Obama Is Wrong To Get Involved In Illinois Race


It's not often that Zeus descends from Olympus to guide mortals on the correct path, but when he does, the thunderclaps echo for leagues.

Usually, presidents are above local politics. Their time is so valuable that they can't always clear the schedule for others heads of state. Senators who get assists from sitting presidents on the campaign trail are among the lucky few, and a president stumping for a mere congressman is something of a rarity.

And a president, leader of the free world, injecting himself into a state-level race? Pretty much unheard of.

That's why it's news that President Barack Obama has taken the extremely unusual and spiteful step of injecting himself into a local race to punish a fellow Democrat who committed the unforgivable sin of working with Republicans on a handful of issues.

This is the same president who once told Israel's prime minister that he couldn't clear the decks for a face-to-face meeting. The same president who campaigned as the ultimate unifier, a messianic figure who would bring Democrats and Republicans together and put an end to the era of bitter partisanship.

As recently as Feb. 10, Obama extolled the virtues of bipartisan cooperation, telling the Illinois General Assembly that a politician shouldn't be branded a "sellout" for working across the aisle.

When Obama delivered that speech, Democratic State Rep. Ken Dunkin -- a man who's become persona non grata among his Democratic colleagues for working with Republicans -- stood up and clapped.

"Well, we'll talk later, Dunkin," Obama responded, drawing laughs from the other lawmakers. "You just sit down."

Obama's message is pretty clear: Bipartisanship is good, except when you oppose me. Keeping an open mind is admirable, except when it comes to opposing my policy positions.

Dunkin, who represents voters in a long strip of land on Chicago's east side, now finds himself in a fight for his political life, with all the Democratic powers aligned against him.

"In retaliation for Dunkin’s disloyalty, House Speaker Michael Madigan, who also is chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, put up a challenger to Dunkin in the March 15 Democratic primary," Scott Stantis wrote in Reboot Illinois, a site that serves as a platform for citizen watchdogs of Illinois government.

That challenger is Juliana Stratton, a local lawyer and academic. Stratton has the backing of the state's Democratic kingmakers, and now she has the voice of Obama greeting Chicago voters in radio spots, telling them a vote for Stratton is a vote "for the future of our neighborhoods," CBS2 Chicago notes.

Obama's pitch for Stratton includes the usual vague talking points about how she'll stand up for seniors, advocate for working families, and help take guns off the streets of Chicago. What the president doesn't mention is that he's punishing a fellow Democrat for having the audacity to break ranks with the party.

There's no compelling reason for the president to involve himself in the race except out of spite. Because there's no Republican challenger, whoever wins this Democratic primary gets the state seat. It's winner-take-all.

Perhaps that explains why Chicago's local media has been so willing to mock the president, as the Chicago Tribune did in a March 7 editorial. The Tribune called Dunkin "brash and self-serving" and said Stratton is "disappointingly timid" but reserved its withering sarcasm for Obama.

"So thank you, Mr. President, for helping voters sort out this troublesome race," the Tribune editorial team wrote. "Now, who are your picks for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District?"

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, CBS2 Chicago, Reboot Illinois, ChicagoNow / Photo credit: Jack/Flickr

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