Move over, San Francisco, there’s a new town for conservatives to hate: Chicago. President Obama’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get the 2016 Olympics for his hometown has caused an explosion of anti-Chicago commentary from U.S. conservatives, while John Boehner, the leader of the Republicans in Congress, played to his base by saying that Obama seemed to be forgetting that “he’s the President of the United States, not the mayor of Chicago.” Conservatives still find time to attack Hollywood for defending Roman Polanski, or New York for just being New York, but their heart isn’t in it these days. The new enemy is Chicago, which, as Fox News’s Sean Hannity put it, may not be “a city where we want the Olympics taking place.”
These pundits weren’t just arguing that, as Michelle Malkin said on Fox News, Obama’s quest for the Olympics was “all about paying back” his Chicago “cronies.” They argued that the city itself is the violent epitome of liberalism gone wrong. A typical headline on Matt Drudge’s popular conservative website read “CHICAGOLAND: Another boy critically beaten: ‘Blood all over street.’ ” Malkin posted a video of a gang war among mostly African-American teenagers in Chicago, and warned that “Community organizing has not stopped Chicago’s teen violence epidemic. The Olympics will not solve this long-festering problem, either.” The message is that Democratic liberal politics have turned Chicago into hell on earth. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Fred Siegel summed up the current view of Chicago when he described it as a “mix of black-nationalist, gentry-liberal, machine- and mob-connected politics.”
When conservatives aren’t portraying Chicago as the crime capital of America (its murder rate has been rising in recent years), they’re portraying it as the birthplace of Obama’s incipient fascism, often using a line from the movie The Untouchables, “the Chicago way,” to describe Obama’s methods. Hannity recently said that Obama is bringing “Chicago thug-style politics” to Washington. It’s gotten to the point where a lot of opposition to Obama is phrased in anti-Chicago terms; Republican congressman Darrell Issa criticized Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel by accusing him of “resorting to the playbook of the Chicago political machine.”
It’s unusual to see opposition to a president turn into opposition to an entire city; few people bashed Omaha, Neb., just because Gerald Ford lived there. But a lot of the anti-Obama feelings from the 2008 presidential campaign are almost interchangeable with anti-Chicago feelings. The campaign caused Obama’s origins to be carefully scrutinized, and made conservatives more aware of Chicago-based figures like Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground member who has been elevated to a position of respect in his community, or the late Saul Alinsky, the Chicago author and community organizer whose book Rules For Radicals has been hyped by conservatives as a key to understanding Obama’s politics. To conservatives, it may seem like Chicago is a city that embraces all the people who are trying to destroy America.
But this could also be a sign of a shift in emphasis on the part of U.S. conservatives. San Francisco-hating is mostly based on social conservatism, a backlash against the city’s high population of gay people, artists, and gay artists. But in the Obama era, conservatives are de-emphasizing sexual issues and focusing more on opposing government intervention. And Chicago is the ultimate target for that kind of attack: the libertarian Reason Magazine ranked it last year as “the worst city for exercising personal freedom,” due to its many regulations on everything from alcohol to pets. And unlike New York or other welfare-friendly cities, Chicago can’t blame anyone but Democrats for its troubles; the city has not had a Republican mayor since 1923. That would make it a perfect target for conservative attacks even if Obama had never set foot in that town.
The ironic thing about all this is that Chicago isn’t necessarily that liberal by comparison with other big U.S. cities. The University of Chicago is the home of conservative economics, and Rick Santelli, the CNBC personality who kicked off the conservative “tea party” craze, did so from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Still, the conservative revolt against the Windy City seems to be unstoppable, even now that it won’t be getting the Olympics. Why waste time attacking other urban hellholes when you can talk about a place that, according to Glenn Beck on Fox News, “is good at community organizing, and organized labour, and organized Mafia—oops. Did I say that out loud?”