My grandmother tells the story of when she met John F. Kennedy.

It was back in 1959, as Kennedy was still gearing up for his presidential run. Grandma and my grandfather, an active Teamsters Union member and a Democratic precinct committeeman in Kankakee, traveled to Chicago for a labor event featuring JFK.

Kennedy, the story goes, was working the room, and when he made it over to my grandparents he put his arm around my grandmother, kissed her on the cheek, and told my grandfather that he had a "beautiful wife."

Grandma swooned, of course, and decades later when I asked her how she reacted, she joked that she didn't wash that kissed spot on her face for two weeks. To this day, you can't say a bad word about JFK in front of Grandma for fear of risking the evil eye.

I dearly love my grandmother, and I owe my storytelling ability to her genes and her example, but it's impossible to say that Grandma's love for JFK is rational. Good looks, extraordinary charisma, and a unique personal contact that left a lifelong impression fuel her undying loyalty.

I told you this story because it seems to me that a sizable chunk of this country is embarking on a similarly intense love for Illinois' very own Barack Obama. Our U.S. senator's announcement last week that he was considering a run for president set off an explosion that had been building for months. Grown men wept. Hard-boiled political reporters gushed exuberance. I've never seen anything like it.

This Obama phenomenon is not rational in any form. It is, in fact, almost completely irrational.

As the skeptics continually point out, the average Obama supporter knows very little about the man they adore. But I've noticed that the more exposure he gets, the more people swoon over him. In some ways he's been able to accomplish on a fairly wide scale what JFK did with my Grandma at that union gathering in Chicago. Millions are personally smitten, and, at least for now, there's no reasoning with them on this topic.

He's inexperienced? That's a good thing. He's black in a nation that still has a lot of bigots? It won't matter and may actually help. He's politically untested? He'll get all the seasoning he needs on the campaign trail. On and on it goes.

The question everybody - including his fans - asks is: "Will this last?" Of course, we have no way of divining the future. Lots of things can happen. National campaigns in this country have been exceedingly brutal, near-libelous affairs almost from Day One. And that old saying has been whispering itself in the back of my mind lately: "The bigger they come, the harder they fall."

As far as Obama's immediate political future goes, the only thing we may have to go on here is recent Illinois history.

Obama is as popular, perhaps even more, in Illinois today than he was when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in a historic landslide more than two years ago.

His style doesn't seem to wear thin. His shtick still seems fresh. His local enemies, amazingly few in number, haven't been able to make a dent and manage only to look petty and mean when they do speak. His Tony Rezko real-estate "scandal" appeared to deepen respect for him among the populous when he owned up and publicly apologized. I thought he had deftly apologized for the wrong thing, distracting from the real issue at hand, but because nobody ever apologizes for anything in American politics, the swooning continued unabated.

I can't tell you if Obama will win the presidency or even the Democratic nomination. Who knows what those oddball Iowans and those idiosyncratic New Hampshire-ites will do? His liberal voting record - both in Springfield and Washington, D.C. - won't be much of a problem in the primaries, but perhaps the Republicans can use it to break the spell in the fall if Obama makes it that far.

And then there is our hopelessly juvenile and inane national press corps, which will take a single sentence - even a single word - and gleefully attempt to define an entire lifetime of work, like children in a schoolyard.

Even so, if my grandmother can still be in love with John F. Kennedy after almost 50 years, maybe Obama can make it through the next 22 months.


Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and (

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