Long story short: Douglas soldiered on, imploring his constituents to remember the favors they had received from the Democratic Party—entree, for one thing, into the world's first mass middle class of factory workers. To no avail. Percy won in an upset. Pundits said it was because Percy's daughter had just been brutally murdered; it was a sympathy vote. But if people voted for Percy because he was a grieving father, the ratio of the sympathetic to the callous was suspiciously high in the Bungalow Belt neighborhoods where Martin Luther King had marched. A ward analysis demonstrated that in Chicago neighborhoods threatened by racial turnover, new Percy voters were enough to account for Douglas's 80 percent decline in the city since 1960. Pundits also pointed to people's unwillingness to vote for such an old man. But in the backlash wards younger Democrats declined almost as significantly.
No, it was voters like this, from 4315 W. Crystal:
A few years ago I had written you a letter stating how I and my family would welcome the opportunity to vote you in to the highest office in the land--The Presidency. Since that time however your support of the open occupancy bill has caused me to change my support of your candidacy for senator of Illinois, and believe me sir there are many more in my category who are changing in their support of you.
Here is the fundamental tragedy of the backlash: Voters like this empowered a party that decided they didn't need protection against predatory subprime mortgage fraud. Didn't need affordable, universal health insurance; made it easier for companies to rape their pensions; kept on going back to the well to destroy their Social Security; worked avidly to shred their union protections. Fought, in fact, every decent and wise social provision that made it possible in the first place for mere factory workers to live in glorious Chicago bungalows, or suburban homes, in the first place.
Now a black man from the city King visited in 1966 and called more hateful than Mississippi is running for president, fighting for all those things that made the mid-century American middle class the glory of world civilization, but which that middle class squandered out of the small-mindedness of backlash.
This post is for Chicago. This post is for America. This post is for our future. This post is for our history—that we may redeem it. This post is for a man who, had he walked down the wrong street in his own city 42 years ago, might well have been beaten to death.
This passage brought back to me a long suppressed memory: that when I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin, I was brought up to despise Richard Daley's Chicago. When my parents (who brought me up to be a non-knee-jerk liberal, and who gave volunteers for Gene McCarthy a place to sleep in our finished basement) introduced my brother and me to big cities, it was to New York and Boston (our roots) and Minneapolis that we went. I am pretty sure my first visit to the Art Institute came while I was in college, and I think the first time I heard the Chicago Symphony live was the summer before college (actually, I remember that quite well--James Levine conducted, Stephen Bishop played piano, Mozart K 467, Tchaikovsky 4).
Now Chicago is my favorite American city, in part because it seems so...diverse. And it is a place that has reinvented itself from being a manufacturing city to a business services center, and that has among the most diversified economies in the country. Somehow, when I think of Chicago now, I think only of the city that it has become, and of the city depicted in Bill Cronon's Nature's Metropolis and in Wytold Rybczynski's City Life.
But Rybczynski writes about how Chicago's reconstruction out of brilliant white stone after the Great Fire led it to be known as "White City." Unfortunately, until much too recently, many of its residents took that sobriquet all too literally.