Tom Geoghegan for Congress

Two years ago, I said I was making an exception to the "no active involvement in politics" stance I had maintained through my previous decades of journalistic life. (After leaving a one-time stint in politics in the Jimmy Carter years.) That exception was to support my friend Jim Webb's then-improbable run for the U.S. Senate from Virginia.

Here is exception number two: Tom Geoghegan for Congress. He will be running in the special election for the seat Rahm Emanuel is vacating to become White House chief of staff. This seat, representing the 5th District in Illinois, has a colorful lineage, to put it mildly. Emanuel's predecessor was Gov-for-the-moment Rod Blagojevich. Earlier, for 36 years, the 5th was Dan Rostenkowski's base, before his unfortunate indictment and imprisonment on fraud charges. Tom would continue the tradition of having a difficult-to-spell last name. It's Irish and is pronounced Gay-gan.

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The basic background on Tom Geoghegan is here, written by his Chicago friend Rick Perlstein. Having been a friend of Geoghegan's for most of my life, I couldn't be more enthusiastic about his deciding to run.

To the extent Tom is known publicly, it's mainly because of his books, like Which Side Are You On?, The Secret Lives of Citizens, and In America's Courts. These really are masterful and original pieces of thinking and writing, which most writers would be content with as their entire contribution to the human endeavor during the period Tom has turned them out. Which Side, which was published in 1991, begins this way:

'Organized labor.' Say those words, and your heart sinks. I am a labor lawyer, and my heart sinks. Dumb, stupid organized labor: this is my cause.

The remarkable thing is that in Geoghegan's case writing has been a sideline. Day by day for several decades he has been a lawyer in a small Chicago law firm representing steel workers, truckers, nurses, and other employees whose travails are the reality covered by abstractions like "the polarization of America" and "the disappearing middle class." Geoghegan's skills as a writer and an intellectual are assets but in themselves might not recommend him for a Congressional job. His consistent and canny record of organizing, representing, and defending people who are the natural Democratic (and American) base is the relevant point.

The people of Chicago would have to look elsewhere for Blago-style ethics entertainment. Tom Geoghegan is honest and almost ascetic. Because it's an important part of his makeup, I mention too that he is a serious, Jesuit-trained Catholic.

Not living in the 5th district, I can't vote for Tom Geoghegan. But I can give him money, and just did, via his online donation site here. The campaign's mail address is Geoghegan for Congress; PO Box 1145 Chicago IL 60690. Email is GeogheganForCongress @

The race will be wide open, and I have no idea now what Tom's chances might be. It's a winner-take-all, no-runoff contest. I do know that the Congress would be better if Tom Geoghegan were part of it. Check out his record and see what you think.

NOTE: Several typos now cleaned up in what was originally a very late-night post -- including, unfortunately, a mistyped email address for writing to the Geoghegan campaign. The name is hard to spell, but not THAT hard.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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