Barack Hussein Obama !!

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. (pronounced /bəˈɹɑːk oʊˈbɑːmə/; born August 4, 1961) is the junior United States Senator from Illinois and a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

Born to a Kenyan father and an American mother, he spent most of his early life in Honolulu, Hawaii. From ages 6 to 10, he lived in Jakarta, Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. He married Michelle Robinson in 1992 and has two daughters. A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama worked as a community organizer, university lecturer, and civil rights lawyer before running for public office and serving in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. After an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, he announced his campaign for U.S. Senate in 2003.

The following year, while still an Illinois state legislator, Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004 with 70% of the vote. As a member of the Democratic minority in the 109th Congress, he cosponsored bipartisan legislation for controlling conventional weapons and for promoting greater public accountability in the use of federal funds. He also made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In the current 110th Congress, he has sponsored legislation on lobbying and electoral fraud, climate change, nuclear terrorism, and care for returned U.S. military personnel.

Since announcing his presidential campaign in February 2007, Obama has emphasized ending the Iraq War, increasing energy independence, and providing universal health care as his top three priorities. He has written two bestselling books: a memoir of his youth titled Dreams from My Father, and The Audacity of Hope, a personal commentary on U.S. politics.

Early life and private career

Obama, known as “Barry” throughout his early years, was born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Barack Obama, Sr. and Ann Dunham. His parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced. After her divorce, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, and the family moved to Soetoro’s home country of Indonesia in 1967, where Obama attended local schools in Jakarta from ages six to ten. He then returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents while attending Punahou School from the fifth grade until his graduation in 1979. Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, where he studied at Occidental College for two years. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations.

Obama received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia in 1983, then worked at Business International Corporation and New York Public Interest Research Group before moving to Chicago in 1985 to take a job as a community organizer. He entered Harvard Law School in 1988. In 1990, The New York Times reported his election as the Harvard Law Review’s “first black president in its 104 year history.” Obama completed his law degree magna cum laude in 1991, then returned to Chicago where he headed a voter registration drive and began writing his first book, Dreams from My Father, published in 1995.

As an associate attorney with Miner, Barnhill and Galland from 1993 to 2002, he represented community organizers, discrimination claims, and voting rights cases. Following his election to the Illinois Senate in 1996, Obama agreed to work at the firm during the summer, when the Illinois Senate was not in session. While Obama never took part in a trial, he worked on teams drawing up briefs, contracts, and other legal documents. This included being part of teams that represented Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now in a successful lawsuit that forced the state of Illinois to implement a federal law that was designed to make it easier for people to register to vote, an appeals brief on behalf of a whistleblower that was suing Cook County Hospital and the Hektoen Institute for Medical Research for wrongful termination, and on another team forced the city of Chicago to redraw ward boundaries that the city council drew up following the 1990 census. Obama also did some work on taxpayer-supported building rehabilitation loans for Rezmar Corp., owned by Tony Rezko and Daniel Mahru. Rezko has raised over $250,000 for Obama’s various political campaigns.

Obama also taught constitutional law part-time at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

State legislature

Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996 from the 13th District, which then spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park-Kenwood south to South Shore and west to Chicago Lawn. His campaign challenged the irregular nominating petitions of other Democratic candidates, whose names were eventually struck from the primary ballot, including incumbent Alice J. Palmer.

In 2000, he made an unsuccessful Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by four-term incumbent candidate Bobby Rush. He was reelected to the Illinois Senate in 1998 and 2002 (when the 13th District was redrawn to span Chicago lakefront neighborhoods from the Gold Coast south to South Chicago). In January 2003, Obama was appointed chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee when Democrats, after a decade in the minority, regained a majority in the Illinois Senate. The new majority leader Emil Jones also appointed Obama the sponsor of important legislation, that had previously been under development, establishing his political record in that year. He resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004 following his election to the U.S. Senate. As a state legislator, Obama gained bipartisan support for legislation reforming ethics and health care laws. He sponsored a law enhancing tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for childcare. Obama also led the passage of legislation mandating videotaping of homicide interrogations, and a law to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they stopped. He was criticized by rival pro-choice candidates in the Democratic primary and by his Republican pro-life opponent in the general election for a series of “present” or “no” votes on late-term abortion and parental notification issues. His early legislative career was sometimes marked by an inability to acquire the necessary votes for the passage of bills.

Senate campaign

Obama launched a campaign committee at the beginning of July 2002 to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and two months later had David Axelrod lined up to do his campaign media. Obama formally announced his candidacy on January 21, 2003, four days after former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun announced she would not seek a rematch with U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. On April 15, 2003, with six Democrats already running and three Republicans threatening to run against him, Fitzgerald announced he would not seek a second term in 2004, and three weeks later popular Republican former Governor Jim Edgar declined to run, leading to wide open Democratic and Republican primary races with 15 candidates, including 7 millionaires (triggering the first application of the Millionaires’ Amendment of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act).

In opinion polls five months before the primary, Obama trailed Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes; one month before the primary, Obama trailed only multimillionaire securities trader Blair Hull; one week before the primary, Obama had surged to front-runner status. Hull’s popularity declined after divorce records were unsealed that contained allegations of domestic abuse. Obama’s candidacy was boosted by an advertising campaign featuring images of the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon; the support of Simon’s daughter; and political endorsements by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. Obama received over 52% of the vote in the March 2004 primary, emerging 29% ahead of his nearest Democratic rival. He also won the endorsement of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, whose president credited Obama for his active engagement with police organizations in enacting death penalty reforms. His opponent in the general election was expected to be Republican primary winner Jack Ryan. However, Ryan withdrew from the race in June 2004, following public disclosure of child custody divorce records containing sexual allegations by Ryan’s ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan. In August 2004, with less than three months to go before election day, Alan Keyes accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination to replace Ryan. A long-time resident of Maryland, Keyes established legal residency in Illinois with the nomination. Through three televised debates, Obama and Keyes expressed opposing views on stem cell research, abortion, gun control, school vouchers, and tax cuts. In the November 2004 general election, Obama received 70% of the vote to Keyes’s 27%, the largest electoral victory in Illinois history.

In July 2004, while still serving as a state legislator, he wrote and delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. After describing his maternal grandfather’s experiences as a World War II veteran and a beneficiary of the New Deal’s FHA and G.I. Bill programs, Obama spoke about changing the U.S. government’s economic and social priorities. He questioned the Bush administration’s management of the Iraq War and highlighted America’s obligations to its soldiers. Drawing examples from U.S. history and invoking patriotic texts and symbols, he challenged media perceptions of sharp partisan divisions and asked Americans to find unity in diversity, saying: “We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.” Broadcasts of the speech by major news organizations launched Obama’s status as a national political figure and boosted his campaign for U.S. Senate.

Senate career

Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 4, 2005. Though a newcomer to Washington, he recruited a team of established, high-level advisers devoted to broad themes that exceeded the usual requirements of an incoming first-term senator. Obama hired Pete Rouse, a 30 year veteran of national politics and former chief of staff to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, as his chief of staff, and economist Karen Kornbluh, former deputy chief of staff to Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, as his policy director. His key foreign policy advisers include Samantha Power, author on human rights and genocide, and former Clinton administration officials Anthony Lake and Susan Rice. He holds assignments on the Senate Committees for Foreign Relations, Health; Education, Labor and Pensions; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and Veterans’ Affairs, and is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The U.S. Senate Historical Office lists him as the fifth African American Senator in U.S. history, the third to have been popularly elected, and the only African American currently serving in the Senate. CQ Weekly, a nonpartisan publication, has characterized Obama as a “loyal Democrat” based on Senate votes cast in 2005 through 2007. During his first three years in the Senate, Obama received Honorary Doctorates of Law from Knox College (2005), University of Massachusetts Boston (2006), Northwestern University (2006), Xavier University of Louisiana (2006), Southern New Hampshire University (2007), and Howard University (2007). A Kenyan school located in his father’s hometown, which he visited while on an congressional trip in August 2006, was renamed the “Senator Barack Obama Primary School.”

109th Congress

Obama on discussion with tom coburn regarding coburn-obama transparency act..

Obama took an active role in the Senate’s drive for improved border security and immigration reform. In 2005, he cosponsored the “Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act” introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). He later added three amendments to the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act”, which passed the Senate in May 2006, but failed to gain majority support in the U.S. House of Representatives. In September 2006, Obama supported a related bill, the Secure Fence Act, authorizing construction of fencing and other security improvements along the United States-Mexico border. President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act into law in October 2006, calling it “an important step toward immigration reform.”

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In August 2005, he traveled to Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. The trip focused on strategies to control the world’s supply of conventional weapons, biological weapons, and weapons of mass destruction as a first defense against potential terrorist attacks. Following meetings with U.S. military in Kuwait and Iraq in January 2006, Obama visited Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. At a meeting with Palestinian students two weeks before Hamas won the legislative election, Obama warned that “the U.S. will never recognize winning Hamas candidates unless the group renounces its fundamental mission to eliminate Israel.” He left for his third official trip in August 2006, traveling to South Africa, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Chad. In a nationally televised speech at the University of Nairobi, he spoke forcefully on the influence of ethnic rivalries and corruption in Kenya. In December 2006, President Bush signed into law the “Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act,” marking the first federal legislation to be enacted with Obama as its primary sponsor.

Partnering first with Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), and then with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Obama successfully introduced two initiatives bearing his name. “Lugar-Obama” expands the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction concept to conventional weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles and anti-personnel mines. The Lugar-Obama initiative subsequently received $48 million in funding. The “Coburn-Obama Transparency Act” provides for the web site USAspending.gov, managed by the Office of Management and Budget. The site lists all organizations receiving Federal funds from 2007 onward and provides breakdowns by the agency allocating the funds, the dollar amount given, and the purpose of the grant or contract. Obama found less success in his efforts to further regulate the US nuclear energy industry, sponsoring a bill which generated expected opposition. A modified version was successful in committee but did not pass the full chamber as the session ended; Obama would once mistakenly claim to have fully passed the bill.

110th Congress

In the first month of the newly Democratic-controlled 110th Congress, Obama worked with Russ Feingold (D-WI) to eliminate gifts of travel on corporate jets by lobbyists to members of Congress and require disclosure of bundled campaign contributions under the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act,” which was signed into law in September 2007. He joined Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in sponsoring S. 453, a bill to criminalize deceptive practices in federal elections, including fraudulent flyers and automated phone calls, as witnessed in the 2006 midterm elections. Obama’s energy initiatives scored pluses and minuses with environmentalists, who welcomed his sponsorship with John McCain (R-AZ) of a climate change bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds by 2050, but were skeptical of his support for a bill promoting liquefied coal production. Obama also introduced the “Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007,” a bill that had proposed capping troop levels in Iraq, beginning phased redeployment, and removing all combat brigades from Iraq before April 2008; the measure came under criticism from Senate Republicans, including fellow presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ).

Later in 2007, Obama sponsored with Kit Bond (R-MO) an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Act adding safeguards for personality disorder military discharges, and calling for a review by the Government Accountability Office following reports that the procedure had been used inappropriately to reduce government costs. He sponsored the “Iran Sanctions Enabling Act” supporting divestment of state pension funds from Iran’s oil and gas industry, and joined Chuck Hagel (R-NE) in introducing legislation to reduce risks of nuclear terrorism. A provision from the Obama-Hagel bill was passed by Congress in December 2007 as an amendment to the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill. Obama also sponsored a Senate amendment to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to provide one year of job protection for family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries. After passing both houses of Congress with bipartisan majorities, SCHIP was vetoed by President Bush in early October 2007, a move Obama criticized.[dead link

Presidential campaign

Obama on stage with his wife and two daughters just before announcing his presidential campaign on February 10, 2007

In February 2007, standing before the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois, Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Describing his working life in Illinois, and symbolically linking his presidential campaign to Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 House Divided speech, Obama said: “That is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America.” Speaking at a Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting one week before the February announcement, Obama called for putting an end to negative campaigning.

Obama’s campaign raised US$58 million during the first half of 2007, topping all other candidates and exceeding previous records for the first six months of any year before an election year. Small donors, those contributing in increments of less than $200, accounted for $16.4 million of Obama’s record-breaking total, more than any other Democratic candidate. In the first month of 2008, his campaign brought in $36.8 million, the most ever raised in one month by a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries. Amid concerns for his safety as the first black candidate seen as having a viable chance of being elected president, the U.S. government assigned Secret Service protection to Obama 18 months before the general election. He was given the Secret Service codename of Renegade.

Barack and Michelle Obama at the Iowa caucuses, January 3, 2008

With two months remaining before the first electoral contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and national opinion polls showing him trailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama began directly charging his top rival with failing to clearly state her political positions. Campaigning in Iowa, he told The Washington Post that as the Democratic nominee he would draw more support than Clinton from independent and Republican voters in the general election. Among the first four DNC-sanctioned state contests, Obama won more delegates than Clinton in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina while winning an equal number in New Hampshire; Clinton, however, won the popular vote in Nevada and New Hampshire. His win in Iowa was boosted by majority support from a record turnout of voters under 30 years old, most of them first-time caucus goers, while blacks turned away from Clinton after perceived attempts by Clinton to label Obama as a racial candidate. Trailing Clinton nationally by 20% heading into the February Super Tuesday, he eliminated that lead and emerged with another 20 more delegates than Clinton. He broke fundraising records in the first two months of 2008, raising more than $90 million for his primary campaign while Clinton raised $45 million in the same period.

After Super Tuesday, Obama won the eleven remaining February primaries and caucuses. He then won the Vermont primary and the caucus portion of Texas primary and caucuses, but lost the Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas primary elections to Clinton. As of March 17, 2008 the Associated Press estimated that Obama led the pledged delegate count 1,404 to 1,249; but both were well short of the 2,024 needed to secure the nomination. He also began to cut into Clinton’s lead in committed superdelegates, with the AP counting 249 for Clinton and 213 for Obama. Since the Iowa caucuses, Obama had added 53 superdelegates to his total, compared to 12 for Clinton.

In March 2008, a controversy broke out concerning Obama’s longterm relationship with his former pastor and religious mentor, Jeremiah Wright, when ABC News found several racially and politically charged sermons by Rev. Wright. Following negative media coverage and during a brief drop in the polls, Obama responded by condemning Wright’s remarks, cutting his relationship to his campaign, and delivering a speech entitled “A More Perfect Union” at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the speech, Obama rejected Wright’s offensive comments, but refused to disown the man himself. Although the speech, which attempted to explain and contextualize the comments, was generally well-received, some continued to press the question of Obama’s long-standing relationship with Wright.

Political advocacy

Obama speaking at a rally in Conway, South Carolina on August 23, 2007

Obama addressing the Save Darfur rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2006

On the role of government in economic affairs, Obama has written: “We should be asking ourselves what mix of policies will lead to a dynamic free market and widespread economic security, entrepreneurial innovation and upward mobility we should be guided by what works.” Speaking before the National Press Club in April 2005, he defended the New Deal social welfare policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, associating Republican proposals to establish private accounts for Social Security with social Darwinism. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Obama spoke out against government indifference to growing economic class divisions, calling on both political parties to take action to restore the social safety net for the poor. Shortly before announcing his presidential campaign, Obama told the health care advocacy group Families USA that he supports universal healthcare in the United States.

Campaigning in New Hampshire, Obama announced an $18 billion plan for investments in early childhood education, math and science education, and expanded summer learning opportunities. Obama’s campaign distinguished his proposals to reward teachers for performance from traditional merit pay systems, assuring unions that changes would be pursued through the collective bargaining process.

At the Tax Policy Center in September 2007, he blamed special interests for distorting the U.S. tax code. His plan would eliminate taxes for senior citizens with incomes of less than $50,000 a year, repeal tax cuts said to favor the wealthy, close corporate tax loopholes and restrict offshore tax havens, and simplify filing of income tax returns by pre-filling wage and bank information already collected by the IRS. Announcing his presidential campaign’s energy plan in October 2007, Obama proposed a cap and trade auction system to restrict carbon emissions and a 10 year program of investments in new energy sources to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.

Obama was an early opponent of the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq. On October 2, 2002, the day Bush and Congress agreed on the joint resolution authorizing the Iraq War, Obama addressed the first high-profile Chicago anti-Iraq War rally in Federal Plaza, speaking out against it.

On March 16, 2003, the day President Bush issued his 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Obama addressed the largest Chicago anti-Iraq War rally to date in Daley Plaza and told the crowd “It’s not too late” to stop the war.

Obama sought to make his early public opposition to the Iraq War before it started a major issue in his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign to distinguish himself from his Democratic primary rivals who supported the resolution authorizing the Iraq War, and in his 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign, to distinguish himself from four Democratic primary rivals who voted for the resolution authorizing the war (Senators Clinton, Edwards, Biden, and Dodd).

Speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in November 2006, Obama called for a “phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq” and an opening of diplomatic dialogue with Syria and Iran. In a March 2007 speech to AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby, he said that the primary way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is through talks and diplomacy, although not ruling out military action. Detailing his strategy for fighting global terrorism in August 2007, Obama said “it was a terrible mistake to fail to act” against a 2005 meeting of al-Qaeda leaders that U.S. intelligence had confirmed to be taking place in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He said that as president he would not miss a similar opportunity, even without the support of the Pakistani government.

In a December 2005 Washington Post opinion column, and at the Save Darfur rally in April 2006, Obama called for more assertive action to oppose genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. He has divested $180,000 in personal holdings of Sudan-related stock, and has urged divestment from companies doing business in Iran. In the July-August 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, Obama called for an outward looking post-Iraq War foreign policy and the renewal of American military, diplomatic, and moral leadership in the world. Saying “we can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission,” he called on Americans to “lead the world, by deed and by example.”

Obama has encouraged Democrats to reach out to evangelicals and other religious people. In December 2006, he joined Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) at the “Global Summit on AIDS and the Church” organized by church leaders Kay and Rick Warren. Together with Warren and Brownback, Obama took an HIV test, as he had done in Kenya less than four months earlier. He encouraged “others in public life to do the same” and not be ashamed of it. Before the conference, 18 pro-life groups published an open letter stating, in reference to Obama’s support for legal abortion: “In the strongest possible terms, we oppose Rick Warren’s decision to ignore Senator Obama’s clear pro-death stance and invite him to Saddleback Church anyway.” Addressing over 8,000 United Church of Christ members in June 2007, Obama challenged “so-called leaders of the Christian Right” for being “all too eager to exploit what divides us.”

Personal life

Obama rebounding the ball during a basketball game with U.S. military from CJTF–HOA during his visit at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, on August 31, 2006

Obama met his future wife, Michelle Robinson, in 1988 when he was employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin. Assigned for three months as Obama’s adviser at the firm, Robinson joined him at group social functions, but declined his initial offers to date. They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married in October 1992. The couple’s first daughter, Malia Ann, was born in 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha (“Sasha”), in 2001. Applying the proceeds of a $2 million book deal, the family paid off debts in 2005 and moved from a Hyde Park, Chicago condominium to their current $1.6 million house in neighboring Kenwood. The land adjacent to their house was simultaneously sold to the wife of well-connected developer, and Obama supporter Tony Rezko, provoking continued media scrutiny but no official allegations against Obama, even as the political fundraiser was indicted on unrelated charges. In December 2007, Money magazine estimated the Obama family’s net worth at $1.3 million.

Obama plays basketball, a sport he participated in as a member of his high school’s varsity team. Before announcing his presidential candidacy, he began a well-publicized effort to quit smoking. “I’ve never been a heavy smoker,” Obama told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve quit periodically over the last several years. I’ve got an ironclad demand from my wife that in the stresses of the campaign I do not succumb. I’ve been chewing Nicorette strenuously.” Replying to an Associated Press survey of 2008 presidential candidates’ personal tastes, he specified “architect” as his alternate career choice and “chili” as his favorite meal to cook. Asked to name a “hidden talent,” Obama answered: “I’m a pretty good poker player.”

In Chapter Six of Obama’s 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes that he “was not raised in a religious household.” He describes his mother, raised by non-religious parents, as detached from religion, yet “in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known.” He describes his Kenyan father as “raised a Muslim,” but a “confirmed atheist” by the time his parents met, and his Indonesian stepfather as “a man who saw religion as not particularly useful.” The chapter details how Obama, in his twenties, while working with black churches as a community organizer, came to understand “the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change”:

It was because of these newfound understandings-that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved-that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized.

Obama joined Trinity United Church of Christ in 1988. A megachurch with 8,000 members, Trinity is the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ.

Books


Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was published before his first run for political office. In it he recalls his childhood in Honolulu and Jakarta, college years in Los Angeles and New York City, and his employment as a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s. The book’s last chapters describe his first visit to Kenya, a journey to connect with his Luo family and heritage. In the preface to the 2004 revised edition, Obama explains that he had hoped the story of his family “might speak in some way to the fissures of race that have characterized the American experience.” Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors, a 1990s roman à clef loosely based on Bill Clinton’s 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, wrote that Dreams “may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.” The audiobook edition earned Obama the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album of 2006.

His second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, was published in October 2006 and soon rose to the top of the New York Times Best Seller hardcover list. The Chicago Tribune credits large crowds that gathered at book signings with influencing Obama’s decision to run for president. Former U.S. presidential candidate Gary Hart said the book’s self-portrayal presents “a man of relative youth yet maturity, a wise observer of the human condition, a figure who possesses perseverance and writing skills that have flashes of grandeur.” Reviewer Michael Tomasky writes that it does not contain “boldly innovative policy prescriptions that will lead the Democrats out of their wilderness,” but does show Obama’s potential to “construct a new politics that is progressive but grounded in civic traditions that speak to a wider range of Americans.” In February 2008, he won a Grammy award for the spoken word edition of Audacity. Foreign language editions of the book have been published in Italian, Spanish, German, French, and Greek. The Italian edition was published in April 2007 with a preface by Walter Veltroni, leader of the newly formed Democratic Party of Italy.

Cultural and political image

Obama supporters at a campaign rally in Austin, Texas, on February 23, 2007

Supporters and critics have likened Obama’s popular image to a cultural Rorschach test, a neutral persona on whom people can project their personal histories and aspirations. Obama’s own stories about his family origins reinforce what a May 2004 New Yorker magazine article described as his “everyman” image. In Dreams from My Father, he ties his maternal family history to possible Native American ancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, president of the southern Confederacy during the American Civil War. Speaking to Jewish audiences during his 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate, he linked the linguistic root of his East African first name Barack to the Hebrew word baruch, meaning “blessed.” In an October 2006 interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Obama highlighted the diversity of his extended family: “Michelle will tell you that when we get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, it’s like a little mini-United Nations,” he said. “I’ve got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I’ve got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher. We’ve got it all.”

With his Kenyan father and American mother, his upbringing in Honolulu and Jakarta, and his Ivy League education, Obama’s early life experiences differ markedly from those of African American politicians who launched their careers in the 1960s through participation in the civil rights movement. During his Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Congress in 2000, two rival candidates charged that Obama was not sufficiently rooted in Chicago’s black neighborhoods to represent constituents’ concerns. In January 2007, The End of Blackness author Debra Dickerson warned against drawing favorable cultural implications from Obama’s political rise: “Lumping us all together,” Dickerson wrote in Salon, “erases the significance of slavery and continuing racism while giving the appearance of progress.” Film critic David Ehrenstein, writing in a March 2007 Los Angeles Times article, compared the cultural sources of Obama’s favorable polling among whites to those of “magical Negro” roles played by black actors in Hollywood movies. Expressing puzzlement over questions about whether he is “black enough,” Obama told an August 2007 meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists that the debate is not about his physical appearance or his record on issues of concern to black voters. Obama said, “we’re still locked in this notion that if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong.”

Writing about Obama’s political image in a March 2007 Washington Post opinion column, Eugene Robinson characterized him as “the personification of both-and,” a messenger who rejects “either-or” political choices, and could “move the nation beyond the culture wars” of the 1960s. Obama, who defines himself in The Audacity of Hope as “a Democrat, after all,” has been criticized by progressive commentator David Sirota for demonstrating too much “Senate clubbiness”, and was encouraged to run for the U.S. presidency by conservative columnist George Will. But in a December 2006 Wall Street Journal editorial headlined “The Man from Nowhere,” Ronald Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan advised Will and other “establishment” commentators to avoid becoming too quickly excited about Obama’s still early political career. Echoing the inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, Obama acknowledged his youthful image, saying in an October 2007 campaign speech, “I wouldn’t be here if, time and again, the torch had not been passed to a new generation.”

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