Tempering (slightly) my joy at this week's political events is the realization that the Chicago area's influence on the national stage has dimmed a bit. The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and the end of Dennis Hastert's reign as Speaker of the House has removed two big local players from the national stage. Rumsfeld used to hold the House seat now occupied by Democrat Melissa Bean, back before the Earth cooled. And Hastert represents an exurban district out on the fringes of "Chicagoland." Both brought to the national scene some of the hallmarks of Old Chicago politics - the refusal to give a straight answer to a simple question, opting instead to speak in elliptical koans ("there are known knowns...known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.") For comparison see any speech Richie Daley has ever made. Also, their use of corruption and cronyism to reward friends and punish enemies is pure Chicago politics-as-blood-sport.
He may have been a mover and shaker in the Conservative Movement, but Speaker Hastert's big contribution to Illinois has been to brink home tons and tons of "earmarked" cash to the state, including federal funding for CTA improvements and other regional transportation issues. In fact, his greatest contribution to himself was probably buying up a bunch of land in the exurbs, securing funding for a new highway through the area, and then selling the land at a $2 million profit. So don't cry for Denny in his retirement.
The new crop of Chicago influence includes new subcommittee chairs Luis Gutierrez and Jesse Jackson Jr, who, tasting the new power they will wield in Washington, will now decline to run for mayor, ensuring another term for Daley, who's been Boss since 1989. He stands to eclipse his fater as Chicago's longest-serving chief executive. And Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will probably end up as #2 guy in the Senate, which gives him a lot of clout, but it's no Speakership and he's from downstate anyway. He may be helpful in advancing an urban agenda. But I doubt he will do much to reverse the net outflow of tax money from the City, which persists in spite of the widespread suburbanite faith that the cash flows the other way.
But our biggest splash on the national scene is likely to be Democratic Congressional Campaign Comittee chair Rahm Emanuel. Already he's claiming credit for the Democrats' new electoral clout and jockeying fo ra leadership position. The "Netroots," ar already criticising him as a cronyist, insider power player who doesn't listen to grassroots activists and prefers to run handpicked machine-style centrists to real reformers. I'm not sure that's completely fair, but he did get his start with Daley's machine. What can I say? Anybody from here who makes a splash on the national scene is bound to do so as a villain. Chicago's fresh out of heroes.