The President from Hyde Park


Dan Clowes’ The Death Ray, set in Hyde Park.


Thanks to my friends Tim and Barb, I’ve spent a little bit of time in Hyde Park, the South Side Chicago neighbourhood whose most famous resident will be inaugurated as President of the United States today. Over the last year, I’ve been struck by how much a product of Hyde park both Barack and Michelle Obama are. It’s a racially mixed neighborhood, nestling the University of Chicago and overlapping with the large, longstanding African-American community in the South Side. As with Columbia University in New York, there are some tensions between the Ivory Tower crowd and local community, largely due to some imperious policies on the University’s part. Yet the Obamas show how how these tensions can be transcended: they are a home both in the class room and in the local haunts. Obama’s political coation, which includes both eggheads and the working poor, can be seen as Hyde Park write large.


Although he now lives in Berkeley, the cartoonist Dan Clowes grew up in Hyde Park and he has some incisive analysis of how the neighborhood reflects the Obamas:


I grew up in Obama’s Hyde Park — a progressive Chicago neighborhood not dissimilar to Berkeley or parts of Oakland, attending the same school as Sasha and Malia, and walking the same tiny grid of distinctive streets. When I heard that Barack and Michelle’s first date took place at the beloved Baskin-Robbins of my youth, I felt as though I were having some sort of “Matrix”-like delusion in which my childhood memories had merged with reality. It is not this tenuous “personal connection,” however, that excites me about an Obama presidency, but his grounding in the values of this flawed (Bill Ayers, Milton Friedman) but vital community and a sense that he embodies the best of those values — high-level intellectual rigor, an understanding of true diversity, and a streak of pragmatic Second City individualism — that make him such a timely antidote to his poisonous predecessor.


Clowes’ full article can be found here. Thanks to Eric Reynolds for spotting  spotting this fine little essay.


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