IRS scandal a reminder of how I learned about The Chicago Way

But I couldn't forget it. I couldn't understand how we could argue about politics over baklava and watermelon and coffee, but not put it into practice.

We could support a political candidacy, we could donate or work for one or another politician that we agreed with.

This is America, I said.

"Are you in your good senses?" said my father. "We have lives here. We have businesses. If we get involved in politics, they will ruin us."

And no one, not the Roosevelt Democrats or the Reagan Republicans, disagreed. The socialists, the communists, the royalists, everyone nodded their heads.

This was Chicago. And for a business owner to get involved meant one thing: It would cost you money and somebody from government could destroy you.

The health inspectors would come, and the revenue department, the building inspectors, the fire inspectors, on and on. The city code books aren't thick because politicians like to write new laws and regulations. The codes are thick because when government swings them at a citizen, they hurt.

And who swings the codes and regulations at those who'd open their mouths? A government worker. That government worker owes his or her job to the political boss. And that boss has a boss.

The worker doesn't have to be told. The worker wants a promotion. If an irritant rises, it is erased. The hack gets a promotion. This is government.

So everybody kept their mouths shut, and Chicago was hailed by national political reporters as the city that works.

I didn't understand it all back then, but I understand it now. Once there were old bosses. Now there are new bosses. And shopkeepers still keep their mouths shut. Tavern owners still keep their mouths shut.

Even billionaires keep their mouths shut.

One hard-working billionaire whose children own the Chicago Cubs dared to open his mouth. Joe Ricketts considered funding a political group critical of Obama before last year's campaign. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, made it clear that if the Cubs wanted City Hall's approval to refurbish decrepit Wrigley Field, Ricketts better back off.

It happened. He backed off. It was sickening. But it was and is Chicago.

And now — with the IRS used as political muscle and the Obama administration keeping that secret until after the president was elected — America understands it too.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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