1995 | Chicago Reader at Forty | Chicago Reader


The year in Chicago history via the pages of the Reader

Our culture is now dominated by what might be called an orthodoxy of perpetual transgression. Our world is awash with rebels: they stare insolently back at us from TV sitcoms, commercials, and movie publicity posters.

—Tom Frank, in "Rebellion Ad Nauseam," August 23

The most referenced Reader article ever

click to enlarge 951208_mag.jpg

It didn't happen immediately. Googling the title, "What Makes Obama Run," and the last name of the author, Hank De Zutter, produced 254,000 results. Adding the year 2008 got back 250,000 results. De Zutter had the hang of Barack Obama 13 years before he ran for president, when nobody else knew who he was. De Zutter's story began:

When Barack Obama returned to Chicago in 1991 after three brilliant years at Harvard Law School, he didn't like what he saw. The former community activist, then 30, had come fresh from a term as president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, a position he was the first African-American to hold. Now he was ready to continue his battle to organize Chicago's black neighborhoods. But the state of the city muted his exuberance.

"Upon my return to Chicago," he would write in the epilogue to his recently published memoir, Dreams From My Father, "I would find the signs of decay accelerated throughout the South Side—the neighborhoods shabbier, the children edgier and less restrained, more middle-class families heading out to the suburbs, the jails bursting with glowering youth, my brothers without prospects. All too rarely do I hear people asking just what it is that we've done to make so many children's hearts so hard, or what collectively we might do to right their moral compass—what values we must live by. Instead I see us doing what we've always done—pretending that these children are somehow not our own."

Today, after three years of law practice and civic activism, Obama has decided to dive into electoral politics . . ."



The Reader introduced BobWatch—"We read him so you don't have to"—in January 1995 to help relieve section four's endless pages of classifieds (it was another era). By May, BobWatch was in section one on page three. Author "Ed Gold" (aka Neil Steinberg) had struck a nerve. He stayed on the case through 1996.

Bob doesn't say exactly why he loves Baby Richard. Again, we must guess. Bob loves Baby Richard because the case so reminds him of himself—another unfortunate little boy pried away from his loving midwestern family by the forces of cruel fate. In Bob's case, fate came not in the chubby, grasping hands of Otakar Kirchner, but as a phenomenally better job and more money in five minutes than he could earn in a Columbus, Ohio, lifetime. Richard was cast into a drab little Mokena apartment with Otakar Kirchner stuffing countless pancakes down his tiny throat, while Bob was exiled to the murderous urban hell of Chicago.

We couldn't expect Bob to reach this epiphany in a column—lack of self-knowledge is what makes Bob's world so maddeningly insular. And now Baby Richard is trapped in that world.

Baby Richard's televised sobs, though heartbreaking, were brief. Just how much damage was caused by the transfer—and how much from having Bob Greene lurch out of nowhere and tell Richard that he loves him—will be impossible to determine. Hopefully, the hardest days are now behind Richard, and he will go on to live a dynamic, forward-looking life, the sort of life denied Bob Greene, whose anguished cries of loss and bewilderment will haunt us long after Baby Richard's sobs have faded from memory.

(From the May 18 Reader)

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