to the biblical admonition to avoid judging others, I often find myself judging people based on how they treat other people who can do nothing for them, or who can do nothing for them at the time. By that measure, Mr. Norquist is a reprehensible human being, judging by the way he treated me.

Those of you who do not have first hand experience with Mr. Norquist still have reason to dislike him because of the arrogance and air of resplendent self-styled superior insight and intelligence he emits with such smugness.

But now Mr. Norquist, in all his imagined regnant superiority, has given at least those of us from Chicago another reason to dislike him. In denouncing the appointment of Bill Daley as Barack Obama’s chief of staff as evidence that Mr. Obama is surrounding himself with cronies from Chicago, Mr. Norquist stated, according to the Chicago Tribune:

If everybody sitting in the White House is from a 10-mile radius of Chicago, it gives you a skewed view of how the country works. And then they sit there and wonder why the country doesn’t agree with what they’re doing and what they’re saying. It’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket. It is a big, big country and it cannot be run by a small group of people from a small town.” (Emphasis mine)

Mr. Norquist displays his ignorance in a number of ways in this quote, not least of which is assuming that the way Obama thinks is the way Chicago thinks. He also errs in his implication that Mr. Obama’s politics is the politics of his home town, that Mr. Obama is some kind of Chicago politics insider. Apparently, Mr. Norquist doesn’t understand that Mr. Obama’s chief roles in the politics of his home-town were getting coffee for Senator Emil Jones and voting in the State Senate like Mr. Jones told him to vote. But I digress.

I can understand Mr. Norquist’s discomfort, even his ignorant discomfort, with the way politics are done in my home town; figurative, and sometime literal, brass knuckles and street brawls and getting in opponents’, and allies’, faces are very disagreeable to the likes of Mr. Norquist, who like to settle political scores by surreptitiously and oh so politely sticking knives in their opponents’ backs or, preferably, getting other to stick knives in their opponents’ backs. And I can understand why Mr. Norquist may be uncomfortable with Mr. Daley’s becoming Mr. Obama’s chief of staff. After all, this appointment is only one, but certainly the most salient, indication that Mr. Obama is pursuing a strategy that will result in Mr. Norquist’s party being left out of the White House for yet another four years. (See my 1/4/11 post, TRANSFORMATIONAL SCHMANSFORMATIONAL.)

Yes, I can understand, and, to some degree, empathize with Mr. Norquist’s angst at what some would call the Chicago boys’ prominence in the White House. But I cannot tolerate Mr. Norquist’s referring to my home town, the world’s greatest city, as “a small town.” Small town? The hell you say! Chicago is a hell of a bigger town than Washington, D.C., which Mr. Norquist, who makes his living denouncing the ways of Washington, calls home. Chicago is the third biggest city in the nation in population, is perhaps more emblematic of the “American way” than any other city, is perhaps the most ethnically diverse city in the world, is a source, in more ways than geography, of a dizzying array of American cultural icons, and is a city that remains economically viable, unlike many of its compatriots in urban America.

No, Mr. Norquist, even though the friendliness, civility, and inherent dignity of its people might cause one to think so, my city is not a “small town.” That you choose to deride Chicago with what you consider this sneering epithet is an indication of your having spent your life in Washington, D.C. and of your inherent smallness of mind and character.

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