Barack Obama's political magic is based on an ever-growing bag of tricks, relying on illusion, misdirection, and the media's willingness to believe. Behind the stage presence of openness, bipartisanship, sincerity, transparency, and geniality are tricks learned from the hardball politics of Chicago.
Every magician needs his stage assistants. Barack Obama has two key people helping to smooth his way: Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. Each knows plenty of tricks of his own.
Rahm Emanuel was chosen by the chosen one to be his Chief of Staff -- a very astute pick indeed. Few realize that Emanuel was one of the chief fundraisers for the Democratic Party. He is an experienced operator, who not only knows how to raise millions of dollars, but on whom to bestow them. He earned his reputation as hard-nosed and effective magician at raising money the hard way in his hometown of Chicago.
Clearly, someone with Emanuel's skills can remind recalcitrant members of his own party (such as Blue Dog Democrats) that their future campaigns may just need the money that he and the President can raise faster than one can say Maurice Stans. Better to have the Rahmbo on your side than on the other guy's side.
Lyndon Johnson used his mastery of Texas money men to power his career and to ensure that his legislation passed. Rahm can use those same talents to conjure up the same power. He is a consiglieri and a bag man of sorts -- all perfectly legal, of course. No need to violate campaign finance laws when you reward your hedge fund supporters (who supported Obama so generously during the campaign) with taxpayer dollars. Just shake the money tree and the dollars will flow. Pay-to-play: one of the oldest tricks in the books and the unofficial motto of Chicago.
A message was sent when Rahm was installed in the White House. The next campaign was already launched -- and it would be a no holds barred race to the finish line. Again.
If that were not enough proof that Barack Obama is in permanent campaign mode, the man whose office is but a few yards away from the Oval Office might do the trick: David Axelrod. He was Barack Obama's campaign manager, whose skills also were honed in the battleground of Chicago politics. Axelrod was a master of setting up astroturf groups: ostensibly citizen's groups formed to promote this or that project. In reality, they were funded by corporate groups.
Proximity to power says it all about a man's standing in our nation's capital. How come David Axelrod was transformed into the Senior Adviser to President Obama -- showing up on television talk shows and meeting with foreign leaders, one of the go-to guys to present Obama's plans to the public? What happened to Paul Volcker and Larry Summer, and the other grand old and not so old men that lent gravitas to the administration during the campaign? Like props from a completed magic trick, they have been sent backstage.
Axelrod is The Man. He crafts plans and their rollout to maximize the popularity of Barack Obama -- the popularity that he plans to ride for a return to the White House in four years. Bill Clinton had his Dick Morris, George Bush had his Karl Rove, and Barack Obama has his David Axelrod. At least George Bush waited until his second term to bring Rove on board in an official capacity. Axelrod was placed next to the throne on Day One, of the First Year of the Age of Obama.
But the tricks take a dark turn when you dip below the surface. Things get ugly down there. A magician is stealth, and Barack Obama is very stealthy. He may be gutting the Defense Department but, if there are any weapons he would seek to emulate they would be stealth fighters and bombers. They do the most damage (see Senator Stealth, Stanley Kurtz's superb article about the legislative tricks Barack Obama used as a state senator).
In just the first hundred plus days, Barack Obama seems to focusing with laser-like intensity not on the budget deficit but on what he wants most of all. No, it's not the end of global warming, not the leveling of Americans' incomes and wealth, not the weakening of America and the empowering of our adversaries. That will all come, to be sure. What he wants most of all is vindication and more adulation. Those are his hungers and they cannot ever be satiated. At least not in four years.
In the immediate future, he wants what every first term President wants: a second term and will do whatever it takes to win one. How delectable it must have been to boast "I won" before GOP Congressional leaders (the bipartisanship campaign slogan -- find that in the props department, too). How fun it must have been to stand before executives and say that his administration was the only one standing between them and the pitchforks (how proud Saul Alinksy would be!). One cannot get the same thrill after leaving the Oval Office. Never. You cannot buy such power. And it is all about power.
Instead he has focused attention on his next campaign and done so using methods that reflect where he did his true learning: not Occidental College, not Columbia University, not Harvard Law, but the precincts of Chicago. Street smarts count there, not book learning. That is for the sissies you hire to run things under you.
Counting the ways
Barack Obama has sought to bring the census process into the White House and under the control of Rahm Emanuel. This could provide a very effective way to sway elections. Census figures are used to determine electoral votes. If the process is manipulated (say, by using a method of counting people called statistical sampling) then the totals can be manipulated. These can be used to redraw Congressional districts to disadvantage Republicans, for example (such the gerrymandering Obama himself engaged in during his Chicago days). They can also be used to determine the number of representatives a state can have (think blue states, which are losing people, might get a reprieve from losing Congressional seats); electoral votes for each state are determined by the census. In other words, the voting process can be corrupted in a myriad of ways. That is a native Chicago art form.
Barack Obama also has taken steps to increase the number of voters who will likely vote for him. Expanding citizenship to illegal aliens? Check. Empowering groups such as ACORN and ensuring they receive taxpayer funds? Check. Working with so-called 527 groups, funded by sugar daddy George Soros, to increase Democratic ranks? Check. Over cocktails at the White House, coordinate with these groups to pressure congressmen to ensure you have passed legislation that will help win the next election? Check. Smiling as the Democracy Alliance -- a group of billionaires and Democratic activists allied to you - fund candidates to take over secretary of state offices in more state capitals, so they can control the integrity of the voting process? Check. Appointing a labor ally -- an officer of the Service Employees International Union, a group that spent tens of millions electing you -- to a key post at the Federal Election Committee that monitors the legality of fundraising and spending? Check. Rollback rules requiring unions and their leaders to report information about their finances and compensation? Check.
Transparency promises? That is for the business people he threatens with disclosure of their names if they oppose his destruction of their investments. He had his Justice Department drop charges of voter intimidation against the New Black Panther Party group after that group brandished weapons and threats at a polling station during Election Day -- a clear cut case that would have otherwise resulted in victory. The dropping of those charges is a clear message that voter intimidation -- as long as it is for the right (by which I mean the left) party -- is okay when Attorney General Holder is leading the troops.
Explore the possibility of cooling the hot voices on talk radio by bringing up the prospect of a renewal of the Fairness Doctrine or requiring more community input in what messages are broadcast? Check (after all, his supporters had no problem chilling the exercise of free speech when they attacked a highly regarded radio talk show that dared, dared to have two critics of Barack Obama on the show). Free speech is only free when not engaging in the sacrilege of scrutinizing Barack Obama. Make sure not to quell the people's anger, but channel it. Has there ever been such an un-Presidential bit of oratory as when he stated that bit of agitprop over the AIG bonuses? Have your people work with the adoring media to coordinate your message for maximum political effect-even if it bends ethics out of shape? Who's watching, so who cares? Check. Reward labor allies with bailout money and help Michigan, an electorally vital state for Democrats, with taxpayer money. Check. Taunt people with the possibility of a tax audit while you expand the ranks of the Internal Revenue Service by tens of thousands of new workers? Check-Tricky Dick would especially enjoy that one.
Should it shock our sensibilities that a President would countenance, if not plan, such an assault on the integrity of our democracy -- especially when he bamboozled us with an image of being a different kind of politician, an honest one who would be above all clean of the corruption that tends to stick to all those who troll in Chicago politics? No-not at all. This is a man, despite the presumptions of his Harvard Law and University of Chicago sojourns, has no problem disregarding the contracts clause of the Constitution. Why stoop to play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules when victory is the goal?
These tricks of the trade are more befitting a Chicago alderman -- who keep dropping like flies in the wake of Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's probe into the netherworld of Chicago politics -- than that of a President.
Barack Obama doesn't mind outsourcing most of his own job. Domestic policy? Send that along to Nancy and Harry and Soros's boys at the Center for American Progress. Foreign Policy? Forget Foggy Bottom -- where is that anyway? Send that stuff up to Turtle Bay and give the rest of the portfolio to Russia, China, George Soros and the mad mullahs of Tehran. That stuff is hard work and no fun at all. The clearest sign that he cares very little for the nitty-gritty of governing of our nation and focuses on running his own campaign is that he convened his only Cabinet meeting only after having served for months in office -- and then only to respond to the tea parties on April 15th that posed the prospect of causing him political trouble.
Backed by this supporting cast, Barack Obama, the magician, hopes to continue to amaze his public and bewilder his opponents with his political magic. He is hoping the house lights do not come on and reveal the wires, pulleys and trap doors before the curtain is closed on his presidency.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.