Of Speeches and Monuments – The Quest for the Obama Presidential Library

Of Speeches and Monuments – The Quest for the Obama Presidential Library

Reflections on the intersection of the State of the Union Address and the Chicago effort to solve its problems by building another government building…

by John F. Di Leo

On Wednesday, January 21, the sun rose on a nation still licking its wounds from a beating it had taken the night before.

At 9:00pm EST on Tuesday, a pugilist stood there – the Resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – safe behind a big, sturdy podium for protection, and socked the American people in the jaw, again and again, for as long as we were willing to sit out here in TV-land and take it.

He accused us of blindness – we haven’t noticed his wonderful accomplishments. He accused us of stubbornness – even when we do see them, we don’t admit to them. He accused us of divisiveness – when he’s the one creating wedge issues every week to drive us apart. And he accused us of being uncaring – when he’sthe one impoverishing whole sectors of American society.

And it wasn’t enough for him to level accusations at us. He threatened, and then promised, to raise our taxes, reduce our job opportunities, whittle away our retirement hopes, by pummeling American employers in every way he could, by fighting entrepreneurs in every effort to expand and succeed, by stomping his hobnailed boots on every hand, every time it reaches for a higher rung.

So, tired and battered, holding a discount steak against our black eyes, we reached outside for the morning newspaper … and Chicagoans were surprised to see a particularly relevant side story on their front page… so if they didn’t want to read about Obama, they could instead read about… Obama.

Mayor Rahm and the Quest for a Library

The morning after the 2015 State of the Union address, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in the news, for having done everything the city can do to win the contract for the Obama Presidential Library for Chicago.

This isn’t the slam-dunk one might expect it to be.  The Resident spent much of his youth in Hawaii, much of his youth in Indonesia, and then his undergrad years in California and New York.  Obama had no connection with Illinois until he was in his 20s, and then, almost as soon as he arrived, he left again to spend a few years at law school in Massachusetts.  While he was later elected to both the State Senate and the U.S. Senate from Illinois, when you think about it, his Illinois roots really aren’t much deeper than his economic arguments.

So, Chicago is locked in a stiff competition for the site-selection committee, and  Obama is apparently staying out of this one (his interference record in such matters having been permanently compromised by his effort to intervene before the Olympics a few years back).

Mayor Rahm has rammed a conditional land transfer bill through the city council: if the University of Chicago wins the bid, they’ll transfer twenty acres of park district land to the city, and build a renewal project to beautify the area surrounding the new presidential library (if they lose the bit, presumably, the city’s current level of urban blight will remain in its current, uncontestedly pristine squalor).

Even as a new governor moves into the Governor’s mansion this month, the talk of Chicago has been of nothing but the quest to win the presidential library.  Preservationists complain about a loss of green space; neighborhoods fight for supremacy and connectedness.  Even college rivalries have resurfaced, as the University of Chicago (UC) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) compete in claims to be the most correct choice for the commission. The UIC is a state school, while the UC is private.  But the UC is where the Resident served as a lecturer for twelve years, teaching the circumventing of the Constitution. Perhaps the site-selection committee will realize that there’s just no winning, select Mount Olympus, and be done with it.

How Oddly Appropriate.

The United States is a nation of some 320 million people, covering about four million square miles and generating an annual GDP of about seventeen trillion dollars.

It is an enormous country, in which a little encouragement of the private sector would go a very long way.  We could easily produce hundreds of thousands of new businesses, creating millions of new jobs and career paths, if only our national government would concentrate on that goal.

The impediments to job creation are legion – the highest effective corporate tax rate in the developed world, the most stifling bureaucracy generating the most constricting regulations.  We just need to change directions – from tax increases and red tape generation to corporate tax cuts and agency reductions – and by thus removing the jack boot of the leviathan from the neck of the private sector, we would spur not just a recovery, but an economic boom.

But that’s not what the Resident recommends, is it?

Instead, in his State of the Union address, the Resident proposed government infrastructure plans – taxpayer-funded building projects that government can micro-manage, that government can dole out to the favored contractors and favored unions, that government can honor with ribbon-cuttings and champion in future SOTUs.

The Resident has neither an understanding of, nor any devotion to, the private sector and its marvelous growth potential.  While any sane onlooker would know that the only solution to problems of our magnitude (some 90 million Americans outside the work force!!!) is to be found in the private sector, Barack Obama does nothing but champion the public sector.  Better a bridge that employs fifty union workers for four months than a private business that might start small but provide careers and prosperity for decades.

It’s a matter of attitude, and comfort, and inclination.  The Obama administration thinks of the private sector as a villain – an oppressor, an exploiter – not as the solution to our problems.  So the Obama administration turns to government  largesse – bridges and tunnels, parks and highways, railroads and commuter lines – as the imagined salvation of our struggling economy.

It can never be enough, of course.   Communist Russia tried that method for seventy years; it can’t be done.  Only a booming private sector can produce hiring booms, career opportunities, and earning power that moves ever more people toward the American Dream.  But the modern American Left is prejudiced against that route.

Chicago Imitates the Country.

By the same token, Chicago suffers from all the same problems as the nation at large. Bleeding jobs, bleeding employers, dangerous streets, a shrinking economy trying to pay for an ever expanding government.

The only solution for Chicago is massive private sector growth. Chicago desperately needs to attract more businesses – not just the retail shops of Michigan Avenue and the airline fees of O’Hare and Midway, but the labor-intensive factory work that can revitalize inner city neighborhoods again, producing jobs for the jobless and hope for the hopeless.

But this requires a reduction in business taxes and fees, a crackdown on gang violence and all other crime, and a business-friendly reduction in the red tape of a city hamstrung by local regulators.

This is a city that demands fat permit fees for everything a business does.  It’s a city that sees a New York real estate magnate build a skyscraper, and then, rather than thanking the investor for building 98 floors of tax-generating real estate downtown, it tried to sue him for putting his name on the building.  It is a city that built a steel-and-glass expansion onto a stone neoclassical football stadium, making it look like the Starship Enterprise just landed on the Acropolis… and then it cried foul when its historic landmark status was rightly stripped away.

The city only understands the public sector.  It cannot conceive of how to build upon the marvelous business base that sprang up of its own accord when the city’s convenient location was enough, a business base that has been slowly driven away by generations of governmental mismanagement.  The city’s positives are still there for the taking; if only the city would have the sense to concentrate on reducing the negatives.

So in a city of 2.7 million residents, people who desperately need hundreds of thousands of job opportunities and new career tracks, the mayor and the local intelligentsia can look no further than a presidential library for the man who represents their mindset so well – just a one-time construction project – a few hundred temporary jobs followed by a few dozen permanent ones.  A drop in the bucket as a city drowns around it.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising, at that.

Copyright 2015 John F. Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is an international transportation and trade compliance trainer.  Born in the city of Chicago during the first Daley administration, his parent gathered him up and moved to the suburbs before he turned one.  Perhaps they knew what was coming.

Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the URL and byline are included.  Follow John F. Di Leo on Facebook or Linked in, on Twitter at @johnfdileo, or on his own website at JohnFDiLeo.com.

“Of Speeches and Monuments – The Quest for the Obama Presidential Library” was originally published in Illinois Review, HERE.

(the linked image is the entryway to Washington Park, near the site where Chicago hopes to build their homage to BHO).

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