Will Obama's Neighborhood Become an Election Issue?
The Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson had a clever cover story last week on Barack Obama's hometown of Hyde Park, Chicago, a neighborhood that functions almost entirely as the extended campus of the University of Chicago, where both Obamas once drew salaries. As a zip code, it's where black meets white (just dust off Allan Bloom's old social calendar) and sixties radicalism meets free-market conservatism (Bill Ayers wanders past the Milton Friedman Institute on his way to teach kids about the coming end of the bourgeoisie). However, the reputation for right-wingery, says Ferguson, is greatly exaggerated: "Of the tens of thousands of faculty who have taught at the University of Chicago over the past half-century, perhaps as many as 65 have, at some point in their lives, voted for a Republican." Is this just part of the new GOP strategy to scandalize Obama by refashioning the hothouse of conservative academia as "Berkeley with snow"? (The Google trend chart for "Hyde Park" shows no real change in searchability, so most of America isn't hip to the Democratic nominee's controversial hood yet. Also, press mentions of the locale don't seem to be spiking.) What's the Matter with Kansas? author Thomas Frank smells a rat:
True, there is a clique of professors in Hyde Park who are "alien" to working-class interests, as I know from having lived there for 15 years. Those professors are conservatives, however: members of the University of Chicago's law and economics departments who have given that institution much of its world-wide fame.
It's a crying shame Saul Bellow isn't still around to set us right on this question. Look at what he did for the North Side of Chicago in The Dean's December (he's describing the terrifically named Dewey Spangler, a famous newspaper columnist):
Would he ever have risen so high without the cultural capital had accumulated in Lincoln Park; would he even have gotten out of Chicago? Dewey had never wasted anything in his life; he always got his money's worth. He had made the Shakespeare pay, just as he turned his years of psychoanalysis to use. His bookish adolescence had given him an edge over the guys at the City News Bureau and his competitors in Washington, so that now could frame his columns in high-grade intellectual plush, passing easily from the President's budget message to John Stuart Mill, transmuting the rattle of the Chicago streetcars into the dark rich tones of political philosophy. Even the idea of filling the shoes of Walter Lippmann (a hell of a nasty ambition to suffer from, Corde thought) went back to the scrolled green benches of Lincoln Park. Corde didn't mean to put Dewey down. But origins were origins. You did the best you could with them. You couldn't turn them in for a better set.