Everybody saw it coming, but when it was announced last week that one of America’s most mixed personalities, US Senator Barack Obama would be seeking Democratic Party nomination for the presidency, it still sent shock waves down the political landscape.
Why is that? Is it for his mixed-racial background? His mixed-religious education? Mixed cultural pedigree? Mixed political profile? Or is he truly the new face of the Democratic Party in the United States of America?
No doubt, Obama’s biography, once wrote Scott Turow, “is both intriguing and inspiring, an American story for he 21st century”. The resume detail that initially caught wide attention was his election in 1990 as the first African-American president (that is editor-in-chief) of the Harvard Law Review, the premier legal academic publication in the United States. “Banish any lurking though, of an affirmative-action wind at his back seat retorted.
Mind you, exams at Harvard Law School are graded blind, and Obama graduated Magria calm laude (also unlike me). He has taught for many years at the University of Chicago law School, along with many of the country’s pre-eminent legal scholars. Is that it?
But academic excellence is only one part of his unique story. “Dreams from my father” is a well-authored book, moving and candid, and it belong on the shelf beside works like James McBride’s “The Color of Water” and Greg Williams “Life on the Color Line” as a tale of living astride America’s racial categories, Scot records.
His parents met as College Students in 1960. His father, also named Obama, was from Kenya’s Luo tribe, the first African exchange student at the University of Hawaii. His mother, Anna, had gone to Hawaii from Kansas with her parents. Even in Hawaii’s polyglot culture, a black and white couple remained at bets an oddity in 1961, when Obama was born; at the time miscegenation was still a crime in many states. Nor was Obama Sr’s marriage welcomed in Kenya. Under those pressures, Obama’s father departed, when Barack was just two and to pursue his Ph.D at Harvard, leaving his son with mother and grand parents.
When Obama was 6, Anna remarried. Her new husband was Lolo, an Indonesian oil company manager, and the new family moved to Djakarta, where Obama’s sister Maya was born. (Obama often describes her looks as those “of a Latin queen”.
After two years in a Muslim school, then two more in a Catholic school, Obama was sent by his mother back to her parents’ home so that he could attend Hawaii’s esteemed Punahou Academy. Living with two middle-aged, middle-class white people (his grandfather was a salesman, his grandmother a bank employee trapped by a glass ceiling), Obama struggled as an adolescent with the realities of being African-American, an identity that was in part imposed by others, and yet one he also embraced as the legacy of a father for whom he yearned but with whom he enjoyed only sporadic contact. He attended California’s Occidental College, then Columbia. After graduation he moved to Chicago, where he worked for a number of years as a community organiser on the city’s South Side, employed by a consortium of church and community groups that hoped to save manufacturing jobs.
Obama’s father died in a traffic accident in Nairobi in 1982, but while Obama was working in Chicago, he met his Kenyan sister, Auma, a linguist educated in Germany who was visiting the United States. When she returned to Kenya in 1986 to teach for a year at the University of Nairobi, Obama finally made the trip to his father’s homeland he had long promised himself. There, he managed to fully embrace a heritage and a family he’d never fully known and come to terms with his father, whom he’d long regarded as an august foreign prince, but now realised was a human being burdened by his own illusions and vulnerabilities. With that, Obama began to feel more accepting of himself. Harvard, law practice, teaching and politics followed.
As a legislator and politician, Obama has had both missteps and triumphs. During his first year or two in the Illinois Legislature, he sometimes found it hard to connect with colleagues who occasionally seemed put off by his credentials, and even harder to get anything done. In 1999, after only three years as a state senator, Obama decided to challenge Bobby Rush, the longtime congressional representative, who had begun his public life as a leader of the local Black Panther Party. More than one veteran Democrat
claims to have told Obama it was too soon to move on to another office, but he was eager to take on Rush, whose rhetorical victories have often outpaced his achievements as a representative. But Rush thrashed Obama in the 2000 Democratic primary, leading political insiders to speculate that Obama, with his Ivy League manner, was “not black enough” to make Chicago’s large African-American community his political base.
The same period also produced Obama’s most substantive political gaffe. Richard M. Daley, Chicago’s Democratic mayor, had forged an alliance with the Republican governor, George Ryan, to promote a gun-control bill fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Association and the Republican majority leader of the state Senate. Intense pressure was mounted by both sides, and as final consideration approached at year’s end in 1999, the nose-counting indicated that a few votes one way or the other would control the bill’s fate. Despite being committed to the measure, Obama reportedly ignored entreaties to return from Hawaii, where he was visiting his family. The gun-control measure went down to defeat, and Obama’s subsequent explanation for his absence, saying that his younger daughter had fallen seriously ill, did not play well either with the press — the Chicago Tribune blasted him as “gutless” — or his fellow politicians, who’d left plenty of sickbeds and vacations in their time for the sake of public duty.
At this moment, like Scott, many Americans believe that Obama’s career is way up, following a more impressive political victory in recent Illinois history when he was elected into the United States Senate.
With all the odds decided against him, most of which, was the fact that his last name Obama rhymes uncomfortably with ‘Osama’ Bin Laden, the nemesis of the USA, and running his first statewide contest against popular Illinois’ Comptroller Dan Hynes, non gave Obama any chance.
It was even more so because Hynes come across as quiet, competent and likable; had been elected statewide twice before and as son of a former cook country assessor, Hynes was a scion of Chicago’s Democratic machine whose apparatus was fully behind him throughout the campaign.
Despite all those odds, Barack Obama captured 53 per cent of the votes in a six-person field, more than double the vote garnered by his nearest competitor, the most liked Illinois Comptroller, Dan Hynes, the type Nigerian political sycophants would fondly call “timber and caliber”.
From March 16, 2004 when he defeated the Democratic heavy weight up to when he spoke at the party’s Presidential Congress at Boston Massachusetts, later that year, America realised that a new face of the Democratic Party was evolving.
That was when, the once little boy left by his father at 2, but who eventually bagged a Ph.D in Law, became a Senator of the United States, for a term beginning January 3, 2005.
Sworn into office January 4, 2005, Senator Obama has remained focused on promoting economic growth and bringing good paying jobs to Illinois. Obama serves on the important Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees legislation and funding for the environment and public works projects throughout the country, including the national transportation bill. He also serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee where he is focused on investigating the disability pay discrepancies that have left thousands of Illinois veterans without the benefits they earned. Senator Obama will also serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.
During his seven years in the Illinois state Senate, Obama worked with both Democrats and Republicans to help working families get ahead by creating programmes like the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which in three years provided over $100 million in tax cuts to families across the state. Obama also pushed through an expansion of early childhood education, and after a number of inmates on death row were found innocent, Senator Obama enlisted the support of law enforcement officials to draft legislation requiring the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in all capital cases.
Obama is especially proud of being a husband and father of two daughters, Malia, 7 and Sasha, 4. Obama and his wife, Michelle, married in 1992 and live on Chicago’s South Side where they attend Trinity United Church of Christ.
Barack Obama born on August 4, 1961, in Hawaii to Barack Obama, Sr. and Ann Dunham. Obama graduated from Columbia University in 1983, and moved to Chicago in 1985 to work for a church-based group seeking to improve living conditions in poor neighbourhoods plagued with crime and high unemployment. In 1991, Obama graduated from Harvard Law School where he was the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review.
So when he signaled his intention to contest the Democratic ticket for the presidency of the US, it jolted many Americans. Those who should know say, anyone who under-estimates Obama, does so at his peril.
Because like Clinton, he is a comeback kid.