Chicago: Corruption IS the System

Dave Schuler laments yesterday’s conviction of a Chicago city official on federal mail fraud charges.  Said official was bewildered, saying, “I just did my job the way I was supposed to do it. I guess it’s a federal crime.”

As Dave notes, the man has a point: “Corruption isn’t a perversion of the system here. It is the system.”

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, of course, but it does make it rather hard to know where the line is drawn.

Graphic by Flickr user Mike Licht under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    What I find frustrating is that it reminds me of the old Bert and I punchline: “You cahn’t get theyah from heeah”. I don’t see any practical way to get from where we are to a better, more decent situation. The Republican Party is no solution. The Illinois Republican Party is supine and has corruption problems of its own. The reform candidates are just as involved in the existing system as the regular candidates are.

  2. Isn’t there some concern that these are the conditions, where change within the system becomes impossible, that bring about some sort of revolutionary justice?

  3. Further, to draw an analogy between our political system and forged steel, it is tougher and can withstand more pressure, but it also doesn’t bend, so when the pressure becomes too great it just breaks.

  4. Triumph says:

    Dave notes, the man has a point: “Corruption isn’t a perversion of the system here. It is the system.”

    This whole McCain-style “Chicago-as-the-most-corrupt-place-in-America” meme is utterly simplistic.

    There is no more and no less corruption there than in other parts of the country. There are scores of on the level politicians in Chicago/Illinois:

    Julie Hamos
    Forrest Claypool
    Pat Quinn
    Dawn Clarke Nesch
    Lou Lang

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that Pat Quinn is a decent bloke—had lunch with him last summer. And I’ve voted for Dawn Clark Netsch every time I’ve had the chance. I appreciate Forrest Claypool’s opposition to the Stroger regime but that doesn’t mean I think it’s any more likely that he’ll become Board President.

  6. Having grown up in the Chicago suburbs and lived all over the country and overseas, I’d say that Chicago has definitely earned its reputation for corruption. The fact that some honest politicians can be named doesn’t change or mitigate that.

    Interestingly though, while Chicago is quite corrupt, to a certain extent it still works in ways that other corrupt cities I have some familiarity with, e.g. Washington and St. Louis, do not.

  7. JKB says:

    And there in lies the risk to the Obama administration, like many local boys made good, he brought along some of his local “politicians” many who don’t know that what their doing is criminal since they are wired into the local law enforcement establishment. But now gone national, they learn real quick the perils of law enforcement organizations that aren’t in the local machine’s pocket.

    I suspect we’ll see more Chicago corruption trials since national politics makes doing it the Chicago-way a vulnerability to the Whitehouse. We saw lots of trials of petty Georgia politicians under Carter and Arkansas politicians under Clinton. We saw some in TX under Bush but it seems like the Republicans do their best corruption at the national level. And to me, Bush seemed to surprisingly avoid more than other Presidents petty corruption in his appointments.

  8. sam says:

    Bush seemed to surprisingly avoid more than other Presidents petty corruption in his appointments.

    You got the “petty” part, right. Google ‘corruption Bush administration’.

  9. Floyd says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive list of Illinois politicians not yet indicted![lol]