Barack Obama (born Born::August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii) is the current President of the United States and a Democrat. On January 20, 2009 he was sworn in as the nation's first black president. He was reelected in the 2012 presidential election against GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
He is married to Michelle Robinson and has two daughters, Malia and Natasha. Barack Obama was previously the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois (2004-2008) and before that an Illinois state senator (1996-2003). Major accomplishments during his presidency include passage of prominent stimulus and healthcare legislation (the latter nicknamed 'ObamaCare').
President Obama is the controversial recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. He has been dogged throughout his political career with charges that he opposed medical care for newborn infants while an Illinois State Senator, an accusation that played a major role in his 2004 and 2008 elections, and was brought up by Newt Gingrich in 2012.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Political Career
- 2.1 1991-1992, Project Vote
- 2.2 1996-2003, Illinois State Senate
- 2.3 2004-2008, U.S. Senate
- 2.4 2008 Presidential Election
- 2.5 2009-2012, U.S. Presidency
Barack Hussein Obama Jr. was born August 4, 1961, to parents Barack Hussein Obama Sr. and Stanley Ann Dunham, in Hawaii. The couple would divorce in 1963 due to strain caused by Barack Obama Sr. leaving Hawaii to study economics at Harvard, when Obama was 2 years old, following which his mother married Lolo Soetoro, a geologist. When Barack Obama was age 6 his mother took him to Jakarta, Indonesia for 4 years while she pursued a Ph.D. in Anthropology requiring fieldwork there. She then left him in Hawaii with his grandparents (Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, who had moved to Hawaii in 1959) so he could pursue American education. Other siblings of Obama's include his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and 7 other children born to his father by 4 different women. For much of his early life, prior to his transfer to Columbia University, he went by his nickname, "Barry". In the summer of 1988, before attending Harvard Law School (he'd just been accepted), he visited Kogelo, Kenya, to learn more about his father's family; his father had died in a car accident in 1982. When his mother died in 1995, he and his sister Maya scattered her ashes over Hawaii's south shore.
Barack Obama met and began dating his future wife, an Attorney named Michelle Robinson, herself a recent Harvard Law School graduate, while he was working at Sidley Austin LLP, a prestigious corporate law firm. The two continued dating long-distance while he finished law school, and on October 18, 1982, were married by Reverend Jeremiah Wright at Trinity United Church. In 1999, their first child was born, Malia, and in 2001, another daughter, Natasha (often called Sasha).
Obama joined Reverend Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church from 1985-1988 during his time as a community organizer (See 1985-1988, Community Organizer section). Obama was married at Trinity United Church, credits Wright with his conversion to Christianity, and had both his daughters, Sasha and Malia, baptized there.
At age 6, Obama attended schools in Indonesia, the first a Catholic School while he was in Kindergarten, and later a public school. While the public school had mostly Muslim students (since most Indonesians were Muslim), claims that it was a Muslim school or Madrassa are false. In 1971, at age 10, Barack Obama moved to Hawaii, and his grandparents helped him gain entrance to the prestigious Punahou Academy in Honolulu through a scholarship, while he was in 5th grade. At his elite high school with 1,200 students he was just 1 of 3 black students, and was on the second string of the state champion basketball team his senior year. During this time he regularly used marijuana and also experimented briefly with cocaine. He wrote a poem for the school's literary magazine, Ka Wai Ola.
In 1979, he began a 2-year stint at Occidental College college in Los Angeles, and then transferred to Columbia University in New York, which he graduated from in 1983. During this time he allegedly spoke at an Anti-Apartheid rally on campus, although several prominent student leaders said they did not remember him there. Professor Michael L. Baron was impressed by Obama and wrote him a recommendation for Harvard Law School. In the winter of 1988 Barack Obama decided to attend Harvard Law School, and left Chicago for Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his 2nd year he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, following a "marathon voting session" in which he was elected on the 19th ballot. This led to national attention and numerous job offers, which Obama passed up, at age 30, to pursue a political career in Chicago.
1983-1984, Financial Analyst and Writer
In 1984 Obama worked as a writer and financial analyst for Business International Corporation, a small newsletter-publishing and research firm which aided multinational companies understand overseas markets. Obama served as a writer/researcher for a company reference service, Financing Foreign Operations, and wrote for a newsletter, Business International Money Report. His Supervisor was Cathy Lazere, and he worked at the company to pay off his student loans.
1984-1988, Community Organizer
In 1984, Obama was hired by the New York Public Interest Research Group, a non-profit organization promoting environmental, consumer, and government reforms. He also was paid just under $10,000 annually as a full-time organizer for Harlem's City College to mobilize student volunteers. From 1985-88, Obama worked as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, for which he was paid $1,000 a year, with $2,000 extra for a car. He helped Loretta Herron gain city approval for a local community job center.  During this time Obama joined Reverend Wright's Trinity United Church because in the words of Suzanne Malveaux of CNN, "It was the church to join if you wanted to be one of Chicago's black movers and shakers." At the time, community organizing involved close affiliation with churches, which was how Obama met Wright. The slow progress in fighting asbestos contamination in the Altgeld Gardens housing project led to Obama's departure from Chicago, and enrollment at Harvard Law School in the winter of 1988.
1988-1996, Law Practice
In 1988 Obama gained work as a Summer Associate at one of the most prestigious corporate law firms in the world, Sidley Austin LLP, owned by Newton Minow, thanks to the recommendation of Minow's daughter Martha, a professor at Harvard Law School. It was at Minow's law firm that Obama would meet Michelle Robinson, his future wife. From 1993-96 he practiced civil rights law, after graduating from Harvard, at Miner, Barnhill, & Galland, a small politically-connected law firm. It was at Miner, Barnhill, & Galland that he would meet influential real estate developer Tony Rezko.
1992-2004, Law Professor at University of Chicago
Obama taught constitutional law part-time at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992-2004. He was a Lecturer from 1992-96, teaching 3 courses per year, and a Senior Lecturer from 1996-2004. Senior Lecturers are considered Law School faculty and regarded as professors but not full-time or tenured. Obama was invited to become a Senior Lecturer several times during this period but declined each time.
In 1995 Obama published "Dreams From My Father" about his life and family background.
2009 Nobel Peace Prize
On October 9, 2009 Barack H. Obama became the third sitting U.S. President to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Obama stated that he was "surprised and deeply humbled" to receive the unexpected award, and also said, "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who have inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace". The award was widely criticized given Obama's then lack of accomplishments.
1991-1992, Project Vote
In 1991 Obama was recruited by Sandy Newman to head the Chicago chapter of Project Vote!, and in 1992 was the Executive Director, overseeing a voter registration drive which registered 125,000 black voters and was credited with helping elect U.S. Senator Carol Mosely Braun.
1996-2003, Illinois State Senate
Barack Obama ran for the Illinois state senate in 1996. He was initially supported by incumbent Alice Palmer, who declared she would run for the U.S. Congress. However, when her bid for Congress failed on November 28, 1995, she tried to run for her old seat in the March 1996 election. Her supporters asked Obama to step aside, although whether this was with her permission remains uncertain. Not only did Obama not step down, he gathered a team of high-priced lawyers, including fellow Harvard Law School graduate Thomas Johnson, to challenge his opponent's petition signatures on technicalities after the filing deadline had passed. Such tactics are legal and frequently used in Chicago; in 2006 they eliminated 67 of the 245 aldermanic candidates; yet nevertheless led to the term "hardball" by the New York Times and "cutthroat" by David Mendel as reported by both CNN and MSNBC. The Chicago Tribune declared Obama had mastered "the bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics", noting "The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field, but by clearing it." As one of Obama's four opponents, eliminated through his ballot challenges, would put it:
|“|| "Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates? He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?"
-Gha-is Askia, 1996 Illinois Senate candidate
Mark Ewell, another candidate, filed 1,286 signatures, and Obama's challenges left him 86 short of the minimum requirement (757). Ewell filed a federal lawsuit contesting the election board's decision but Tom Johnson intervened, and Ewell's case was dismissed just a few days later. Ewell and other Obama opponents were using early 1995 polling sheets to verify signatures of registered voters, but city authorities had just purged 15,871 unqualified people from the 13th district list, and Obama's challenges used the more recent, updated list. Askia was left 69 signatures short of the requirement. If names were printed instead of signed in cursive, they were declared invalid. If they were good but the person registering the signatures wasn't a registered voter (e.g. underage) they were invalid. Palmer had according to Obama campaign consult Ronald Davis, used two children to help gather her petition signatures. To this day Palmer denies the challenges were valid, and maintains she could have overcome the objections with more time and resources. Thanks to his lawyers, Obama would win the election without a single other candidate on the ballot.
- Main Article: Illinois 1st congressional district election, 2000
In 2000, Obama lost his only political election when he chose to run against experienced incumbent and former Black Panther Bobby L. Rush for the U.S. Congress in a 65% black district. Rush's name recognition began at 90%, Obama's at 11%. As media consultant and former Rush campaign staffer Eric Adelstein noted, "Nobody said he’s ‘not black enough.’ They said he’s a professor, a Harvard elite who lives in Hyde Park." Todd Spivak would give voice to this impression of Obama, noting that
|“||"My view of Obama then wasn't all that different from the image he projects now. He was smart, confident, charismatic and liberal. One thing I can say is, I never heard him launch into the preacher-man voice he now employs during speeches. He sounded vanilla, and activists in his mostly black district often chided him for it."||”|
Rush would go on to win the Primary with 61.02% of the vote; Obama received 30.36%. The loss led to Obama considering dropping out of politics altogether, particularly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, since his name sounds similar to "Osama bin Laden".
2003 Emil Jones Deal
- Main Article: 2003 Barack Obama deal with Emil Jones
When Illinois' U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald announced he would be retiring in April 2003, Obama jumped at the opportunity, declaring that he would be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004. To boost his chances at reaching the U.S. Congress in the 2004 elections, in 2003 Barack Obama approached the newly crowned head of the Illinois Senate, Emil Jones Jr., with a proposal. According to Jones, who Obama has since called his "godfather" the conversation went as follows:
|“||"After I was elected president, in 2003, he came to see me, a couple months later. And he said to me, he said, ‘You’re the senate president now, and with that, you have a lot of pow-er.’ And I told Barack, ‘You think I got a lot of pow-er now?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, you got a lot of pow-er.’ And I said, ‘What kind of pow-er do I have?’ He said, ‘You have the pow-er to make a United States sen-a-tor!’ I said to Barack, I said, ‘That sounds good!’ I said, ‘I haven’t even thought of that.’ I said, ‘Do you have someone in mind you think I could make?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah. Me.’ "||”|
Because of the deal, Obama's entire Illinois Senate legislative record was, as longtime Obama reporter Todd Spivak put it, built in a single year. During his 7th and final year in the Illinois Senate, Obama sponsored an incredible 26 bills into law, including many he now points to when criticized as inexperienced - as CNN's Suzanne Malveaux observed, "With help from on high, Obama got his name on hundreds of bills that he pushed through." Jones not only had Obama craft legislation addressing daily tragedies to raise his political profile, he also appointed Obama head of almost all high-profile legislation in the Illinois Senate, angering other state legislators with more seniority who'd spent years supporting the bills. Illinois State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of the famous racial profiling bill requiring videotaped confessions in police interrogations, complained bitterly about Jones' decision. Jones' influence had a major impact on Obama's chances in the 2004 elections, preventing major political players from backing Obama's opponents. To quote Emil Jones,
|“|| "He knew if he had me in the run for the Senate, it would put a block on the current mayor. The current mayor and the father of the controller, which was Dan Hynes, they were roommates in Springfield when the mayor was a state senator, so they had a relationship. Another big financial backer for the governor was Blair Hull. Barack knew if he had me it would checkmate the governor, ’cause the governor couldn’t come out and go with Blair Hull, ’cause the governor needs me. Same with the mayor. So he had analyzed and figured all of that out. He knew I could help him with labor support. And I could put a checkmate on some of the local politicians that didn’t know him, but they couldn’t really go against me."
2004-2008, U.S. Senate
2004 U.S. Senate Election
- Main Article: United States Senate election in Illinois, 2004
2004 Primary Election
Despite initially trailing in the polls to frontrunner Blair Hull, Obama greatly benefited from what the Chicago Tribune called "the most inglorious campaign implosion in Illinois political history" when pressure from journalists and opposing candidates, just weeks before the election, forced the unsealing of Hull's messy divorce files. The files revealed Hull's ex-wife's accusations of verbal and physical abuse. Hull would afterwards criticize the media, stating, "As for the press, I will never read the newspaper the same way again." Obama would go on to win the Primary with 53% of the vote. Obama's unexpected victory led to him being termed a "rising star" by the media.
2004 General Election, Jack Ryan
Once again Obama found himself trailing to popular frontrunner Jack Ryan, and once again a candidate's campaign imploded thanks to media intervention. In an unprecedented move, the Chicago Tribune and local TV station WLS sued to force the unsealing of Ryan's divorce files, despite opposition from both Ryan and his wife, Jeri Ryan, who in the files accused Jack Ryan of trying to coerce her to perform sex acts in public. Though Ryan advisors told him he could still win if using a negative attack on Obama, Ryan refused to engage in what he considered dirty politics. Ryan then dropped out of the race (per request by the Illinois GOP), following which the Illinois GOP scrambled to find a replacement, leaving Obama uncontested for weeks to campaign and build up public support. On top of all this, Obama was selected to give the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (July 27), catapulting him into the national spotlight, and leading to further media publicity terming him a "rising star".
2004 General Election, Alan Keyes
- Main Article: Obama born alive controversy
After a number of candidates including former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka declined to run, the Illinois GOP finally settled on fiery Alan Keyes, a former Ambassador to the Economic and Social Counsel of the United Nations, with less than 3 months left before the November 2004 election. His sudden entrance into the state for the election was initially attacked in the press as "carpetbagging". Keyes repeatedly claimed his primary motivation for entering a race he had seemingly no chance of winning was his disgust at Obama's votes on the popular Born Alive bills. Keyes, from his first day of arriving in Illinois (August 9, 2004), accused Obama of having voted against bills mandating medical care for newborn children, and supporting "infanticide" (the term twice used in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act) where hospitals left newborn infants to die like garbage. Obama in a debate on October 13, 2004, defended himself against Keyes' accusations of infanticide by claiming that Illinois law was already sufficient.
However, Keyes' rhetoric, calling Obama's votes "the slaveholder's position" and saying "Jesus Christ would not vote for Obama" was widely ridiculed by the press. Keyes' unabashed criticism of homosexuality as "selfish hedonism" was also targeted. Obama would ultimately win the election, 70% to 27%.
2008 Presidential Election
- Main Article: United States presidential election, 2008
In 2007-08, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competed for the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton cleverly resurrected the "Born Alive" controversy surrounding Obama that had lain largely dormant since 2004 (notwithstanding the continuing mentions by Jill Stanek), by accusing Obama of not being pro-choice for voting "Present" on a number of abortion-related bills - including the Born Alive ones, and cowardly ducking the votes. This led to criticism of Obama by two pro-choice organizations, Emily's List, and the National Organization for Women. However, Pam Sutherland, the long-time head of Illinois Planned Parenthood, came to Obama's aid, criticizing Clinton for making the attack, and stating repeatedly that Obama's present votes were part of a broader strategy used by Planned Parenthood to keep Illinois voters from knowing their state senators were voting against the controversial and popular bills.
|“|| "He came to me and said: ‘My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women. A ‘present’ vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted. What it did was give cover to moderate Democrats who wanted to vote with us but were afraid to do so" because of how their votes would be used against them electorally. A ‘present’ vote would protect them. Your senator voted ‘present.’ Most of the electorate is not going to know what that means."
-Pam Sutherland, President/CEO of Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, 1980-2012
Clinton also made the claim repeatedly that while Obama was leading in Delegates she was winning the Popular Vote, though this was in part because Obama hadn't been registered in Michigan. On June 7, 2008, Hillary Clinton withdrew from the Primaries, conceding the race and endorsing her opponent, when Obama passed the 2,118 Delegates required; winning 2,201 delegates to Clinton's 1,896.
On June 30, 2008, Obama's voting record on the "Born Alive" bills came once more to the forefront when CNN gave voice to the growing controversy and revealed the defense Obama had been using since 2004-2008, that the Illinois bills he'd voted against were different from the federal bill, was false, since he'd brought up for a vote a bill word for word identical to the federal bill in the Health and Human Services Committee he chaired, and voted against it, defeating it. This led in August to a confrontation between Obama and the NRLC. After Obama accused critics of 'lying' the NRLC challenged the assertion, and the Obama campaign conceded he "misspoke" and had voted against an identical bill to the "federal bill that everybody supported" but focused on Obama's new claim, that Illinois law was already sufficient to protect newborn children. The NRLC promptly declared "Senator Barack Obama's four-year effort to cover up his full role in killing legislation to protect born-alive survivors of abortions continues to unravel."
Obama made an effort to portray John McCain as similar to George W. Bush, drawing attention to McCain's refusal to criticize the unpopular president. McCain was particularly criticized for saying of how many years we should be willing to stay in Iraq, "Make it a hundred."
|“|| "John McCain went on television and said that there has been great progress economically over the last seven-and-a-half years. John McCain thinks our economy has made great progress under George W. Bush? How could somebody who has been traveling across this country, somebody who came to Erie, Pennsylvania, say we’ve made great progress?"
2009-2012, U.S. Presidency
On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. President, succeeding former President George W. Bush (2000-2008).
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