May they sing for the nation
He doesn't know it yet, but Barack Obama is about to become the impresario-in-chief.
Or at least he can be, if he decides to flex his cultural muscles. A word from Obama, and the world could see a new cast of faces performing at the White House, the Kennedy Center, the Mall, you name it.
That's where Chicago comes in. New York and Los Angeles may still believe they hold the levers of power when it comes to entertainment. But perceptions could shift when, and if, Obama decides to spread the cultural wealth.
Why not give musical giants from his neighborhood—the South Side of Chicago, where jazz, blues and gospel came of age—the glory they deserve?
Imagine the Barrett Sisters, who happen to be the greatest gospel trio of all time, making a joyful noise at the inaugural. Or tenor saxophone giant Von Freeman blowing great gales of sound at the 4th of July concert on the Mall. Or 93-year-old blues master David "Honeyboy" Edwards serenading Vladimir Putin in the East Room of the White House.
The international news media would flip. And all at once, global audiences around the world would discover what Chicagoans have known for generations: that this city creates musicians of astonishing originality. They may not always be as famous as their coastal counterparts, but that could change fast, once President Obama gets down to (show) business.
Promised backed by actual policies
One evening several years ago I was walking across the Chicago River in downtown Chicago with an out-of-town houseguest. The river meandered under the old steel bridges, past the skyscrapers glinting in the sunset, out toward the white yachts drifting on the dusky lake.
"Wow," she said. "I didn't even know this place was here."
That's one thing I'm counting on Obama's presidency to do for Chicago—show the world this city's here. Let more people come see the astonishing place we live.
But I also hope Obama keeps his sights on the Chicago he originally came here to help, the poor neighborhoods that many of us who live here rarely see. They're the neighborhoods where too many men get in trouble young, then wind up condemned to years in prison before they're turned back into the streets unequipped for a fruitful life.
We've been hearing that Obama's election will inspire kids, especially African-Americans and immigrants, to new dreams.
But all those President Obama posters on the classroom walls will need Obama's policies behind them.
I hope, too, that Chicago's claim on the first fusion president—a mixed-race Christian with a Muslim name—will inspire the city to more social integration.
And I hope that while he's making miracles, President Obama will ensure longer summers, shorter winters and fewer parking tickets.
Real portraits of real Chicago
Having Barack Obama in the White House won't put Chicago on the map. It's already there. The problem is the number of school kids unable to find it.
But let's be realistic about what any president can do for his hometown.
After all, what did George W. Bush do for Crawford, Texas? All you ever heard was how he cleared brush when he was there. We don't have that much brush.
Maybe what I want for Chicago is what Abe Lincoln did for old New Salem, where there's a state historic site with log cabins, a blacksmith shop, a sawmill and folks in period costumes showing how things were in Lincoln's day.
Obama's historic site could show what it was like here. See a hired truck sit parked, a sweetheart land deal greased, grand jury testimony sealed. A cliche? Perhaps. But you have to give the tourists what they want.
What would you show them? A community in need of organizing? If Walt Disney thought like that, instead of Main Street U.S.A., visitors today would only find orange groves and swampland.
Obama's presidency should have people going out of their way to check out Chicago, preferably because they want to see where his road to the White House began and not because they can't find it on a map.
Repeal gambling rules? You bet
What I'd really like from White Sox Fan-elect Barack Obama is a law against Cubs fans on cell phones waving to friends watching television before each pitch. Use a cell phone, go to jail. There. Done.
Something else he might do for Chicago is to make sure that visiting dignitaries leave the White House with a complimentary box of Frango mints.
But less materially and more conceptually for Chicago, I'd like our incoming president to bring us an image of grasping a profitable global cyber vision.
Specifically, I want our Poker Player-elect to obliterate the unworkable Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which was deviously attached to the SAFE Port Act in 2006 and hastily rushed to finalization last week by the lame-duck Bush administration.
The UIGEA makes banks, the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve the watchdogs for illegal transactions on Internet gambling sites by, among others, people who play poker online. The money men told Congress they aren't sure which transactions should be considered illegal, and besides, doesn't the financial sector have bigger things to worry about?
The point should not be to stop people from playing online poker. The point should be to make money from it. Regulate it, tax it, reap millions. Governments back lotteries, which prey on the stupid. Why should people playing a game of skill such as poker get the criminal treatment?
Your deal, Mr. President.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times