DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE - BARACK OBAMA
Barack Hussein Obama is the junior United States Senator from Illinois and a member of the Democratic Party. Obama grew up in culturally diverse surroundings, spending most of his childhood in the majority-minority U.S. state of Hawaii and living for four years in Indonesia. After graduating from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama worked as a community organizer, university lecturer, and civil rights lawyer before entering politics. He served in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, launching his campaign for U.S. Senate in 2003. The U.S. Senate Historical Office lists him as the fifth African American Senator in U.S. history and the only African American currently serving in the U.S. Senate.
Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to Barack Obama, Sr. (born in Nyanza Province, Kenya) and Ann Dunham (born in Wichita, Kansas). His parents met while both were attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father was enrolled as a foreign student. Obama's parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced. His father went to Harvard University to pursue Ph.D. studies, then returned to Kenya, where he died in an auto accident when the younger Obama was twenty-one years old. His mother married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian foreign student, with whom she had one daughter, Maya. The family moved to Jakarta in 1967, where Obama attended local schools from ages 6 to 10. He then returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents while attending Punahou School from 5th grade until his graduation in 1979. Obama's mother died of ovarian cancer a few months after the publication of his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father.
In the memoir, Obama describes his experiences growing up in his mother's American middle class family. His knowledge about his absent Luo father came mainly through family stories and photographs. Of his early childhood, Obama writes: "That my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind." The book describes his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage. He used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine during his teenage years, Obama writes, to "push questions of who I was out of my mind."
After graduating from Punahou, Obama studied at Occidental College for two years, then transferred to Columbia University, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations. He received his B.A. degree in 1983, then worked for one year at Business International Corporation. In 1985, Obama moved to Chicago to direct a non-profit project assisting local churches to organize job training programs. He entered Harvard Law School in 1988 and, while employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin, Obama met Michelle Robinson, who also worked there. In 1990, The New York Times reported his election as the Harvard Law Review's "first black president in its 104-year history." He completed his J.D. degree magna cum laude in 1991, and in 1992, Obama married Michelle. As an associate attorney with Miner, Barnhill & Galland from 1993 to 1996, he represented community organizers, discrimination claims, and voting rights cases. He was a lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Obama and his wife had two daughters, Malia, born in 1999, and Natasha (Sasha), born in 2001.
Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996 from the state's 13th District in the south-side Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park. 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 overwhelmingly reelected to the Illinois Senate in 1998 and 2002, officially resigning in November 2004, following his election to the U.S. Senate. Among his major accomplishments as a state legislator, Obama's U.S. Senate web site lists: "creating programs like the state Earned Income Tax Credit"; "an expansion of early childhood education"; and "legislation requiring the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in all capital cases." Reviewing Obama's career in the Illinois Senate, a February 2007 article in the Washington Post noted his work with both Democrats and Republicans in drafting bipartisan legislation on ethics and health care reform. During his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, Obama won the endorsement of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, whose officials cited his "longtime support of gun control measures and his willingness to negotiate compromises," despite his support for some bills the police union had opposed.
Obama wrote and delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, while still serving as a state legislator. 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 said: "No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice." Questioning the Bush administration's management of the Iraq War, Obama spoke of an enlisted Marine, Corporal Seamus Ahern from East Moline, Illinois, asking, "Are we serving Seamus as well as he is serving us?" He continued: "When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never, ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world." The speech was Obama's introduction to most of America. Its enthusiastic reception at the convention and widespread coverage by national media gave him instant celebrity status.
In 2003, Obama began his run for the U.S. Senate open seat vacated by Peter Fitzgerald. In early opinion polls leading up to the Democratic primary, Obama trailed multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes. However, Hull's popularity declined following 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. His opponent in the general election was expected to be Republican primary winner Jack Ryan. However, Ryan withdrew from the race in June 2004. 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%.
Obama was sworn in as a Senator on January 4, 2005. He hired former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's ex-chief of staff for the same position, and Karen Kornbluh, an economist who was deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, as his policy adviser. In July 2005, Samantha Power, Pulitzer-winning author on human rights and genocide, joined Obama's team. An October 2005 article in the British journal New Statesman listed Obama as one of "10 people who could change the world." Three months into his Senate career, and again in 2007, Time magazine named Obama one of "the world's most influential people." During his first two and a half years in the Senate, Obama received Honorary Doctorates of Law from Knox College, University of Massachusetts Boston, Northwestern University, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Southern New Hampshire University. He is a member of the Senate committees on Foreign Relations; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and Veterans' Affairs; and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Obama took an active role in the Senate's drive for improved border security and immigration reform. Beginning in 2005, he co-sponsored the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Obama later added three amendments to S. 2611, the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act," sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). S. 2611 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."
Partnering first with Sen. Richard 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 "Coburn-Obama Transparency Act" provides for a web site, managed by the Office of Management and Budget, listing all organizations receiving Federal funds from 2007 onward, and providing breakdowns by the agency allocating the funds, the dollar amount given, and the purpose of the grant or contract. On December 22, 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.
On the first day of the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress, in a column published in the Washington Post, Obama called for an end to "any and all practices that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a public servant has become indebted to a lobbyist." He joined with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) in strengthening restrictions on travel in corporate jets to S.1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, which passed the Senate with a 96-2 majority. Obama joined Charles 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 Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) of a climate change bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds by 2050, but were skeptical of Obama's support for a bill promoting liquefied coal production. Also during the first month of the 110th Congress, Obama introduced the "Iraq War De-Escalation Act," a bill that caps troop levels in Iraq at January 10, 2007 levels, begins phased redeployment on May 1, 2007, and removes all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008.
Obama traveled to Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan in August 2005 with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The trip focused on strategies to control the world's supply of conventional weapons, biological weapons, and weapons of mass destruction, as a strategic first defense against the threat of future terrorist attacks. Lugar and Obama inspected a Nunn-Lugar program-supported nuclear warhead destruction facility at Saratov, in southern European Russia. In Ukraine, they toured a disease control and prevention facility and witnessed the signing of a bilateral pact to secure biological pathogens and combat risks of infectious disease outbreaks from natural causes or bioterrorism.
In January 2006, Obama joined a Congressional delegation for meetings with U.S. military in Kuwait and Iraq. After the visits, Obama traveled to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. While in Israel, Obama met with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Obama also met with a group of Palestinian students two weeks before Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian legislative election. ABC News 7 (Chicago) reported Obama telling the students that "the U.S. will never recognize winning Hamas candidates unless the group renounces its fundamental mission to eliminate Israel," and that he had conveyed the same message in his meeting with Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Obama left for his third official trip in August 2006, traveling to South Africa and Kenya, and making stops in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Chad. He flew his wife and two daughters from Chicago to join him in a visit to his father's birthplace, a village near Kisumu in rural western Kenya. Enthusiastic crowds greeted Obama's public appearances. In a public gesture aimed to encourage more Kenyans to undergo voluntary HIV testing, Obama and his wife took HIV tests at a Kenyan clinic. In a nationally televised speech at the University of Nairobi, he spoke forcefully on the influence of ethnic rivalries and corruption in Kenya. The speech touched off a public debate among rival leaders, some formally challenging Obama's remarks as unfair and improper, others defending his positions.
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, Obama 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 a May 2006 letter to President Bush, he joined four other Midwest farming state Senators in calling for the preservation of a US$0.54 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Obama spoke out in June 2006 against making recent, temporary estate tax cuts permanent, calling the cuts a "Paris Hilton" tax break for "billionaire heirs and heiresses." Speaking in November 2006 to members of Wake Up Wal-Mart, a union-backed campaign group, Obama said: "You gotta pay your workers enough that they can actually not only shop at Wal-Mart, but ultimately send their kids to college and save for retirement." In January 2007, Obama spoke at an event organized by Families USA, a health care advocacy group. Obama said, "The time has come for universal health care in America [...] I am absolutely determined that by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country."
He was an early opponent of Bush administration policies on Iraq. In the fall of 2002, during an anti-war rally at Chicago's Federal Plaza, Obama said: "I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings."
Addressing the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in November 2006, Obama called for a phased withdrawal of troops and an opening of diplomatic dialogue with Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran. In March 2007, speaking before AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby, he said that while the U.S. "should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons." At the Save Darfur rally in April 2006, he called for more assertive action to oppose genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Obama has divested US$180,000 in personal holdings of Sudan-related stock, and he has urged divestment from companies doing business in Iran.
Obama began podcasting from his U.S. Senate web site in late 2005. He has responded to and personally participated in online discussions hosted on politically-oriented blog sites. In a June 2006 podcast, Obama expressed support for telecommunications legislation to protect network neutrality on the Internet, saying: "It is because the Internet is a neutral platform that I can put out this podcast and transmit it over the Internet without having to go through any corporate media middleman. I can say what I want without censorship or without having to pay a special charge. But the big telephone and cable companies want to change the Internet as we know it."
Obama has authored two bestselling books. The first, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was published after his graduation from law school and before entering politics. 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 his 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, as well as the fluid state of identity—the leaps through time, the collision of cultures—that mark our modern life." Time magazine's Joe Klein wrote that the book "may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician." The audio book edition earned Obama the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
His second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, was published in October 2006, three weeks before the 2006 midterm election. It was an immediate bestseller and remains on the New York Times Best Seller List. The Chicago Tribune credits the large crowds that gathered at book signings with influencing Obama's decision to run for president. Former presidential candidate Gary Hart describes the book as Obama's "thesis submission" for the U.S. presidency: "It 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." An Italian translation was published in April 2007 with a preface by Walter Veltroni, Mayor of Rome, and a Spanish paperback edition was published in June 2007.
Supporters and critics have likened Obama's popular image to a cultural Rorschach test, a neutral persona on which people can project their personal histories and aspirations. Obama's own self-narrative reinforces 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 an elderly Jewish audience during his 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate, Obama linked the linguistic roots 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."
BARACK OBAMA QUOTES
"I...believe that every American has the right to affordable health care. I believe that the millions of Americans who can't take their children to a doctor when they get sick have that right...We now face an opportunity - and an obligation - to turn the page on the failed politics of yesterday's health care debates. It's time to bring together businesses, the medical community, and members of both parties around a comprehensive solution to this crisis, and it's time to let the drug and insurance industries know that while they'll get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair."
"I don't oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war."
"...at the dawn of the 21st century we also have a collective responsibility to recommit ourselves to the dream; to strengthen that safety net, put the rungs back on that ladder to the middle-class, and give every family the chance that so many of our parents and grandparents had. This responsibility is one that's been missing from Washington for far too long -- a responsibility I intend to take very seriously as president."
"if we really want a health care system that works for the American people, we need to make it more transparent by putting it back in the hands of the American people. . . . No decisions are more important than the ones we make about our health. And you should have all the information you need to ensure that the decisions you make are the right ones."
"The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe."
"In approaching immigration reform, I believe that we must enact tough, practical reforms. . . . We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace. . . . But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America. . . . Where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should. . . . The time to fix our broken immigration system is now. It is critical that as we embark on this enormous venture to update our immigration system, it is fully reflective of the powerful tradition of immigration in this country and fully reflective of our values and ideals."
"Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."
"In this new economy, we should be able to tell workers that no matter where you work or how many times you switch jobs, you will have health care and a pension you can take with you always. We'll never rise together if we allow medical bills to swallow family budgets or let people retire penniless after a lifetime of hard work, and so today we must demand that when it comes to commitments made to working men and women on health care and pensions, a promise made is a promise kept."
"As segregated as Chicago was, as strained as race relations were, the success of the civil rights movement had at least created some overlap between communities, more room to maneuver for people like me. I could work in the black community as an organizer or a lawyer and still live in a high rise downtown. Or the other way around: I could work in a blue-chip law firm but live in the South Side and buy a big house, drive a nice car, make my donations to the NAACP, speak at local high schools."
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