There is an old cliché about the city of Chicago that the Jews own it, the Irish run it, and the blacks live in it. The cliché is only about half true. The Jews do not own Chicago. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant businessmen, who live in suburban communities like Lake Forest and Kenilworth, control the economic life of the city. And the blacks still number less than half the population of the city. But the Irish do run the city. ...
The first two major ethnic groups who came into the city from Europe were the Irish and the Germans. While the Germans were an important segment of the city's body politic, the Irish had several advantages which they parlayed into a dominant political role:
- They spoke and understood English.
- They were familiar with the English local political and governmental institutions on which the American system was based.
- They were neutral outsiders in the traditional ethnic antipathies and hostilities which the Central and East European ethnic groups brought to America from their homelands.
A Lithuanian won't vote for a Pole, and a Pole won't vote for a Lithuanian," according to a Chicago politician. A German won't vote for either of them - but all three will vote for a 'Turkey,' an Irishman."
And, finally, the Irish became the saloonkeepers in cities like Chicago, and the Irish-owned and -run saloons became the centers of social and political activity not only for the Irish but also for the Polish, Lithuanian, Bohemian, and Italian immigrants who poured into the city after the Irish and Germans. For where would an ethnic laborer go for recreation at night after his twelve-hour stint in the steel mills or the stockyards but to the local saloon?
... the social characteristics that most deeply affect the Irish political style are, "A deep and abiding interest in people as distinct individuals; a political morality with distinctive attitudes toward both political means and ends; a near clannish definition of and concern about political loyalty (especially vis-a-vis other Irish politicians); and a predominate interest in political power."
Irish politicians, says Levine,
- remain "of the people";
- are interested in power at least as much as in money;
- decry ostentatious living or overly stylish clothes, maintaining "an inconspicuous residence, social style, style of dress, and a common manner of speech";
- abjure gossip-column publicity;
- "studiously avoid pretension, verboseness, and phraseology not characteristic of the common man";
- are impatient with idealistic social reformers;
- "view government as a source of power to be used for individual, rather than social, ends";
- are "charitably disposed toward most of the moral and situational shortcomings of others" except for "apostates, heretics, and marital infidelity";
- believe that "justice must be tempered with a good deal of mercy, or charity for fallible man";
- " are tolerant of corruption, providing it doesn't get out of hand ("Making a buck is okay, but don't rob the poorhouse");
- "place great emphasis on loyalty to the ethnic group, the party, and to each other ... in highly personal terms ... as related to people more than to something else ... in individualistic and pragmatic terms";
- are fascinated "with the intricacies and subtleties of power struggle
An Irish politician, when asked if it was characteristic of Protestant Republicans to be charitable in politics, replies, "Oh, hell no! They want to take the guy out and slaughter him in the streets. The Irish want to give the guy a break every now and then ... Every guy is entitled to a fall, every dog to a bite."