Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Election Roundup: Read While Waiting—Rahm the Teen Bully, Axelrod on Obama’s Loins, and More

As both candidates battle down to the wire, and as Americans wait for the results to come in, Carol Felsenthal rounds up the most interesting—and amusing—Chicago-related political stories…

While we wait to find out if 44 will stick around for four more—or if we’ll soon be getting to know 45—here are some Chicago-related stories I found revealing or humorous.

+ During this brutal campaign, awkward and/or ugly candidate gaffes have become the norm. Mitt Romney takes the crown for inelegant outbursts, but, at public speeches/rallies, Obama has sometimes said stuff that his aides probably wished he hadn’t. As reported in The New York Times, Obama, speaking to 4,000 people in Mentor, Ohio, urged supporters to vote for him—and added that it was okay for them to vote for Republicans for Congress if they decided that those candidates were “serious about putting people first instead of putting elections first.” I wonder what Democratic congressional candidates such as Brad Schneider and Bill Foster—both locked in exhausting, tight races—thought of that suggestion.

+ Speaking of gaffes, Chicago’s David Axelrod, the president’s main message guru, must have been exhausted when he referred to Obama’s beliefs being so strong that he is positively exhilarated by them, and feels them not only in his heart but in his “loins.” Evoking a president’s heart, great; evoking his loins, not so great. Shortly thereafter, a Maureen Dowd column quoting Axelrod carried the headline, “The Loin King.” 

+ Jonathan Alter, who grew up in Chicago and wrote The Promise (which covers the president’s rookie year and is one of the best books about Obama), is traveling the Midwest swing states with Obama these last days of his last campaign. As reported in Politico, Alter believes that the Obama team miscalculated in allowing Mitt Romney to become the candidate of optimism. Obama has finally found his voice, Alter says, and is making his arguments with conviction and passion. Referring presumably to the knocks Obama has taken for his ’08 promises of hope and change and calming rising oceans, Alter adds, “I think he was so worried about over-promising, he wound up under-promising and under-performing…. There weren’t enough aspirational ideas for a second term.”   

+ Rahm, a bully? Nothing new there, but some telling details offered by Chicago-based writer Alan Goldsher. Growing up in Wilmette, he remembers the year 1976 when he was 10 years old and was regularly roughed up by high-schoolers Rahm Emanuel, then 16, and his brother Ari, then 15. “Do Childhood Bullies Make Powerful Adult Leaders?” Goldsher asks in The Jewish Daily Forward. Yes, Goldsher answers—at least when it comes to the Chicago mayor and his talent-agent brother, whom Goldsher describes as “ball-busting siblings [who] were busting balls even before they owned Chicago and Hollywood.” Their father, pediatrician Benjamin Emanuel, as an accommodation to Goldsher’s working mom, gave the boy allergy shots in the Emanuels’ Wilmette home after hours. While waiting to be sure there was no reaction, Alan would wander outside, where, some weeks, the Emanuel brothers would torment him, throwing him to the ground “hard, really hard,” recalls Goldsher. “It was common knowledge around Wilmette that Rahm and Ari… were bullies.” He recalls those “lousy” afternoons as full of “scary shit.” (I emailed Goldsher to ask if he had voted for Rahm for mayor and he answered, “I did, because I’m not the kind of guy to let childhood scuffles stand in the way of (hopeful) progress.” Not only that, but Goldsher says he’d vote for Rahm again because, “like President Obama, the previous administration left him with a big ol’ mess to clean up, and it’s hard to judge him on one term so he deserves another shot.”)

+ Finally, some news on the SUPERPAC fundraising front: On the Obama side, the Super PAC Priorities USA Action got $1 million in October from Mark Pincus, chief of Zynga, who, like Jonathan Alter, grew up in Lincoln Park and attended the private Francis Parker School. The donation puts Pincus on par in October with George Soros.

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