A dynamism akin to the advent of every religious and secular holiday made my spirit tingle. You could close your eyes and feel it. In the city’s gorgeous front yard set against the splendid lakefront on a perfect November day –- a miracle in itself given Chicago’s nasty weather from Halloween to Memorial Day –- the hopeful gathered, attempting to get into a park that was cordoned off to anyone without Secret Service credentials.
I didn’t obtain clearance in advance and was sent away by security with the long-honored
"Nobody sent me, I'm a columnist," I said with a smile. "I did this spontaneously." I was turned away. There wasn't much to see at that point anyway as the nation's first African-American president hadn't been elected quite yet.
Obama’s fete was on hallowed ground in the history of the Republic. Abraham Lincoln was nominated in a long-forgotten place called the WigWam just up the street, an election that fomented the civil war. An even more-forgotten statue of Union general John Logan sits opposite the Obama fest site.
Martin Luther King was hit in the head with a brick a short taxi ride from Obama’s home. So much progress has come to the hog butcher to the world and the nation. Segregation came and went in my lifetime. Voting rights came to the South. A president, his brother and Dr. King were assassinated. The economy had many more violent gyrations.
Yet who was this man, the first person of color to be elected president? The son of a wayward Kenyan economist and teenage mother.
Once a little-known
With roots in the Midwest and Africa,
When I met Obama twice during his Senate campaign almost three years ago, a voice echoed in my head: ``This man can become president. He has the complete package.’’
He spoke to my neighbors and I a few blocks away in my community, situated about 45 miles northwest of
By illucidating this concept of economic equality, I saw something in Obama that had a powerful resonance. In an
With the economy a priority, I suspect the man who has been drawing millions to his speeches and ideas, wasn’t about to neglect the streets of
His economic revival plans are ambitious. There’s everything from middle-class tax cuts to incentives for minority business owners. Everything seems to be on the table in an effort to promote financial equality.
For those who have called him a socialist, they had best look to his intellectual roots at the
Will Obama be able to replace the nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs that have been lost since 2000? Or repair the disemboweled financial markets? Like all presidents, he may not have that much direct impact. It took World War II to re-engage the
And what of the human misery that is borne of economic despair? Just blocks away from Obama’s celebration were the meanest streets of
Fortunately, Obama is a uniquely qualified expert on economic violence. When he was a community organizer on the South Side, he was trying to restore a measure of dignity to tens of thousands of steel and other manufacturing workers who were impoverished by the brutal recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
How ironic and utterly mean-spirited was the fact that he was ridiculed for his community efforts on the floor of the Republican National convention.
We could want for no greater authority on how neighborhoods and families could suffer during a recession than Obama.
I know of his work because I walked the same streets when I was writing about the same people who had gone from decent wages and guaranteed benefits to poverty nearly overnight. Their ranks are legion: Men like Frank Lumpkin, a bare-fisted boxer who came from a
I’m quite sure that Obama has the experience and intellectual rigor to understand today’s economic ills. What of the daunting social issues he faces? Can he stop the murders on the West Side of Chicago, bolster the moribund auto industry or stanch the bleeding in the housing bust? What of the greedy tentacles of
As I watched a gaggle of
Here was the future of the global economy. They’re weren’t just from Chicago, the inventor of the modern electrical grid, commodities markets, transportation nexuses and countless tons of steel, machine tools and candy.
These children were actors in the worldwide network, connected through aspirations and intelligence to street dealers in Rio, AIDS orphans in
Would these future agents of change find room and hope in Obama’s new network of progress, one so remarkable that it linked young and old, rich and poor in raising more than $600 million, a record amount for any campaign?
Obama may not be able to boost incomes, restore sanity to financial markets, nor even make health care affordable and available to all, yet he will provide a new agenda for tackling these problems. At least he has a plan and has the will to transact change.
Genius for Re-invention
Remember other renowned Illinois-bred politicians who reinvented themselves: Adlai Stevenson the intellectual. Ronald Reagan the B actor. Dennis Hastert the wrestling coach. U.S. Grant went from merchant to general to two terms as president.
Lincoln himself was transformed from failed shop owner and railroad lawyer to two short terms in the
Whatever Obama will do, we can hope that he will not be the captive of the efficient and ruthless
It’s no small irony that Obama will be inaugurated during the bi-centennial of both Lincoln and Darwin.