#579: The Political Implications of Rahm Emanuel’s Missing Finger

January 8th, 2016

Although my background is in political beat reporting, I rarely delve into it on this site, other than the odd poem, rant about museums or what I’m sure is the only guide to tax increment financing to use the word “craptacular.”

But as tensions mount in Chicago, as the world’s eyes are turned toward the racial segregation we’ve lived in for years, as people yell and scream for the recall of the increasingly friendless mayor, I would like to take a moment to look at the biggest political issue of our day.

Mayor Rahm’s missing finger.

If you ever have a chance to look at Rahm Emanuel’s right hand, you’ll notice his middle finger is missing above the knuckle. Take a moment to Google “rahm finger” and I’ll be here when you get back.

When Emanuel was 17, he was working at Arby’s. On the meat cutter one day, he sliced his finger to the bone, but decided he could wrap it up himself so he wouldn’t miss prom parties.

A combination of a bit of Arby’s stuck in the wound and a midnight swim in Lake Michigan led to, well…

“I ended up with five blood infections, two bone infections, gangrene, seven weeks in the hospital, 105 fever and was about one day away from looking at the other side of the ledger. That good enough for you?” Emanuel told Katie Couric.

And that’s the legend. He told it to Couric, he told it in commencement addresses to George Washington University and his alma mater Sarah Lawrence, in unknown numbers of speeches and interviews over the years. When Jon Stewart, who skewered Emanuel in a way Chicago media was often too timid to, left “The Daily Show,” they ran a pre-taped goodbye from the mayor, asking “What has nine and a half fingers and won’t miss you at all?”

I think it is fair to use the finger story as an example of Rahm the man, since Rahm the man has already turned it into political capital.

If Emanuel can toss the story in commencement addresses and tell it to groups of schoolchildren in CNN’s sloppy kiss documentary “Chicagoland” to explain that he’s “not going to let a day go where I don’t make a difference,” we can look at an alternate meaning for the wound.

He let CNN call it “the defining moment in Rahm Emanuel’s life,” so I think it’s fair to see what it defines.

When faced with a glaring problem, Rahm Emanuel put a Band-Aid on it and kept on doing what he planned to do anyway.

To be fair, Emanuel tells the story as an example of a moment of change, telling both the GWU and Sarah Lawrence kids “When I was in high school, I was a pretty reckless guy” before adding he was not always the “staid and somber figure that stands before you,” to both audiences’ laughter.

And, as my scarred and metal-plated right forearm can attest, I can’t really hold a grown man to account for stupid crap he did when he was young.

But as Chicago roils with allegations the mayor covered up murders by police, as he tosses the police chief on the increasing heap of out-of-town talent he brought in to fix this broken city and cast away when they didn’t, as protestors scream and even his vacation buddy the governor casually mentions he would sign a recall bill, can anyone be stunned Rahm Emanuel put Band-Aid solutions on a city cut to the bone?

In light stump speeches for years and years, Rahm Emanuel told the story of his finger over and over again to say “This is me, this is who I am.”

We should have listened.

More thoughts on politics

I met Emanuel once

Covered him too, back in the day

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