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Obamas just like us except ...
By Chris Jones Tribune critic

In polite company this last week, Chicagoans of all political stripes have been falling over each other to declare how elated and inspired they feel by the election of Barack Obama, one of our own, to the office of president of the United States.

But once some of us are alone in the dark with our mistakes, regrets, lousy choices and personal failings, there's another emotion that comes to the fore. It has just not been politically acceptable to talk about it.


Be honest. Bet you've felt a few pangs. Especially if, like me, you are dangerously close in age to Barack and Michelle.

Take the situation in downtown Chicago on Friday afternoon. Obama was planning for nothing less than the economic salvation of the world, along with fixing health care, solving an intractable situation in Iraq and leading the fight against global warming.

And what were you doing, perhaps just a few blocks away? Arguing over some dull and pointless legal deal? Lecturing but not being heard? Sitting immobile on an expressway?

Wondering why your office has no supplies?

I remember what I was doing. I was arguing over the placement of a trivial story on a trivial topic and, once again, not getting the respect I so richly deserve.

With most past presidential elections, one could explain away the winner as having enjoyed far greater privilege than oneself. George W. Bush (and his father) had a crucially useful last name. Ronald Reagan was a movie star.

Yet Obama offers none of those comforts. Many of us would have to admit that, by any objective standards, we started out with far greater advantages.

Sure, there have been past presidents like Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter who also came from humble circumstances. But their rise seemed to come from a milieu--rural and southern--quite different from our own. We urbanities could take comfort in that. We can tell ourselves we could never have conjured that kind of popular, small-town appeal.

Yet the Obamas lived and worked among us here in Chicago. Some of us ran into them from time to time--at school, on campus, at the gym, in the neighborhood, at the office, on committees, with the kids, at the theater. They seemed quite similar to us. They seemed to like to chat about the same kind of things. They eat at Spiaggia, a place where we'd like to eat, too, if only we could get and afford a table.

You could try to justify your own lack of comparable achievement by claiming that you chose to focus on family. But that doesn't work. The Obamas seem to have managed that too. They fit in a parent-teacher conference Friday before taking on the world's problems. And they have the nicest possible family. Potential hypoallergenic puppy and all.

You could try to justify your lack of success based on your decision to forgo the traditional paths toward money and power to do socially meaningful work instead. Oops. They seem to have done that too.

You could say that you aren't willing to do all the sleazy things you have to do to gain such an office. (That's one of my favorite self-serving excuses: I tell myself that I'm just too nice a guy to have climbed my way into a position of real power and influence.)

But Obama got himself elected without doing those things. He never rose to the usual bait. And, incredibly, it still worked.

My last defense is my pride at being a writer. Obama, who already wrote two books, rips that into shreds. I can barely hack out a column; he penned fluid best-sellers on the side.

So as you lay there staring at the flicking digital clock, you've really got no way out of the personal malaise. And even in your darkest moments, you can't secretly wish for your more successful doppelganger to fail, because that would, of course, take you and your 401(k) down too. Not to mention the rest of the globe.

So thanks, President-elect Obama. We couldn't be happier for you. Honestly

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Tue Nov 11th, 2008 at 05:00:48 PM EST

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