Former President Barack Obama has gone Hollywood, trading in Southside Chicago for Sunset Boulevard, Silicon Valley and celebrity soirees on Martha’s Vineyard just when the Windy City needs him most. As Chicago slips into a cycle of shooting and looting, Obama has the unique posture and position to help resolve the deadly spree of crime and violence.
America — indeed Chicago — spawned the success that became Obama. Now with ill winds blowing, Chicago needs him more than ever. If anyone should abhor the blood in his old ’hood, it should be Barack. The senseless killing is as surreal as Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” and as bone-chilling as the damp winds that blow off Lake Michigan every winter. And yet there is deafening silence from the 44th president.
Chicago’s adopted son has a debt to pay. He owes America a bit more than a feel-good legacy of being “first” or shimmering cameos at marquee events, however cool his gait. He should leave behind more than a league of loyalists who profited from his presidency in lieu of legions who are the least of these.
Obama is the perfect “convener in chief” to bring peace to Chicago. After all, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009 — one year into his presidency — for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.”
So far this year in Chicago a total of 2,058 people have been shot and wounded, and 435 have been shot and killed.
With his charisma and connections, Obama could raise millions of dollars in charitable contributions that would supplement meager municipal funding for police and community services. A call to a network of concerned A-listers like LeBron, Oprah, Jay-Z, Kaepernick, Shaq, Bezos, Gates, Robert Smith and tech billionaires would be as welcome as a gilded invitation to jazz at the White House, but much more purposeful.
Such an effort, if successful, would create an effective public-private partnership and become a model for other cities facing similar problems. While Chicago could become a cauldron of chaos on the verge of martial law, it is not too late to galvanize the human and financial resources needed to address an intractable problem and pave the way for peace.
America’s new urban crisis cries out for this type of servant leadership, which makes the mandate more compelling. If not Obama, who?
Obama’s post-presidency greatness will not hinge on how many Hollywood scripts he greenlights, but on how many senseless homicides he can prevent.
No one has a better mantle from which to draw worldwide media coverage and underscore the urgency of acting now. Obama’s inspirational story is one that can uplift and motivate thousands of young men — mostly Black — now defined by guns, drugs and despair in Chicago and other inner cities if he chose to engage them. Men who, by Obama’s own account, could have been him but for the grace of God and circumstance.
Former presidents have to make delicate choices on what they will do in private life. Jimmy Carter embraced a post-presidency mission of conflict resolution and founded the Carter Center. Doing so elevated him to global stature as a peacemaker after leaving the Oval Office. So too can Barack Obama.
Obama is yet a relatively young man whose social, moral and political capital exceed what he earned as president. He can leverage that currency by working earnestly toward reconciliation in American cities, especially as the efforts of mayors, governors and other elected leaders are failing. Marshalling the resources to save Chicago will not be easy, but Obama has faced and bested Herculean tasks before.
Today Barack and Michelle Obama are well on their way to becoming billionaires, which is, or should be, a matter of pride. Their array of options reveal an embarrassment of riches. Bestselling books. Movies. Speeches. Endorsements. Podcasts. Deals and opportunities of a lifetime. Many worth eight-figures. In the words of John Houseman, “they made money the old fashioned way — they earned it.”
We should not begrudge the cash or cachet that attends a beloved former president. Nor should we think Obama undeserving. No one worked harder to bring dignity to the nation, stability to the financial markets, and to bolster America’s stature in the new world order.
Obama served his country as president with honor, dignity and grace for eight years, suffering the slings and arrows of hate like few other presidents before. For that he deserves a special seat among American patriots.
But to whom much is given, much is expected. Obama should not recline in the easy chair of celebrity, where life is nice, neat, and comfortable. Not when Chicago’s internecine carnage continues.
If his legacy is to have a halo beyond platitudes — and it should — Obama must come down from the mountaintop into the valley of tears.
Obama’s post-presidency greatness will not hinge on how many Hollywood scripts he greenlights, but on how many senseless homicides he can prevent. Vanity deals with fawning producers and fealty stars should be no substitute for saving lives, especially when within your grasp.
Obama has had many laurels laid on his crest. But the man dubbed “no drama Obama” has had a complicated relationship with Black Americans that often goes unspoken.
On the one hand, Obama has engendered immense pride and loyalty among Black Americans. On the other hand, he has been accused of not advancing the collective condition of Black people when he had the chance.
Obama’s critics point out his failure to appoint an African American to the Supreme Court and his failed economic reforms in Congress, notwithstanding the Affordable Care Act. While sub rosa, these disappointments emerge as part of his legacy. And no one is more aware of it than Obama himself.
Obama’s time as president has passed, but his appeal is timeless. Beyond partisan politics or the defense of division, he can make a big difference in America. He and Michelle cannot afford to languish in luxurious detachment or commiserate with studio hotshots ignoring the hoi polloi that made them legendary.
He now has the wealth, the wherewithal and the experiential wisdom to make his most valuable contribution to a nation that once believed in him above all others. Chicago, not Hollywood, needs Barack and Michelle Obama now more than ever.