There are countless places President Barack Obama will not be this Saturday — the moon, my living room, Mitt Romney’s pool. So knowing one of them for near certain is not a very big deal.
That said, and as reluctant as I am to predict the future, I am confident that Obama will not be in Chicago on Feb. 9 for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old honor student gunned down Tuesday in an apparently random shooting.
Why? First, because the Rev. Jesse Jackson publicly demanded that Obama do so. The president has fashioned a fairly thriving career for himself, and if I had to name just one reason how he did it, I’d point to his habit of doing the exact opposite of whatever Jesse Jackson would do in any given situation and saying the exact opposite of whatever Jesse Jackson would say. (Translation: no politics of racial resentment, no nimbus of vanity, no rhyming, rococo, five-dollar words).
And second, because the president being there is a bad idea. Symbolic gestures are not going to solve gun violence. You may have noticed that 20 children being slaughtered in Newtown, Conn. — about as thunderous a piece of symbolism as can be imagined (and which did include a presidential visit) — only got people talking about guns, but the conversation is still stuck on how much Americans really, really love their guns, and many would prefer the nation to devolve into a free-fire zone before they entertain the notion that 270 million guns may be too many.
Chicago’s murder epidemic is a separate, if related, matter. The cruel irony — one of many — is that grieving parents in Chicago have to struggle to piggyback onto the national concern for the lives of white suburban first-graders. They see the national catharsis and can’t help asking, “What about OUR kids? Why is killing them by the hundreds, but in regular batches of one or two, the accepted daily harvest of strange fruit, while 20 at a time of yours is a crisis?”