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Barack G. Harding or Warren H. Obama? The Chicago Muckety Mucks Will Tell Us

Pat Hickey 29 July 2009 No Comment

Reading Lynn Sweet’s column after Sunday Mass and a trip to Food for Less on Pulaski, where I saved hugely on groceries and home supplies in these our troubled times, I was struck that President Obama’s White House retainers are not unlike those who kept President Warren G. Harding ‘walking the floors at night.’ Lynn Sweet gave President Obama the exploding cigar question about legendary black scholar Henry L. Gates’ hissy-fit and cuffing by Cambridge Police Sergeant Jimmy Crowley.  Ouch.

What was, by Sweet, a very slow and delicate under-hand pitch of a soft-ball question was whiffed by the President, who should be playing T-Ball.    Some pundits even suggested that that question might have been Lynn’s last toss.

Today, however, Chicago Sun Times White House Correspondent Sweet returned to the Obama field of audacious dreams with a sharp study of the cast of Friends: The White House Years.  There is yet a bit of that smoking cigar gunpowder in this treatment of the Obama Retainers.      Here’s Lynn Sweet

In Washington, the relationships among the key players in government are subject to speculation and fascination over whether there is a “Chicago way” in the six-month-old Obama White House. There is a romanticized notion of Machine politics in the air here, though only remnants of it still exist in Chicago.

I’ve wisecracked that there are so many Chicagoans in the Obama administration, it’s like covering the 51st Ward. Obama has swept into office with him dozens of Chicagoans, in all kinds of jobs.

Evanston’s Jon Samuels is in the White House legislative affairs office and Ben LaBolt, a LaGrange native, is a White House spokesman. Ellie Schaefer, from Lincolnwood, runs the White House visitors office. They worked on the Obama presidential campaign.

The late, great Chicago political scientist Milton Rakove titled one of his books We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent, and that’s what I see so far: concentric circles of interlocking social, personal and political relationships that go back years. The University of Chicago is one focal point; City Hall is another.

Think Muckety, not machine. (Muckety.com is a Web site that pulls together a person’s interlocking relationships.)
We, most of us, do not circle with Muckety Mucks.  We know what and who they are, but they in no way know us.  Muckety Mucks ‘might’ take the L –at gun point – but more than likely cab it or are driven by the help.Muckety Mucks are the well-heeled and grease addicted players.  There are many Chicago Muckety Mucks and they are veritable Who’s Who of Chicago Progressives.

No Machine Mucks, as Lynn Sweet very deftly illustrates, but dilettantes who play politics for profit and prestige.  Tony Rezko is busy. Lynn Sweet’s column reminded me of Warren G. Harding, who many historians argue was in fact America’s first black President, and his gang of buddies who accompanied him to the White House, after the hysteria created by Woodrow Wilson, like George W. Bush, had a War named after him (“Mr. Wilson’s War/Bush’s War”)  Harding’s Return to Normalcy soared on his rhetoric that tingled the thighs of many less than talented journalists, as did Barack Obama’s Hope/Change construct appeal to the daffy and dilettante.

Warren G. Harding,  . . . again, I digress,  the G stands for Gamelial and Barack Obama earned his Community  activist stripes through the Gamelial Foundation . . .trooped in a crowd of Ohio Muckety Mucks.

Upon winning the election, Harding appointed many of his old allies to prominent political positions. Known as the “Ohio Gang” (a term used by Charles Mee, Jr., in his book of the same name), some of the appointees used their new powers to rob the government. It is unclear how much, if anything, Harding himself knew about his friends’ illicit activities.

The most infamous scandal of the time was the Teapot Dome affair, which shook the nation for years after Harding’s death. The scandal involved Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall, who was convicted of accepting bribes and illegal no-interest personal loans in exchange for the leasing of public oil fields to business associates. (Absent the bribes and personal loans, the leases themselves were quite legal.) In 1931, Fall became the first member of a Presidential Cabinet to be sent to prison

Thomas W. Miller, head of the Office of Alien Property, was convicted of accepting bribes. Jess Smith, personal aide to the Attorney General, destroyed papers and then committed suicide. Charles R. Forbes, Director of the Veterans Bureau, skimmed profits, earned large amounts of kickbacks, and directed underground alcohol and drug distribution. He was convicted of fraud and bribery and drew a two-year sentence. Charles Cramer, an aide to Charles Forbes, committed suicide.

No evidence to date suggests that Harding personally profited from these crimes, but he was apparently unable to stop them. “I have no trouble with my enemies,” Harding told journalist William Allen White late in his presidency, “but my damn friends, they’re the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!

Many of the Ohio gang got cute and caused scandal for the President – Teapot Dome Oil shenanigans juts might – might mind you – find a mirror image in Green/Carbon Credit legerdemain.   One must wonder.

The Chicago Muckety Mucks recoil from the Chicago Machine.  That’s fine.  Most people I know in public service are too busy doing their jobs and doing good for people to become Muckety Mucks – you need swimming pools filled with cash and scads of time on your hands to be a Muckety Muck.

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Pat Hickey is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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