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Why Obama skips the Bud Billiken parade

Sen. Barack Obamhis wife Michelle wave parade watchers during Bud Billiken Parade along South King Drive Aug. 11 2007.

Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, wave to parade watchers during the Bud Billiken Parade along South King Drive on Aug. 11, 2007. | JOHN J. KIM~SUN-TIMES

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Updated: August 31, 2012 1:45PM



What politician can resist a parade? Especially one as storied as Chicago’s Bud Billiken Parade? For 83 years, its mascot has been Bud Billiken, a cuddly, Buddha-like comic book character and champion of summer fun.

Sponsors bill it as the nation’s oldest and largest African-American parade and picnic and claim it draws a million revelers. This year’s parade, on Aug. 11, will urge youths back to school with the theme, “Education, Built to Last: A Tribute to Barack Obama.”

That might seem like an irresistible stop for America’s first black president. That’s what the parade’s sponsor, Chicago Defender Charities, thought last week when it leaked the “news” that Obama would strut through Washington Park as the parade’s grand marshal on Aug. 11.

Why not?

Millions more will watch the nationally televised event.

The confab could help energize Obama’s most loyal base in the heat of his re-election campaign, offering an easy, upbeat pop in the national media.

Obama has a long history with the Billiken Parade and has regularly marched through Washington Park to funky blues and sizzling barbecue.

That is, until he became president. He last participated in 2007. He won’t in 2012. After initial reports that Obama would march, his campaign announced that there was no room for the Billiken on the president’s schedule.

Obama “will continue to be a strong supporter of the parade, and of its broader mission: placing a priority on education, supporting our children, and making sure they have the skills they need to achieve their goals,” the campaign said.

Billiken is a cute cartoon, but the president is running from that party faster than the Road Runner can dodge Wile E. Coyote.

Risks abound. The image of Obama hanging with his homies is not on the campaign’s palette of winning images.

Since his 2008 campaign, the president has avoided policy positions, imagery or utterances that would make it appear he is embracing his black base.

Chicago conjures up grim images that might beg questions about Obama’s “priorities.” In the last school year, 24 Chicago Public School students were shot to death on our streets. There were 319 shootings of our children from September to June, according to the Chicago Police Department.

A little bit of heaven was murdered Wednesday as she sold candy and snow cones on a hot night on the city’s West Side. Heaven Sutton, 7, shot to death, the victim, police suspect, of gang rivalries.

By mid-August, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union may be embroiled in high-stakes negotiations over a new teachers’ contract.

The ugliest outcome, a strike, means no one goes back to school.

The black unemployment rate in Chicago neighborhoods such as Washington Park is way out of the box.

In 2012, summer fun is in short supply.

Parade watchers along the Bud Billiken route might wonder, “What has the first black president done for black America?”

That’s a good question.



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