Blue Swoon: How Rahm Emanuel Won

A half decade after the Tea Party revolution that catapulted the far right into national relevance, Michelle Bachmann’s opponents on the exact opposite side of the political spectrum seemed to be experiencing a similar political revival. The heads of this liberal movement (it does not posses a catchy name) were Elizabeth Warren, the firebrand freshman Senator from Massachusetts, and Bernie Sanders, the independent, self-avowed socialist Senator for Vermont. Progressives earned another victory with the election of Bill DeBlasio, a unabashed tax-the-rich-to-teach-the-kids liberal, to become mayor of New York.

Rahm Emanuel was recently reelected.

Rahm Emanuel was recently reelected.

Just as the Tea Party revolted against mainstream Republicans, the new progressive movement is fighting someone. These are the centrist Democrats, forged in the Third Way movement of Bill Clinton. With policy approved by the Center for American Progress, these Democrats value the traditional Democrat social reform of welfare and education combined with economic liberalism, seen in the deregulation lead by Larry Summers. By no means are they the conservative, Blue Dog Democrats that hold socially conservative positions, but they certainly lean center. Progressives like Warren see these Democrats as too close to Wall Street.

This divide was most clear in the 2008 Democratic Primaries. Hillary Clinton, the heir presumptive, represented her husband’s consensus of middle class talk with moderate policies. Yet on her left, the young, diverse Obama coalition overtook the mainly white, middle-class Clinton base in the early primaries. The rest, as they say, is history.

With all this history behind the moment, progressives feel they have the momentum within the party. Unabashed populism, true liberal ideas are on the rise to counter the increasingly anarcho-capitalist Republicans. So, with two Senate seats and the NYC mayorship behind them, progressives moved on to the Windy City.

Chicago has been a Democratic stronghold for decades. Corrupt party machines aside, the adopted hometown of the President remains a basion of liberalism in the red tinted Midwest. Its mayor, the progressives percieved, was ripe for the picking.

Rahm Emaneul occupies a percuilar position within the Democratic party. His brash personality and affinity for swearing became legendary in the Clinton White House where he worked. Yet he worked for, and perhaps owes his 2010 election victory, to the left-leaning President.

His first term has been tumultuous. With school closings that some accused of dispproportionally affecting minorities and a strike that broke the traditional labor-Democrat alliance, Rahm began to seem more and more an arrogant pragmatist.

Yet here he stands today on the backs of another victory. Facing down a progressive, union-backed Chuy Garcia, Rahm was able to put on a softer tone to woo the voters that carried him five years ago. The two main factors are simple: Garcia was not the best canidate, and Rahm had a lot of money.

In regards to Garcia, he offered a traditional message of a challenger: do the opposite of the incumbent. Reopening schools! Removing red-light cameras! No plan to foot the bills, combined with Garcia’s less than Obama-like suave and speaking (though his mustache is impeccable) combined to form an easier to beat candidate.

And Rahm raised a lot of money, and outspent the challenger 4-1. One benefit of not calling for the end to the rich and the banks is that they are more eager to fund you. Simply put, money helped Rahm shape his message to the Chicago electorate that did not see him as a nice guy. Frequent ads allowed him to bring out his soft side.

Overall, the narrative of the clash between centrists and progressives within the Democratic Party can find a crucial plot point in the Chicago election. Progressives may point to a lackluster candidate, decrying the lack of more Warrens waiting in the wings. And of course, the Big Banks are keeping true liberals out of office. The fact remains that there is no imminent blue revolution in the future. Warren will continue to garner press, de Blasio will continue to anger police officers and charter schools, and Bernie Sanders may run a dark horse presidential campaign. But until more funding arises, the centrists will continue to run the Democratic party. And with the 2.5 billion dollar behemoth of Hillary rising to the forefront, the three liberals of Northeast will stay just as they are: voices on the fringes resigned to speeches instead of action. Five years after the Tea Party revolution, the progressive movement seems only a little closer to mainstream dominance. At least the ideal of progressives is that there’s always tomorrow.

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