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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: Barack Obama

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Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Junior Senator
from Illinois
Incumbent
Assumed office
January 4, 2005
Serving with Richard Durbin
Preceded by Peter Fitzgerald

Member of the Illinois State Senate
from the 13th district
In office
January 8, 1997 – November 4, 2004
Preceded by Alice J. Palmer
Succeeded by Kwame Raoul

Born August 4, 1961 (1961-08-04) (age 46)
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse Michelle Obama (m. 1992)
Children Malia Ann (b. 1998),
Natasha (“Sasha”) (b. 2001)
Residence (Kenwood), Chicago, Illinois
Alma mater Columbia University,
Harvard Law School
Profession Attorney
Religion Christian: (United Church of Christ)
Signature Barack Obama's signature
Website Barack Obama U.S. Senator For Illinois
Barack Obama · [Memoir]
v d e
Early life and career
Illinois Senate career
U.S. Senate career
2008 presidential campaign
Political positions

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. (born August 4, 1961) is the junior United States Senator from Illinois and a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. He married in 1992 and has two daughters. Obama has written two books: a memoir of his youth titled Dreams from My Father, and a personal commentary on U.S. politics titled The Audacity of Hope.

Born to a Kenyan father and an American mother, he passed most of his childhood and adolescent years in Honolulu, Hawaii. At age six, he moved to Jakarta where he lived with his mother and Indonesian stepfather for four years. A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama worked as a community organizer, university lecturer, and lawyer before serving in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004.

Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, he announced his campaign for U.S. Senate in January 2003. After winning a landslide primary victory in March 2004 to become the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. 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 legislation to control conventional weapons and to promote 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 regarding 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 war in Iraq, increasing energy independence, and providing universal health care as top national priorities.

Contents

Early life and career

Main article: Early life and career of Barack Obama

Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Obama, Sr., of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Siaya District, Kenya, and Ann Dunham, of Wichita, Kansas.[1] His parents met while both were attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father was enrolled as a foreign student.[2] They separated when he was two years old and later divorced.[3] 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 until he was ten years old.[1] He then returned to Honolulu to live with his mother’s family while attending Punahou School from the fifth grade until his graduation in 1979.[4] Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, where he studied at Occidental College for two years.[5] He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations.[6]

Obama graduated with a B.A. 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.[7][8] He entered Harvard Law School in 1988.[9] His election in 1990 as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review was widely reported.[10] Obama graduated with a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, then returned to Chicago where he headed a voter registration drive and began writing his first book, Dreams from My Father, a memoir published in 1995.[11]

Between 1993 and 2002, Obama served on the board the Woods Fund of Chicago, a philanthropic organization providing grants to Chicago’s disadvantaged people and communities.[12] In 1999 he was joined on the board by Bill Ayers, who had previously hosted a fundraiser for Obama in 1996.[12] This association would later draw scrutiny during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.[13]

Obama taught constitutional law part-time at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.[14]

Obama worked as an associate attorney with Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland from 1993 to 2002. After 1996, he worked at the firm only during the summer, when the Illinois Senate was not in session.[15] Obama worked on cases where the firm represented community organizers, pursued discrimination claims, and on voting rights cases. He also spent time on real estate transactions, filing incorporation papers and defending clients against minor lawsuits.[16] Mostly he drew up briefs, contracts, and other legal documents as a junior associate on legal teams.[16] Obama also did some work on taxpayer-supported building rehabilitation loans for Rezmar Corp.,[17] half-owned by Tony Rezko, who later raised approximately $250,000 for Obama’s various political campaigns.[18] In October 2006, Rezko was indicted for political corruption charges and the case was brought to trial in March 2008.[19] Obama has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.[20]

State legislature

Main article: Illinois Senate career of Barack Obama

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.[21] Once elected, Obama gained bipartisan support for legislation reforming ethics and health care laws.[22] He sponsored a law increasing tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for childcare.[23] 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 detained.[23]

Obama was reelected to the Illinois Senate in 1998, and again in 2002.[24] In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush by a margin of two to one.[25][26]

In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee when Democrats, after a decade in the minority, regained a majority.[27] During his 2004 general election campaign for U.S. Senate, police representatives credited Obama for his active engagement with police organizations in enacting death penalty reforms.[28] 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.[29] Obama resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004 following his election to the US Senate.[30]

Senate campaign

See also: United States Senate election in Illinois, 2004

In mid-2002, Obama began considering a run for the U.S. Senate, enlisting political strategist David Axelrod that fall and formally announcing his candidacy in January 2003.[31] Decisions by Republican incumbent Peter Fitzgerald and his Democratic predecessor Carol Moseley Braun not to contest the race launched wide-open Democratic and Republican primary contests involving fifteen candidates.[32] In early opinion polls leading up to the Democratic primary, Obama trailed multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes.[33] However, Hull’s popularity declined following reports of his ex-wife’s allegations of domestic abuse.[34] Obama’s candidacy was boosted by Axelrod’s advertising campaign featuring images of the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and an endorsement by the daughter of the late Paul Simon, former U.S. Senator for Illinois.[35] He received over 52% of the vote in the March 2004 primary, emerging 29% ahead of his nearest Democratic rival.[36]

Obama’s opponent in the general election was expected to be Republican primary winner Jack Ryan. However, Ryan withdrew from the race in June 2004, following disclosure of divorce records containing politically embarrassing charges by his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan.[37] 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.[38] A long-time resident of Maryland, Keyes established legal residency in Illinois with the nomination.[39] Through three televised debates, Obama and Keyes expressed opposing views on stem cell research, abortion, gun control, school vouchers, and tax cuts.[40] In the November 2004 general election, Obama received 70% of the vote to Keyes’s 27%, the largest electoral victory in Illinois history.[41]

In July 2004, he wrote and delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts.[42] 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, he criticized heavily partisan views of the electorate and asked Americans to find unity in diversity, saying, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”[43] 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.[44]

Senate career

Main article: United States Senate career of Barack Obama

Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 4, 2005.[45] 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.[46] He 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.[47] He recruited Samantha Power, author on human rights and genocide, and former Clinton administration officials Anthony Lake and Susan Rice as foreign policy advisers.[48]

The Senate historian lists Obama as the fifth African American Senator in U.S. history, and the third to have been popularly elected.[49] He is the only Senate member of the Congressional Black Caucus.[50] CQ Weekly, a nonpartisan publication, characterized him as a “loyal Democrat” based on analysis of all Senate votes in 2005–2007, and the National Journal ranked him as the “most liberal” senator based on an assessment of selected votes during 2007.[51][52] Asked about the Journal’s characterization of his voting record, Obama expressed doubts about the survey’s methodology, blaming “old politics” labeling of political positions as “conservative” or “liberal” for creating predispositions that prevent problem-solving.[53]

Legislation

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 Republican John McCain of Arizona.[54] 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 House of Representatives.[55] 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.[56] President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act into law in October 2006, calling it “an important step toward immigration reform.”[57]

Senate bill sponsors Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Obama discussing the  Coburn–Obama Transparency Act

Senate bill sponsors Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Obama discussing the Coburn–Obama Transparency Act[58]

Partnering with Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and then Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Obama successfully introduced two initiatives bearing his name. “Lugar-Obama” expanded the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction concept to conventional weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles and anti-personnel mines.[59] The “Coburn-Obama Transparency Act” authorized the establishment of USAspending.gov, a web search engine launched in December 2007 and run by the Office of Management and Budget.[60] After Illinois residents complained of waste water contamination by a neighboring nuclear plant, Obama sponsored legislation requiring plant owners to notify state and local authorities of radioactive leaks.[61] A compromise version of the bill was subsequently blocked by partisan disputes and later reintroduced.[62] 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.[63]

In January 2007, Obama worked with Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin 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.[64] He introduced 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.[65] Obama’s energy initiatives scored pluses and minuses with environmentalists, who welcomed his sponsorship with McCain 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.[66] Obama also introduced the “Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007,” a bill to cap troop levels in Iraq, begin phased redeployment, and remove all combat brigades from Iraq before April 2008.[67]

Later in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act adding safeguards for personality disorder military discharges, and calling for an official review following reports that the procedure had been used inappropriately to reduce government costs.[68] He sponsored the “Iran Sanctions Enabling Act” supporting divestment of state pension funds from Iran’s oil and gas industry, and joined Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska in introducing legislation to reduce risks of nuclear terrorism.[69][70] A provision from the Obama-Hagel bill was passed by Congress in December 2007 as an amendment to the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill.[70] Obama also sponsored a Senate amendment to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program providing one year of job protection for family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries.[71] The legislation passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan majorities, but was blocked from becoming law by President Bush in October 2007.[72]

Committees

Obama and ex-Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar visit a Russian mobile launch missile dismantling facility.

Obama and ex-Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar visit a Russian mobile launch missile dismantling facility.[73]

Obama held assignments on the Senate Committees for Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and Veterans’ Affairs through December 2006.[74] In January 2007, he left the Environment and Public Works committee and took additional assignments with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.[75] He also became Chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on European Affairs.[76]

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama has 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 terrorist attacks.[77] Following meetings with U.S. military in Kuwait and Iraq in January 2006, he 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.”[78] He left for his third official trip in August 2006, traveling to South Africa, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Chad. In a speech at the University of Nairobi, he spoke about political corruption and ethnic rivalries.[79] The speech touched off controversy among Kenyan leaders, some formally challenging Obama’s remarks as unfair and improper, others defending his positions.[80]

Presidential campaign

Main article: Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008
Obama on stage with his wife and two daughters just before announcing his presidential campaign on February 10, 2007

Obama on stage with his wife and two daughters just before announcing his presidential campaign on February 10, 2007[81]

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.[82] 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.”[83] Speaking at a Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting one week before the February announcement, Obama called for putting an end to negative campaigning.[84] Since announcing his presidential campaign Obama has emphasized ending the Iraq War, increasing energy independence, and providing universal health care as his top three priorities.[85]

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.[86] 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.[87] 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.[88] Amidst 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.[89]

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

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.[90] 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.[91] 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.[92] 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.[93] Trailing Clinton nationally by 20% heading into the February Super Tuesday, he eliminated that lead and emerged with another 20 more delegates than Clinton.[94] 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.[95] After Super Tuesday, Obama won the eleven remaining February primaries and caucuses.[96] 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.[97]

In March 2008, a controversy broke out concerning Obama’s 23-year relationship to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.[98] ABC News found and excerpted racially and politically charged clips from sermons by Rev. Wright, including his assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own “state terrorism” and his assertion that “[t]he government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”[98][99] Some of Wright’s statements were widely criticized as anti-American.[100][101] Following negative media coverage and a drop in the polls,[102] Obama responded by condemning Wright’s remarks, ending his relationship with the campaign,[103] and delivering a speech entitled “A More Perfect Union” at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[104] In the speech, Obama rejected some of Wright’s comments, but refused to disown the man himself, noting his lifelong ministry to the poor and past service as a US Marine.[105] The speech, which sought to place Wright’s anger in a larger historical context, was well-received by many liberals and some conservatives,[105][106][107] but others, including various supporters of Hillary Clinton continued to question the implications of Obama’s long relationship with Wright.[106][108]

On April 22, 2008 Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary to Hillary Clinton.[109] However, he continued to lead Clinton in the count of pledged delegates (1,488 to 1,333, according to an April 23 count by the Associated Press).[110] Clinton maintained a lead in superdelegates (259 to Obama’s 235), resulting in an overall Obama delegate lead of 1,723 to 1,592.[110] Both candidates remained well short of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination.[110]

Political positions

See also: Political positions of Barack Obama

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.”[111] 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.[112] 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.[113] Shortly before announcing his presidential campaign, Obama told the health care advocacy group Families USA that he supports universal healthcare in the United States.[114]

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

Obama speaking at a rally in Conway, South Carolina on August 23, 2007[115]

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.[116] 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.[117]

At the Tax Policy Center in September 2007, he blamed special interests for distorting the U.S. tax code.[118] His plan would eliminate taxes for senior citizens with incomes of less than $50,000 a year, repeal income tax cuts for those making over $250,000 as well as the capital gains and dividends tax cut,[119] close corporate tax loopholes, lift the $102,000 cap on Social Security taxes, restrict offshore tax havens, and simplify filing of income tax returns by pre-filling wage and bank information already collected by the IRS.[120] 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.[121] Obama proposed that all pollution credits must be auctioned, with no grandfathering of credits for oil and gas companies, and the spending of the revenue obtained on energy development and economic transition costs.[122]

Obama was an early opponent of the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq.[123] On October 2, 2002, the day Bush and Congress agreed on the joint resolution authorizing the Iraq War,[124] Obama addressed the first high-profile Chicago anti-Iraq War rally in Federal Plaza,[125] speaking out against it.[126]

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,[127] 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.[128]

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,[129] 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).[130]

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

Obama addressing the Save Darfur rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2006[131]

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.[132] 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.[133] 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.[134]

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.[135] He has divested $180,000 in personal holdings of Sudan-related stock, and has urged divestment from companies doing business in Iran.[136] 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.”[137]

Obama has encouraged Democrats to reach out to evangelicals and other religious people.[138] 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.[139] Together with Warren and Brownback, Obama took an HIV test, as he had done in Kenya less than four months earlier.[140] He encouraged “others in public life to do the same” and not be ashamed of it.[141] 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.”[142] 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.”[143]

Personal life

Obama met his wife, Michelle Robinson, in June 1989 when he was employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin.[144] 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.[145] They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married on October 3, 1992.[146] The couple’s first daughter, Malia Ann, was born in 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha (“Sasha”), in 2001.[147]

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 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[148]

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.[149] 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 of Obama and his relationship with Rezko.[150] In December 2007, Money magazine estimated the Obama family’s net worth at $1.3 million.[151] Their 2007 tax return showed a household income of $4.2 million, up from about $1 million in 2006 and $1.6 million in 2005, mostly from sales of his books.[152]

Obama plays basketball, a sport he participated in as a member of his high school’s varsity team.[153] 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.”[154] 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.[155] Asked to name a “hidden talent,” Obama answered: “I’m a pretty good poker player.”[156]

In 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.” In the book, Obama explains how, through working with black churches as a community organizer while in his twenties, he came to understand “the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change.”[157] He has been a member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ since 1988.[158]

Books

Main articles: Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope
The Audacity of Hope

The Audacity of Hope

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.”[159] In a 1995 review, novelist Paul Watkins wrote that Dreams “persuasively describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither.”[160] The audiobook edition earned Obama the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album of 2006.[161]

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.[162] The Chicago Tribune credits large crowds that gathered at book signings with influencing Obama’s decision to run for president.[163] 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.”[164] 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.”[165] In February 2008, he won a Grammy award for the spoken word edition of Audacity.[161] Foreign language editions of the book have been published in Italian, Spanish, German, French, and Greek.[166] The Italian edition was published in April 2007 with a preface by Walter Veltroni,[167] former Mayor of Rome, currently leader of Italy’s Democratic Party and one of Obama’s earliest supporters overseas.[168]

Cultural and political image

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

Obama supporters at a campaign rally in Austin, Texas, on February 23, 2007[169]

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.[170] Obama’s own stories about his family origins reinforce what a May 2004 New Yorker magazine article described as his “everyman” image.[171] 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.[172] 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.”[173] 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.”[174]

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.[175] 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.”[176] 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.[177] 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.”[178]

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.[179] 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.[180] 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.[181] 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.”[182]

Further reading

  • Curry, Jessica. “Barack Obama: Under the Lights”, Chicago Life, Fall 2004. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  • Graff, Garrett. “The Legend of Barack Obama”, Washingtonian, November 1, 2006. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  • Lizza, Ryan. “Above the Fray”, GQ, September 2007. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  • MacFarquhar, Larissa. “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?”, New Yorker, May 7, 2007. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  • Mundy, Liza. “A Series of Fortunate Events”, The Washington Post Magazine, August 12, 2007. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  • Wallace-Wells, Ben. “Destiny’s Child”, Rolling Stone, February 7, 2007. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  • Zutter, Hank De. “What Makes Obama Run?”, Chicago Reader, December 8, 1995. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
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