In her new book, Culture of Corruption, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin claims that first lady Michelle Obama "was literally born into the Chicago political corruptocracy," suggesting that because her father was a volunteer precinct captain and held a city job, she was a party to cronyism and embraced the practice. In fact, the biography of Michelle Obama that Malkin cites to make this case actually argued that the first lady's experience in the "powerful political machine" of Richard J. Daley made her and her family "extremely cynical about politics and politicians" until they met "Barack [Obama], whose political career was pushed in part by a coalition of people who had grown up in opposition to Daley and whose goal was breaking the Machine."
Malkin asserts Michelle Obama was born into "Chicago political corruptocracy"
From Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies (Regnery Publishing, July 2009):
In the Chicago patronage culture that made Michelle Obama, the color that matters most is neither black nor white, it is green -- the color of money. Mrs. Obama was literally born into the Chicago political corruptocracy. Her father, Fraser Robinson, was a volunteer precinct caption for the Democrat Party [sic]. Washington Post writer Liza Mundy called him "an essential member of the powerful political machine run by [Richard J.] Daley, who, in addition to being mayor, was the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, meaning he controlled both the government and the political party, and could use one to do the other's bidding." Former alderman Leon Despres bluntly told Mundy that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Robinson's job at the city water department was a reward for his loyalty. "The water department, where Fraser Robinson worked, was a renowned repository of patronage jobs."
Why such little scrutiny of Michelle the Merciless (or "That Other Michelle," as she's known in my house) and her crony-aided rise to power? Like her husband, Mrs. Obama is quick to play the victim card when her ill-considered statements and her dealings come under scrutiny. I don't call her President Obama's bitter half for nothing. [Page 43]
Biography cited by Malkin actually reported that Michelle Obama disliked machine politics
Liza Mundy's Michelle: A Biography actually explains that "Chicago in the 1960s was almost certainly the source of her oft-expressed skepticism about politics." Contrary to Malkin's use of Mundy's book to suggest that Michelle Obama embraced the culture of the Daley machine, Mundy actually writes:
While there were many pleasures in Michelle's childhood -- bikes could be left on sidewalks and moms could stay home and children could roam more freely than they do now -- it's also indisputable that the Chicago she grew up in was not entirely hospitable to citizens like Fraser Robinson and his aspirations to move his family forward. Her dad and her community may well explain her own grounded and hard-working nature, as well as her commitment to her children, but Chicago in the 1960s was almost certainly the source of her oft-expressed skepticism about politics. It was not only a racist and highly segregated city, but one with a complex and ambiguous political system, a system that Fraser Robinson participated in, either because he enjoyed politics or because it was one of the few paths open to an ambitious black man. [Michelle: A Biography, Page 23]
Mundy argued that Robinsons were "extremely cynical about politics and politicians" until they met Obama. Mundy reported:
But it's also likely that for all the pride Michelle took in her father's professional dedication, she also drew a lesson about politics. Part of Michelle's skepticism about it comes form the version she saw up close as a little girl: how the system bought you and protected you, but also controlled you. "If you didn't do this, didn't behave in a certain way," says [Don] Rose [Chicago political consultant and historian of city government], "you could lose your pay, [the Machine could] demote you, fire you." People who underperformed in their political work were susceptible to being "vised," or summarily fired. That was politics in Chicago. "Some of [Michelle's] subconscious -- some of her disdain as to politics could have to do with how [her father] was treated, and what he had to go through," says Al Kindle, a political consultant who grew up on the South Side.
And that, Kindle says, is why the black community was ambivalent about patronage and about Daley: the Machine lifted you up -- got you services and perks -- at the same time that it kept you down. "It was clear that you didn't get access to certain services unless you were a friend to the power structure. That spigot could be cut off. As a young African American with a family, you had to think about that with a jaundiced eye. Just as it helped you, it restricted your choice." So it could be that Robinson's son and daughter developed a dislike for politics even as they developed a deep, deep love for him. "We as a family were extremely cynical about politics and politicians" is how Craig [Robinson, Michelle Obama's brother] puts it. That started to change when they met Barack, whose political career was pushed in part by a coalition of people who had grown up in opposition to Daley and whose goal was breaking the Machine. [Michelle: A Biography, Pages 30-31]
Malkin ignored biography's argument that Frank Robinson had little choice but to be politically active while holding a city job
A former Chicago alderman told Mundy: "[T]he majority of the people were [serving as precinct captains] because their jobs depended on it." Mundy reported:
As a precinct captain, you could expect, in return for this political policing, a city job. In fact, doing "volunteer" work was almost the only way you could get one. "To get a city job, you'd have to have some kind of recommendation from your ward committeeman," says Don Rose, describing a system in which it was crucial to have a recommender, somebody watching out for you -- your patron. Daley kept a file cabinet with a list of jobs in it and was said to know the names of everybody who held them.
"We had some volunteers but the majority of the people were [serving as precinct captains] because their jobs depended on it," says Cliff Kelley, a former South Side alderman who [...] was familiar with machine culture. Most of the time, Kelley says, a person's political activism, and the job he held, were inseparably linked. [Michelle: A Biography, Pages 28-29]
In '50s and '60s, city jobs "insulated" African Americans "from the capriciousness and racism of the open job market." Mundy reported:
A city job was particularly valuable to an African American in that it insulated him somewhat from the capriciousness and racism of the open job market. "This was in the fifties and early sixties. Before affirmative action, patronage was as close as you could get to affirmative action, and if you didn't get rich, at least it was a steady job," says Rose. [Michelle: A Biography, Pages 28-29]
Malkin attacks Fraser Robinson, doesn't note he had M.S. but worked every day for decades "without complaint"
Citing Mundy's book in attacking Fraser Robinson, Malkin ignored Mundy's reporting that Robinson worked every day for decades despite being "crippled by multiple sclerosis." Mundy described Fraser Robinson as a "vigorous man who was crippled by multiple sclerosis, a progressive disease that set in when he was just in his thirties." Mundy wrote that Fraser's "congenial presence defined the home" Michelle Obama grew up in, with his "unflinching work ethic, his deep commitment to family, his view that who you are is defined not only by how you behave in public but what you do in the shadows, when nobody is watching." [Michelle: A Biography, Page 22]. Mundy added that Michelle and Craig "describe what an inspiration it was to both of them, seeing Fraser Robinson get up to go to work every day, something that became increasingly difficult after his disease set in. Despite the fact that he needed a cane -- and, later, crutches and eventually a motorized cart -- he never stopped working." [Michelle: A Biography, Page 30]
Mundy notes that in describing her father's "premature death," Michelle Obama said, "He died on his way to work." Mundy wrote that Fraser Robinson "had recently been in the hospital for a kidney operation, and afterward died unexpectedly of complications," adding that Michelle Obama also said of his passing: "He wasn't feeling well, but he was going to get in that car and go." [Michelle: A Biography, Page 30]