He’s coming home.
President Barack Obama comes to Chicago Tuesday night to deliver the final speech of his historic presidency.
His appearance at McCormick Place has been billed part thank you rally, part victory lap, part legacy moment.
It is richly ironic that the first black president will deliver his valedictory in Chicago, a city where, the next president would say, African Americans are “living in hell.”
Chicago is a city riven by violence, police misconduct, poverty and fiscal despair. It is in crisis.
By many measures, Obama’s adopted home town is worse off than when he took office eight years ago. Especially black Chicago. In 2016, 47 percent of black males in Chicago aged 20 to 24 were “out of work and out of school,” according to a study by the Great Cities Institute. From 2005 to 2014, low rates of employment and high rates of joblessness were “persistent,” the analysis found.
The city suffered 780 homicides in 2016. Most of the slaughter came from gun violence to these same young black men, who are both victims and perpetrators. Crime, and the accompanying depravity, plague communities across the city’s South and West sides.
So what can Obama say to those black folks he left behind, those who have become captive to the carnage? Those who believed most in his message of hope and change?
Obama will say he saved the American economy from a sure and deep depression, and as he wrote to his cabinet last week, saved America from “a moment of peril unlike any we’d seen in decades.”
Obama will say that he saved the automobile industry; that he insured “financial security and peace of mind” to 20 million Americans through the Affordable Care Act.
He will note that his education initiatives boosted the national high school graduation rate to 83 percent, the highest on record. And that in 2016, the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in nearly 50 years, while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. And so much more.
What will black folks say? “Mr. President, we know you tried, mightily. We know you did all you could. You did more for ‘us’ than anyone before you. You cared.
“No one on earth is more revered, respected and adored by us than you. Our hopes were high, but we are a pragmatic people. You faced the fiercest political opposition in presidential history.”
What do I say? Guns are the No. 1 enemy of African Americans. No elected official in American history has shed more sweat and tears for the cause of gun control than Barack Obama.
I offer this tantalizing story from Stu Loeser, a former longtime aide to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Loeser, according to the New York Times, recalled a conversation between Obama and Bloomberg at a New York diner in 2007. Obama told Bloomberg that if he did not win the presidency, he would “strongly consider running for mayor of Chicago.”
What could have been? It’s never too late.
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