The mayor’s departure, and what it means for the rest of us

When Mayor Daley announced that he was resigning, it made Washington liberals very happy. It should have put a smile on the face of Republican presidential candidates, too.

Let me explain.

For most of his career, Daley has been a pretty effective mayor for the City of Big Shoulders. He was able to pick up the pieces after the Harold Washington debacle and move the city past the racial political war that typified Washington’s epic battles against the City Council.

For a decade or so, he made Chicago work again. He made peace with the business community, he worked hard on beautifying the city, and found ways to reach out to every different neighborhood in a way that brought the city together. He transformed his father’s political machine, making it more acceptable for the modern era.

But Daley was dogged by federal corruption investigations that ultimately took out many of his closest allies. He refused to back the police force when cops were charged with police brutality and racism (even when the cops were black). That led to the shooting gallery that is currently Chicago.

He pushed liberal (and ineffective) causes like gun control, making a name for himself but taking away freedom from citizens who wanted to protect themselves from the bad guys.

He didn’t reform the pension or labor rules that eventually put the city on the brink of bankruptcy. He raised taxes on everything that moved, making it awfully hard to do business there.

When he lost Chicago’s bid to lure the Olympics to his beloved city, it became an open secret that he might not run again.

That rumor was spread widely by both friends and foes of the current chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel is hated by the hard left, because he is seen as a pragmatist who at times calls left-wing ideas “retarded.” Liberals don’t like pragmatists on a good day. They hate the pragmatist when he is the gatekeeper to the most liberal president in our nation’s history. They hate Rahm.

Emanuel, for those who forget, did not actually work on the Obama campaign. He stayed strictly neutral in his choice between his former boss’s wife and his Chicago friend. Emanuel never drank the campaign Kool-Aid, unlike his colleagues David Axelrod or Robert Gibbs, and he had a pretty good understanding that Obama’s rhetorical gifts shouldn’t be overrated (which, of course, is what the Obama White House does on a consistent basis).

Rahm has made clear that should the Chicago mayor’s job open up, he would run for it. He made that clear well before the current collapse of the president’s political fortunes. It would seem that the time is right for all involved for Rahm to exit gracefully and give the chief of staff job to Mr. Axelrod, his chief communications strategist.

That would make the liberals very happy. That should also make any Republican thinking about running for president happy as well.

The conventional wisdom has been that the economy will recover just in time for President Obama to be in a commanding position to win reelection. But that assumes a couple of things. First, it assumes that Republicans force Obama to govern from the center. Second, it assumes that the economy comes back. And third, it assumes that the president wants to move to the center.

But, should Rahm leave, there will be nobody left in the Obama White House to convince the president that he has no clothes and yes, he must move to the center to give himself more political cover.

That should make Republican contenders lick their chops. A more liberal Obama, with an adoring bunch of Obama staffers who want the president to become even more liberal, makes it awfully easy to see him as a one-termer.

So the mayor’s departure is one of those rare actions that make both liberal ideologues and Republican politicians very happy indeed.