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01/21/2009

Inaugural Balls

    As the presidential motorcade moved between inaugural balls Tuesday night, the sobering reality finally, finally hit home:  Barack Obama no longer belongs to Chicago and Illinois.
   Hundreds of millions of Americans in all fifty states and perhaps billions of people around the globe now look to U.S. President Barack Obama to lead a resurgent movement for world peace and prosperity.   And to think that only four years and three months ago he was an Illinois senator from the city's Hyde Park neighborhood representing "only" 210 thousand people who live in the state's 13th legislative district.
   I had a sobering moment at the the presidential "Homestates" Ball a few hours after the swearing-in ceremony.  (Obama's home states are Illinois where he has lived as an adult and Hawaii where he grew up).  Well over a thousand of his friends, political associates, contributors and well-wishers from Illinois (mostly Chicagoans) were in the ballroom waiting for their first contact with the new President.  The first couple, insulated by their secret service bubble, arrived and spent only 15 minutes onstage before moving on to the other inauguration night balls on their itinerary.  Everybody in the room I talked to understood it would have to be this way.  But dealing with the day and the moment it actually happens is another thing.
    Notice during the coverage inauguration day, the network news anchors had fewer mentions of Chicago and Illinois.   This morning, as I read stories about the event in the Washington Post, New York Times and papers from a few other overseas capitals, there was much more reporting about the new president's prospective domestic and foreign policies and much less mention of his heartland roots.
     Finally, one more point of perspective:  The overwhelming majority of people in Illinois and Chicago heard the name Barack Obama for the first time barely five years ago.  Remember, his media campaign for the U.S. Senate did not begin until early 2004.   Since then, his ascent to the presidency has been a whirlwind unprecedented in American political history.  
     But all the above said, nothing can temper the pride most Illinoisans feel at having another of their own take the helm of the greatest country on earth.   After all, the first lawmaker from the "Land of Lincoln" had a memorable  run during his years in the nation's highest office.

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