Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is, to say the least, controversial. And now he’s on the cover of Time magazine. He has his detractors, sure, but it’s not hard to figure out where Time comes down: They’re standing with Rahm.
As the cover text puts it, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel Is Fighting Both Crime and Failing Schools. So Why Are People Mad at Him?”
The magazine tells you plenty of reasons you should like him–and very little about why anyone would be mad with the mayor’s many “reforms.”
Richard Stengel’s editor’s note at the front says it pretty clearly. There is, he explains, a
reason pragmatic mayors are likely to be criticized from everywhere on the political spectrum: If you make decisions based on what works, you’re sure to alienate someone whose position is based on special interests. I don’t know whether everything Mayor Rahm Emanuel is doing in Chicago makes sense, but I do know he doesn’t mind making enemies, which is a healthy sign for a mayor.
So he’s “pragmatic” and trying to do what “works”–as opposed to “special interests” (by which Stengel likely means teachers’ unions).
And the cover story by David Von Drehle comes from a familiar corporate media vantage point: the cheering of a Democratic politician willing to challenge party orthodoxy and take on entrenched interests–in other words, moving the party to the right.
Chicago is a Democratic town, so “all great conflicts are intramural,” Time explains–adding that Emanuel’s “clash with the left may prove to be a proxy for a broader fight nationwide over the identity of the Democratic Party.”
Emanuel “has taken on some very large issues, the kind presidents give speeches about: education reform, job creation, unsafe streets”–all of which are showing that Emanuel is “a pragmatic, pro-business New Democrat.”
Emanuel inherited a cash-strapped city in a flat-broke state. Chicago has budget problems and crime problems, problems of inequality and racial division, problems of mutual suspicion and failing schools, of high unemployment and aging infrastructure. And behind it all, special interests so deeply entrenched you need spelunking gear to go after them.
But Emanuel has picked the fights his predecessors avoided.
Again with those “special interests.” Which means…well, what, exactly?
The most high-profile issue has been the mayor’s education policy. Emanuel is a vocal proponent of the pro-corporate movement mislabeled in the corporate media as “education reform.” As Time explains:
Skirmishing among Chicago Democrats escalated to all-out war after the mayor’s handpicked school board voted on May 22 to shutter 50 city public schools. Facing a billion-dollar deficit in the schools budget, Emanuel had good reason to tackle the problem of half-full buildings and underperforming kids.
So he’s trying to do something about empty buildings and, umm, “underperforming” kids. Who could be against that?
Time doesn’t dwell on criticisms of Emanuel’s policies; readers are told that “the Chicago Teachers Union, a power unto itself, loosed its heavy artillery”–which sounds menacing–and that some people “charged that the closures targeted majority-black schools with majority-black faculties.”
Could it be that people “charged” that because it was true? As the Chicago Sun-Times reported (3/6/13), “Nine out of 10 of the Chicago Public School students potentially affected by school closings this year are black.”
And does closing schools do much about that deficit? According to a WBEZ factcheck piece about the city’s schools (5/16/13):
But despite all the references to the deficit, Chicago Public Schools has admitted that closing 54 schools will not reduce this year’s budget deficit at all.
While Time skimps on critics, we get Emanuel-approving quotes from the CEO of United Airlines and the Chicago Tribune editorial page. The magazine knows the score: “The mayor’s efforts at school reform, urban redevelopment, infrastructure repair and job training all seem to irritate the status quo in favor of other, often corporate, interests.”
In Time‘s worldview, the “status quo” seem to be unions, parents, teachers and students who want to save their public schools. And on the other side? Reformers and big corporations, standing up to those “special interests.” It’s a curious way to see the world, but that’s where Time is coming from. And there’s no doubt whose side Time is on.