Extracting political theory of Chicago mayoral campaign ads
I confess that I find political campaign TV (and now YouTube) ads more fascinating than most. I'm not talking so much about shameless attack ads, those tend to be crude and of the moment. Rather, I am thinking of those more general, introducing the candidate ads which seek to explain who the politician is and will do, but more interestingly, sometimes reveal something closer to a theory of governing. Occasionally, a sixty second spot can turn out to be a mini Republic. Where does power come from, who is government for? In the run up to the Chicago municipal elections tomorrow, I've been watching some campaign ads for signs of something deeper. Here's what I've come up with thus far.
While other ads for Rahm paint him as a defender of local industry ("Tenacity"), the "Hard Truths" ad comes closest to explaining a philosophy of governing. It's low on ideology—high on pragmatism. Rahm lists basic wants and needs of the Chicagoan in a staccato voice. In my mind, it immediately associates Rahm with a new wave of results-focused, reformist city leaders with more of a service philosophy of city government—Cory Booker comes to mind. See from another angle, its a vision of the city government as an efficient, modern corporation that's only as big as it needs to be to serve its shareholders/citizens.
Is former Daley Chief of Staff Gery Chico the punk rock candidate or the SuperBowl candidate? His Rahm Back of the Envelope bit on YouTube uses the Clash's "Career Opportunities" but that ad assumes we know what the Rahm Tax is. Elsewhere, he draws bold class lines between his Back of the Yards upbringing and Emanuel's more privileged background. But the most revealing ads show Chico as a protector. "Proven" has him adding police to keep our kids safe from "punks" and another ad he says city hall will "embrace and help" small businesses. Chico's versions of government comes across like a nurturing family member, its vision of city government resembles a kind of powerful matriarch. That image has extra potency for people living in the third year of a recession.
Carol Moseley Braun's "Need Not Apply" makes a leap from outsiders lacking civil rights to those shut out of the benefits of the city government's machine politics. In other ads, Braun hammers the other candidates as allies of the fat cats. But her most interesting ads are a couple of 30 second YouTube clips that paint a bleak picture of the city ("Dark City")with some "do something about it" text on screen. While Braun ads seem to have a grip on the helplessness, outsiderness and hopes of certain constituencies, they don't tell us much about Braun's solutions.
City Clerk Miguel del Valle's ad may seem as tapioca as the backdrop behind him, but its message is simply and clearly a reminder of the political theory of democracy—a government's legitimacy follows from a wide participation of an electorate. Watch it again and notice that del Valle says "we can strengthen our democracy by participating in the upcoming election." It might be readying into it a bit, but that seems to say our city lacks legitimacy because participation has been low.
And while we are on the topic...
Mayor Daley's ad from 1983 captures the zeitgeist of the era—government is clearly a collaboration among the best and brightest elites as he toughts the smart lawyers he's hired to run the show.