Petitioners are afoot, gathering signatures urging President Barack Obama to come to Chicago on Friday to address the service for 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot last week in a North Kenwood park. The petitioners are noting that Obama traveled to Newtown, Conn. to comfort the relatives and friends of the 26 killed at the Sandy Hook School. He also has made it a practice to travel to other tragedies, such as communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy, to be of comfort.
Why, the petitioners ask, can't Obama come to his own back yard to draw attention to the 44 people that have been gunned down on Chicago's streets, not far from his own home in Kenwood? Who knows, the pressure might grow so much that he shortly will decide to take the trip.
Here are some examples of the petitions: Jesse Jackson and Chicago marchers ask Obama for help on gun violence. A change.org petition. A "clamor" for Obama to come to Chicago to address gun violence. Petition urges Obama to attend Hadiya's funeral.Chicago community members ask Obama to come to Chicago.
Undoubtedly, Obama's appearance in Chicago, especially at Hadiya Pendleton's services, would be of great comfort to her relatives, friends and the many others who didn't know her but who are morning her death. That alone is sufficient reason for him to come.
Notwithstanding that good reason for Obama to be here, I generally have trouble with politicians showing up at the scene of a tragedy. For political considerations alone, it's usually a no-win situation: Don't show up, and you're accused of insensitivity or worse. Do show up and you're accused of showboating and using someone's misery for personal advancement. I've seen it happen: If an Illinois governor (read: Rod Blagojevich) shows up in a rowboat at the scene of a flood in, say, Gurnee, Ill., people will say he's doing it for the TV cameras. If he stays in Springfield, he's accused of being hard-hearted.
Going half-way can be even more devastating for the politician. Prime example is President George W. Bush's half-way appearance after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. He flew over the devastation--much to his later regret--in a way being both there and not there. Thus he was criticized both for being cold-blooded and showing off for the TV cameras. It was a horrible blunder.
To state the obvious, the criticism for showing up/not showing up inevitably falls along partisan lines. Democrats generally exclaimed that President Bill Clinton's speech after the Oklahoma City bombing was his finest moment. Republicans generally went "ho-hum."
But aside from the political dangers showing up/not showing up and the comfort that it truly provides, I'm not impressed if Obama does come to Chicago.
First, he had to be pressured to do it. Folks are seeking 100,000 signatures-an extraordinary amount--because they believe that's what it will take to get Obama off his duff.
Second, the petitioners suggest that Obama coming to Chicago will finally turn the national spotlight on Slaughterhouse Chicago, urban crime and guns. Actually, the national spotlight already is focused on Hadiya Pendleton's murder and the take-over of some of the city's streets by the gangs. (CBS, for example.)
Third, Obama's coming would only feed the impression that he can "do something" about Chicago's wars, strengthening the false hope that government has the answer to every problem. I suppose he could federalize the Illinois National Guard to patrol the streets, but I suspect we'll be told that it will offend black people because it will feel like an "occupation."
It would be more comforting if Chicago police would arrest the punk and give him a measure of what he deserves. For that to happen, the community will have to give up the punk who did it. (A $40,000 reward might be doing some good as the police say that tips "are pouring in."