By MILTON RAKOVE
Daley eludes biographers
THE PASSING of Richard Joseph Daley, mayor of Chicago and undisputed boss of the last great American urban political machine for over two decades, brought to a close the earthly career of one of the most significant and yet least understood 20th Century American political figures. Daley was a gifted politician and superb municipal administrator who practiced his crafts with an ability and agility matched by few American political figures in our history.
But Daley and his times have, to date, been given what Damon Runyon used to call "the medium hello" by biographers and historians. Chicago Tribune columnist Michael Kilian has described President Jimmy Carter as a "one-term, second-rate governor from a third-rate state." Daley was a first-rate political figure from America's second city who has been generally given the third-rate treatment by the media and the academic profession.
First-rate political figure
Daley's talents and political and administrative successes are undeniable.
His political style and his administrative behavior were representative of the best of politicians and the most capable of bureaucrats. His weaknesses and faults were reflective of the inadequacies of his brand of politics in 20th century American urban life. His times were fraught with the problems and challenges of the revolutionary changes which swept across America, and indeed the world, in the transition from a big city industrial society to an urbanized, metropolitan society. And his city was a microcosm of that worldwide macrocosm.
But there was something different in Chicago from other American cities — the survival and continued effectiveness of the last of the great American urban political machines, and a city government that was more viable and efficient than most of its counterparts. Daley played a major role in guiding and directing that city government and political organization, in reconciling the differences and adjudicating the disputes in his city, and in linking the disparate, constituent parts of his polis into a functioning totality.
That performance is worthy of intensive analysis and study by qualified and unbiased political scientists, historians, sociologists and social psychologists. To date, they have left the field, on the whole, to others — newspapermen, television and radio commentators, and hostile academics. Georges Clemenceau, the premier of France during World War I, was supposed to once have said that, "War is too important to be left to the generals." To paraphrase Clemenceau, "The study of politics is and government is too important to be left to what Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko calls 'dreamy-eyed, pointy-headed political science professors' who are unwilling to participate and suffer the frustrations and hardships of the political arena." Nor should it be left to newspaper columnists who, regardless of their talents, present only one side of a many-faceted, complex man, machine, city and era. And it surely should not be left to pontificating media analysts who are untrained in the requirements of good research, scholarship, and evaluating information dispensed by self-serving politicians.
Worthy of analysis
Coming next month:
42/ March 1978/ Illinois Issues
Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator