It isn’t often that a socialist and a powerful Beltway insider cross paths, so when Rahm Emanuel and I had run-ins twice in 2005–2006 it was clearly kismet.
News that the chief of staff is bolting from Obama’s sinking ship of a White House to take over when Boss Daley leaves Chicago’s City Hall has me thinking of those encounters with the only person likely to have a worse potty mouth than my own.
Not just because I came to love the Second City* during my decade away from New York’s moxie, though I do. True, I did call Chicago a cornfield with lights when I first moved there a decade ago, but I came to enjoy the benefits of lawns and trees and streets where urine doesn’t waft up from the asphalt.
Now that I’m back to dealing with the sticker shock of living in a Brooklyn monk cell for nearly double Chicago’s rent, I take no pleasure in the possible mayoralty of a salty control freak who can pass himself off as a liberal on abortion but tote an Uzi for the Israeli “Defense” Forces on his time off from engineering the ever rightward turn in the Democratic Party.** Chicago deserves much better.
Why Rahm was flying coach with his wife and three kids from Chicago to L.A. the day before Thanksgiving 2005, I’ll never know. But from the moment his brood sat next to me at O’Hare I was filled with rage. As much because I knew I’d be dragged off to the clink if I spoke my mind as I was to be within earshot of his cell phone tirade to an aide. Clearly the muses weren’t with me that day, and he sat directly in front of me—and yes, that turd put his seat all the way back the entire flight to LAX.
Perhaps he caught sight of my “No War” button or the scowl on my face and we exchanged chilly looks, but I held my tongue.
At LAX his precocious son Zach, who’d chatted with me a few times, wound up asking why in lieu of benches there were flip-seat slats of plastic outside the terminal. I answered loudly and clearly that it was because politicians like his dad had nothing but contempt for the poor and wanted to be certain no homeless person could lie down and relax. Naturally, Rahm raged. He tore into me shouting about “drippy-headed idealists,” which pissed me off because I consider my idealism quite level-headed. [And I’m with the drippy heads on detesting Rahm’s gutting of the recent health care boondoggle’s “public option,” to which His Snideness said that progressives are, “F——g retards.”]
When Rahm was done ranting, I had one of those cathartic moments when you get to speak truth to power. I said something along the lines of: You are personally responsible for helping to gut welfare under Clinton, expand the racist death penalty through the Omnibus Terrorism Bill and defraud homeowners of millions of dollars when you ran Freddie Mac. And what makes you most contemptible of all is you pass yourself off as a liberal, when in fact you are anti-labor and a tool of Corporate America.*** (I would have called him a racist shitbag too for his comments against Arabs, but his kids were present and I have a soul.)
I then got into my Ford rental and sat on the 405 for two hours to inch along the 20 miles to my sister’s place, as I do almost every Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Less than six months later, there he was at the massive 2006 May Day immigrant rights rally and march in Chicago. He had only weeks before called around to Democrats encouraging them to vote for Sensenbrenner’s noxiously anti-immigrant legislation. There he was speaking to hundreds of thousands of immigrants as if he were an ally. I was furious.
I marched over to the stage, waited for him to finish and as he stepped into the throng of humanity I laid into him. How dare you come and speak as a friend to immigrants when you just encouraged Democrats to vote for the Sensenbrenner Bill, which turns the undocumented into felons, punishes churches for providing sanctuary and beefs up gun-nuts at the Mexico border.
Stunned and afraid of the listening crowd who started to shout questions at him, he walked over and did that paternalistic politician thing where they place a hand on your shoulder and condescendingly talk to you as if you are six years old. As he got into his spiel about how I couldn’t appreciate his “struggle” in Congress I noted a sudden look of recognition in his eyes. We glared at each other. He lifted his hand and froze and I said, yes, I’m that woman who still thinks you’re a shitbag [no kids around!] because you lie and steal and you manipulate peoples’ lives as if politics were a game. He grabbed his entourage and ran away from the grumbling multilingual crowd.
Many jokes are told about Rahm’s cursing and chutzpah, some bits like this one on SNL are priceless. But Rahm Emanuel is a dangerous man with a lot of power, disdain for progressives and a political agenda that embraces the most pro-Corporate and anti-human policies.
He announced that starting today he’ll be on a “listening tour” throughout Chicago. I can only hope the hard-working people of the Second City* expose Rahm Emanuel for what he is and run him out of town once and for all.
*To those population bean counters who challenge Chicago’s Second City status due to the higher count in L.A., may I suggest that when you must drive 20 minutes to buy a quart of milk you don’t live in a city, you live in a megalopolian sprawl of postmodernity. To those naysayers from L.A., please accept that you have yearlong gorgeous weather and beaches and so it is just unseemly to argue with those of us who live in real cities. Take a puff of your legal “meds” and quiet down.
**Rahm was one of the chief architects of the Democratic Leadership Council that took over the White House when Bill Clinton came into office and proceeded to pursue the strategy of “triangulation.” That is, they insisted they felt working people’s pain while digging the knife in ever deeper.
***He recently reaffirmed his hostility to labor with his “”F#%k the UAW” comment during auto bailout talks.
Sherry Wolf is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on Sexuality and Socialism, How Can We Unite and Fight the Right and other topics at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of theProgressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.