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It was an election to remember

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Malcolm is a Times staff writer.

When those 200,000 or however-many Barack Obamians gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park late Tuesday to celebrate the election of America’s first African American president, they were literally and figuratively standing on historic ground.

Democrats celebrated a black candidate’s victory in a 319-acre park named for a Republican president, Ulysses S. Grant, an Illinoisan who was the final Union Army general of the many named by President Lincoln, another Illinois Republican, to crush the Confederacy and end slavery.

Grant Park was also the site of the 1968 self-immolation of Obama’s Democratic Party in violent antiwar police riots that besmirched the city’s name for a generation. It also shook Cook County’s long-running Democratic machine, then headed by Mayor Richard J. Daley and now headed by his son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, brother of William Daley, a member of an Obama transition team.

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Today’s Mayor Daley is a political patron of Obama, and his newly announced White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a congressman from Chicago who was schooled in hardball politics throughout the 1980s by the mayor’s minions and then cadged free lunches from local journalists in exchange for the political gossip he proffered.

That was before Emanuel became Bill Clinton’s national finance chairman for the 1992 election.

But back to Grant Park. The city once ended at Michigan Avenue, where Lake Michigan began. But when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 -- which was not started by a cow kicking a lantern -- killed hundreds and destroyed four square miles of Chicago over three days, the famously rapid rebuilding began only because the rubble was simply dumped in the lake as landfill.

It became Grant Park -- and a fitting metaphor for the Republican Party when Obama celebrants danced on it much of the night.

John McCain, the Republican of many comebacks, survived a North Vietnamese missile, nearly six years of torture and isolation in a POW camp, a savings-and-loan scandal, defeat at the hands of George W. Bush, an inept initial campaign staff that spent him into oblivion in 2007 and younger GOP competitors with far more resources. But he could not survive the legacy of that same Bush, an unhealthy dose of ageism, the financial meltdown and his own Apple Dumpling Gang staff that squandered the Sarah Palin phenomenon.

People forget that, before the Wall Street walloping, the McCain-Palin ticket was ahead in the polls. They remember Palin’s poorly handled interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. They forget the 100 others she did around 132 events in 105 cities in 25 states from Aug. 29 to Nov. 4.

Some folks ask why Palin was not on the Sunday talk shows. But where was her VP counterpart, Joe What’s-His-Name from Delaware, who was so gagged after his Hillary-Clinton-might-have-been-a-better-VP-pick-than-me comment that he didn’t meet with the media for the last seven weeks of the campaign? Who complained?

The quick-learning, leakproof Obama team was much better at communication strategy and staging, Greek columns aside, than the McCain crews who, like their fighter pilot boss, flew by the seat of their pants in no straight lines.

In a way, it’s surprising in hindsight that McCain did as well as he did. But the Arizonan’s enduring political legacy may be less his admirable endurance and steely perseverance and more the ruinous reality that he and Bush leave their party completely leaderless, except for some governors and surviving congressmen who haven’t lost or been indicted.

This weekend the winner, who dropped his nickname Barry for his given name Barack, plots a historic transition from his headquarters in a windy city named by American Indians for a smelly wild onion.

The loser, meanwhile, is barbecuing at his Arizona country home -- one of them anyway -- while, in the true Washington tradition of losers, aides anonymously leak allegations about Palin’s personality to tag her as the reason for the defeat.

Oh, one other thing: Later this very month, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has scheduled a speaking visit to a place called Iowa in preparation for 2012. He’s the eloquent 37-year-old son of an Indian immigrant who came to graduate school in the United States. His father named him Piyush, a favorite name from his homeland. The son later changed his name to Bobby after a character on “The Brady Bunch.” He has three cute children with his wife, Supriya.

Does any of this sound familiar?

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andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

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latimes.com/ticket

Your ticket to politics

The ballots have been counted (well, most of them), but the political game is still on. Andrew Malcolm and Don Frederick keep up with the latest.


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