Last Wednesday was President Obama’s birthday. How do I know? I know because I was one of thousands of travelers headed for Chicago’s O’Hare’s airport when the president decided he was coming to his hometown for his birthday.

When the White House decides to take Air Force One into one of the busiest airports in the country at one of the busiest times of the day, guess what happens: a complete shut-down of the airport until Air Force One arrives and the president leaves the area.

I have no idea how long it actually took for this to happen. I know my flight from Portland was put in three separate holding patterns over a four-hour period.

In the end, running low on fuel, we diverted to Grand Rapids, Mich.

As our pilot said, Grand Rapids is a fine city, but not the one we were hoping for.

After an hour or so in Grand Rapids, we resumed our flight, into a now reopened O’Hare airport.

At O’Hare I sprinted across two terminals to make the last flight of the night to Milwaukee, my destination.

On my flight to Milwaukee, I heard more tales of woe from travelers who had come from as far away as El Paso, Texas, and as near as Cincinnati.

It did not matter where one had come from, we all suffered so the president could get his party.

Now the White House suggests this was really a trip to visit auto plants saved by the GM and Chrysler bailout.

Uh-huh – the president did eventually have brief visits to two such plants. He also managed to attend a big political fundraiser.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not begrudge the president the opportunity to be in his hometown for his birthday.

In fact, I celebrated my own birthday at home just a few days before the president’s. Of course, I did not need Air Force One to get me home.

Those of you regular readers of this column will know that I am generally supportive of the president and his policies. Nonetheless, last Wednesday’s fiasco at O’Hare has tarnished Obama’s image for me.

Surely he must know how disruptive it is to fly into O’Hare airport on a busy afternoon.

Our little brush with the president, however tangentially, cost him nothing, but the thousands of us who were dislocated sacrificed quite a bit.

In my case, I got through to my final destination. Many did not and no doubt ended up having to stay at O’Hare overnight.

Trust me, those who were delayed overnight did not have hotels paid for by airlines or by the White House.

Surely, there are military airfields in the Chicago area that could have accommodated Air Force One.

When the president came to Maine a few weeks ago he did not fly into Portland.

In that case I believe he flew into the former Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire and took a helicopter to Bar Harbor.

Most of us Americans understand that the security of the president demands special measures.

We are willing to accept that we may, on rare occasions, be inconvenienced by presidential travel. However, there are limits to our reasonableness on this score.

In Chicago last week the president overstepped those bounds. In his eagerness to celebrate a birthday in his hometown he managed to upset thousands of his constituents.

This is not something those of us on all those flights heading to Chicago last Wednesday will soon forget. I suspect the president lost more than a few votes on this one.

Given that Democrats in general are likely to take some hits in the November elections, I should think the president would be sensitive to antagonizing voters.

For me, I am withholding judgment for the moment. The president could certainly get back in my good graces if he slapped a $2-a-gallon special levy on gasoline and dedicated the proceeds to the development of alternative energy.

He might also decree that the Yankees had to limit their payroll spending to the MLB team average for the next five years.

Both of these actions are such good policy that I could forgive him the Wednesday snafu at O’Hare.

Failing one or both of these actions, however, I must put President Obama on notice that my vote is in jeopardy.


Ron Bancroft is an independent strategy consultant located in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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