As a fan of urban policy, I can certainly sympathize with Rahm Emanuel’s desire to be Mayor of Chicago. And I definitely subscribe to the Tim Fernholz theory that the Rahm as History’s Greatest Monster account of the Obama administration doesn’t really add up.
But of course one way in which my sympathy for the “big city mayor rather than senior White House staffer” view reveals itself is that here I am with my job at a national policy organization and I’m still always talking about urban policy issues. By contrast, I’ve never heard Rahm say anything about zoning or parking or barber licenses or anything else. It’s a bit odd.
Odd and—problematically for the country—typical. We tend to treat state and local politics as just a JV version of national politics. So if you like a centrist Democrat as a congressional leader or a Chief of Staff, you’ll love him as Mayor of Chicago! The reality, however, is that there’s very little overlap between the issues the federal government deals with and the issues city governments deal with. And even though each individual locality is relatively unimportant, in the aggregate state and local government has a huge impact on American life. These issues deserve to be taken seriously on their own terms and not just as proxies for national political priorities.