- Democratic Senator from Illinois
- In 1992, was the Director of Illinois Project VOTE, which registered approximately 150,000 mostly Democratic voters in Chicago’s Cook County
- Opposes the death penalty and school vouchers
- Supports racial preferences, gun control, and the right to partial-birth abortions
Barack Obama was born in 1961 in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and black father from Kenya who met while attending the University of Hawaii. His mother Anna, as Obama describes her in his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was “a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism.”
His father, also named Barack (Swahili for “One who is blessed by God,” and perhaps via Arabic and Semitic roots related to the Hebrew baruch, “blessed”) Obama, left his rural Luo-speaking village and his Muslim father to become an “agnostic” and study economics abroad. His son was two when the elder Barack left the boy and his mother to return to Harvard University and then to Kenya, where he became a globe-traveling economist for the government.
When young Obama was six, his mother married an Indonesian oil manager, a “non-practicing Muslim,” and the family moved to Jakarta, where his half-sister Maya was born. In this exotic Islamic country, wrote Obama’s good friend, the liberal lawyer and best-selling novelist Scott Turow, Barack Obama spent “two years in a Muslim school, then two more in a Catholic school.”
At age 10 Obama was sent back to Hawaii to be raised largely by his middle-class white maternal grandparents, and to attend the prestigious Punahou Academy. For only one month of his life, when he was 10, Obama was visited by and talked with his biological father. During adolescence he struggled to comprehend his mixed racial and cultural identity and experimented with marijuana and cocaine. Obama wrote about this in his memoir, he told Turow, because “I wanted to show how and why some kids, maybe especially young black men, flirt with danger and self-destruction.”
Obama attended Occidental College in California and then Columbia University in New York City. After graduating in 1983 with a degree in Political Science, he applied for work as a community organizer with groups across the United States while working as a writer and financial analyst for Business International Corporation. One small group of 20-odd churches in Chicago offered him a job helping residents of poor, predominantly black Far South Side neighborhoods. He moved to Chicago and in June 1985 became Director of the Developing Communities Project, working for the next three years on efforts that ranged from job training to school reform to hazardous waste cleanup. In 1986, after meeting his Kenyan half-sister Auma, he traveled to Africa and sat at the grave of his father who had died in a Nairobi traffic accident four years earlier.
In 1988 Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 1991. While there, he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. From April to November 1992, he served as the Director of “Illinois Project VOTE,” which registered approximately 150,000 mostly poor, mostly Democratic voters in Chicago’s Cook County before that year’s presidential election. The following year he became a litigator of voting rights and employment cases with the law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C., where he remains a Counsel today. In 1993 he also became a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, another position he still holds.
In 1996 Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate from the 13th District, which mostly represents poor South Side blacks but also a few wealthy neighborhoods. “Barack Obama is one of the brighter men I’ve worked with in the Legislature,” said State Senator Steve Rauschenberger (R.-Elgin), but he described Obama’s location on the political spectrum as “to the left of Mao Tse-tung,” the founding dictator of the Communist Peoples’ Republic of China. This description, Obama told Tim Russert July 25, 2004 on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” was “a little overblown.”
Barack Obama as a lawmaker has opposed the death penalty and pushed through legislation requiring that any questioning and confession in capital cases be videotaped to prevent deception and coercion. He also authored legislation requiring police to keep records of the race of everyone questioned, detained or arrested. These rules to deter racial profiling, say critics, lead to “de-policing.” To avoid charges of racism if they question or arrest too many minority suspects, police find it easier to protect their careers by turning a blind eye and leaving minority criminals alone.
Obama favors racial preferences for select minorities in both the business world and academia. A strong supporter of gun control, he has proposed banning all civilian semi-automatic weapons. He is strongly pro-abortion, including the partial-birth abortion procedure many regard as infanticide. He is a proponent of socialized medicine.
Obama has occasionally attacked special interests in the Democratic Party. In the past he was prepared to help students escape from bad public schools by considering school vouchers, but he now toes the anti-voucher party line and thus the special interest of the Demoratic Party’s biggest funding and activist base, the teachers’ unions. At the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Obama criticized members of his own party for the convention’s lavish display of money and the special access given to big donors. “The convention’s for sale,” he said at the time. Tim Russert noted that in 2004 the appearance and influence of big money at the Democratic National Convention was bigger than ever before – but Obama has recently muted his moral outrage over this issue.
Obama has learned from hard experience. In 2000 he ran against former Black Panther and incumbent Congressman Bobby Rush in the Democratic Primary. Rush denounced him as an “elitist” who “wasn’t black enough,” and crushed Obama by nearly a two-to-one vote margin. Months earlier Obama had delayed flying home from Hawaii to vote on a gun control bill backed by both Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Richard Daley and Republican Governor George Ryan. After the bill’s defeat, Obama took a beating politically from disgruntled liberals, including the editorial writers of the Chicago Tribune.
As the Democratic Party moved center in the 2004 campaign, Obama’s website quietly removed a blistering anti-war speech he had given in 2002 and replaced it with a milder statement more in step with the party line of Senators John Kerry and John Edwards.
The Chicago Tribune has endorsed Obama’s run this year for the U.S. Senate. More importantly, the Tribune, whose holding company now also owns the Los Angeles Times, persuaded a Democrat-appointed judge in California to open the sealed divorce records of Obama’s Republican opponent to a press fishing expedition. The resulting sex scandal, based on allegations in the divorce records by a Hollywood actress eager to prevent her ex-husband from getting custody of their children, prompted the Republican to resign from the race. With a $10 million campaign war chest from contributors, and with no Republican opponent who could garner much support, Obama had an open road to become the next U.S. Senator from Illinois.
Obama won the Democratic Senate nomination by 53 percent against a field of powerful candidates, including one from the Daley political machine and another who spent millions of dollars. But Obama prevailed with backing from wealthy white “Lakeshore liberals,” the Jesse Jacksons, Junior and Senior, and Rev. Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition organization.
In September of 2005, Obama spoke at a town hall meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus‘ 35th Annual Legislative Conference. Featuring some of the leading figures of the Democratic Party, and nominally devoted to the subject of “eradicating poverty,” the meeting was replete with condemnations of President George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and America’s purpotedly inherent racial inequities. (A webcast can be accessed here.) Although he stopped short of suggesting that the allegedly slow federal response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina (which had devastated New Orleans earlier that month), especially blacks, was motivated by racism, Obama nonetheless claimed that racism was the cause of what he deemed the Bush administration’s indifference to the struggles of American blacks generally. “The incompetence was colorblind,” said Obama. “What wasn’t colorblind was the indifference. Human efforts will always pale in comparison to nature’s forces. But [the Bush administration] is a set of folks who simply don’t recognize what’s happening in large parts of the country.” Blacks in hurricane-hit areas were poor, Obama further charged, because of the Bush administration’s “decision to give tax breaks to Paris Hilton instead of providing child care and education…”