Steve Chapman

If that's so, it doesn't prove that Obama is just another crooked Chicago pol. But it is a reminder that though he is not of the Democratic machine, he has never been exactly against it. Former congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva said of Blagojevich, "You don't get through Chicago like Barack Obama did unless you know how to avoid people like that." Note the verb: not "challenge" but "avoid." His approach to old-style politics was wary coexistence.

Obama's risk-averse reaction confirms he is sometimes too cautious and cerebral for his own good. That flaw has occasionally surfaced before. Asked in one debate what he would do in the event of a terrorist attack, he offered, "Well, the first thing we'd have to do is make sure that we've got an effective emergency response, something that this administration failed to do when we had a hurricane in New Orleans." Hillary Clinton begged to differ: "I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate."

This is the downside of what is best about Obama: his careful, deliberate approach to decision-making. In the normal course of events, it's far superior to the impulsive style of John McCain, which gave us Sarah Palin and "today we are all Georgians."

But Obama came to public attention because of a speech, at the 2004 Democratic convention, that showed he was capable not only of clear thought but of genuine passion. This week -- in the face of a scandal involving his state, his party and his Senate seat -- that passion was absent.

You can understand why a shrewd, ambitious young state senator would be reluctant to renounce the political culture and the political establishment that spawned Rod Blagojevich. But can someone tell Obama he's been elected president?

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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