Rahm's rhetoric of justice on school closings

Rahm's rhetoric of justice on school closings

Monday afternoon on WBEZ Natalie Moore interviewed two Brothers Emanuel cordially and threw one not-quite-hardball at the end. What would the mother of the Brothers Emanuel, given her fierce history of civil rights activism, think of the Mayor's current school closing action?

You know, the closing and rearranging 61 schools action.

You could practically hear the steely, noble resolve of his jaw, his determined eyes, right over the radio.

And right there, live and on the air, he spun a beautiful rhetorical web, glistening in the afternoon sun. I was captivated. I wanted to stand up and cheer when he was done.

I mean, I would have wanted that except that everything he said was from a campaign of misinformation--golden, shining rhetoric that had no more substance than a puff of smoke.

What was this rhetorical web he wove? Really it wasn't too different than his typical script.

"Education," he intoned, "is the greatest value my parents gave us." Their education was a large part of what made the Brothers Emanuel. And it wasn't just books: their parents gave them an education in "politics, civil rights, justice"--by the lives they led. This means that those values undergird everything the Brothers Emanuel do. How could they not? He continues:

The notion that I would allow other kids not to get a good education because it is too politically difficult for me....I'm comfortable with the responsibility of this office, the responsibility to another generation, the responsibility not to allow an injustice if you see it and not be scared because other people have called you names.

Let's take this apart a little, have a closer look at the words. How he uses these words is how he exerts control over the situation. It is very easy to listen to that and nod in agreement. In fact if you don't, you are on the bad side. He makes that clear.

But it is very important that we do not simply nod and agree and wish to remain on the "good side" as it is outlined here--without asking what it means to do so.

First we see that he positions his school closing action right off the bat as "allowing other kids to get a good education."  He cannot sit idly by as the children of Chicago fail to get a good education on his watch. Because of his values, he must take action. He will take action. He will allow kids to get a good education. That is what his massive school action is, to him anyway, although most of the rest of us remember something about a budget deficit a few months ago.

He doesn't finish the sentence that begins with such umbrage and self-righteousness, but the listener understands: The very idea that he would stand in the way of other kids' education. It's preposterous! Rahm cares about education because it's a value he got from his parents--one of the most important in their lives.

The thing potentially standing in his way, but that he will overcome because of his commitment to other kids' education, is the job being "too politically difficult" for him. Let the listener understand: nothing is too politically difficult for Rahm. We can count on him never to bow to petty political pressures which may crush others. Our kids' education is safe with him.

So he has aligned his cause with good and he has reduced any opposition to political game players getting all up in his face but possessing no real strength, no moral standing. It's just "politics."

He then highlights the idea of responsibility, repeating the word three times. He's responsible to his office, the office of Mayor--a big job here in Chicago, but small potatoes compared to what's coming next. He casts his net wider and takes responsibility for "another generation," like a caring father. He then casts his net wider still to a universal level, taking responsibility for ensuring justice generally.

Rahm's responsible. All this school closing business--it's all in the service of a big, huge, moral cause. Justice. And damn it, Rahm is obliged to do this. It may be hard, but it is the only right thing to do. We can count on him.

Finally he puts his opponents in their place one last time. He's already reduced his opposition to rather vague forces that make his life "politically difficult." Now he makes them punier still by saying they are name callers. That's all they are. You can't shirk your duty just because others have called you names.

There are lots of unfunny aspects of this rhetoric. To somehow align the plan to disrupt 61 communities with the cause of justice is not funny. The righteous indignation that anyone would dare question him is not funny. Reducing his opposition--a large and vocal group of parents, students, activists, and teachers backed by research, data, and past experience--to a group of schoolyard name callers? Definitely not funny, particularly since most of them feel pretty bullied right about now.

But there is one funny, funny part of this little speech. Oh, it's unintentionally funny. It's where he says (with the rhetorical violins crescendoing in the background as the Chicago flag waves and winter gives way to spring) "the responsibility to not allow injustice if you see it" [record scratching sound] What?

If you see it?

To not allow injustice if you see it? Well then. That explains everything.

We know for a fact Rahm hasn't seen the injustice--the injustice he himself has imposed. He hasn't gone to the schools. He has no idea what injustice looks like in the neighborhoods he's condemning. He hasn't seen it. And he won't!

Otherwise he'd have to act on that big responsibility of his that's so important, the one where you have to not allow injustice if you see it.

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