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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
The journalists lacked the training in rigid scholarship and the academics were generally offended by and divorced from the practices of realpolitik. And both the journalists and academics have been handicapped by the paucity of written sources and the unwillingness of those who were Daley's political associates to reveal what they knew or felt because they were either beneficiaries of Daley's largesse or were overwhelmed and silenced by his success. And all of them journalists, academics and political contemporaries, have generally been influenced by their emotions hatred, hostility, misunderstanding, fear, respect, loyalty and sycophancy. That situation has been significantly compounded by the prejudiced and unsophisticated treatment of Daley, his political machine, and his city by the national media, which has never understood the man, his politics and Chicago.

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
Daley was much more than a Boss; transcended the heavy-handed use of the word Clout; and his true Requiem will not be a misleading, inaccurate funeral dirge. "He was an enigma," one of his closest associates once told me. That enigma has not yet yet been deciphered by any of his would-be-biographers. The true story of his life and times, his abilities and shortcomings, and his failures and successes has yet to be told. The compiling of that record should be done fairly and accurately through a concatenation of sound scholarship and political savvy. It is time for serious scholars to get to work on Richard J. Daley's life and times.

Coming next month:
In a two-part article beginning in the April magazine, Milton Rakove heeds the advice he gives above to students of Mayor Daley and examines Richard J. Daley as both a politician and a public official. Rakove focuses on Daley's uncanny grasp of the political theories never studied, and his ability to maintain a working balance among the community, the political organization and the city government of Chicago.

42/ March 1978/ Illinois Issues

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