Barack Obama

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Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Office: Junior Senator, Illinois
Political party: Democratic
Term of office: January 2005–Present
Preceded by: Peter Fitzgerald
Succeeded by: Incumbent (2011)
Date of birth: August 4, 1961
Place of birth: Honolulu, Hawaii
Spouse: Michelle Obama

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. (born August 4, 1961) is a U.S. Senator from Illinois. He is a member of the Democratic Party. He received international media coverage for his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, delivered while he was still an Illinois state senator.

On leave from being a senior lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, Obama won the open Senate seat in 2004. He is the only African-American currently serving in the U.S. Senate, the fifth in U.S. history and the third since Reconstruction. Obama won the election in a landslide, with 70% of the vote to Alan Keyes' 27%. He is junior senator to Richard Durbin.

Obama is married to Michelle Obama, a Chicago native. They have two daughters: Malia Ann (born 1999) and Natasha (born 2001).


Early life

Barack Obama was born at the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii to Harvard University-educated economist Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a native of Kenya, and S. Ann Dunham, of Wichita, Kansas. Obama writes in Dreams from My Father that one of his mother's Kentucky ancestors "was rumored to have been a second cousin of Jefferson Davis". This statement, itself neither proven nor disproven by genealogical investigation, has been incorrectly interpreted as Ms. Dunham being a descendant of the Confederate president[1]; she is also said to be part Cherokee [2].

At the time of Obama's birth, both his parents were students at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Barack means "blessed" in Swahili.

Of his years in Hawaii, Obama has written, "The irony is that my decision to work in politics, and to pursue such a career in a big Mainland city, in some sense grows out of my Hawaiian upbringing, and the ideal that Hawaii still represents in my mind."

When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father eventually returned to Kenya, and he saw his son only once more before his death in 1982. Ann Obama married another East-West Center student from Indonesia. In his early childhood while growing up with his mother, Barack used the name 'Barry'. The family then moved to Jakarta, where Obama's half-sister Maya was born (Obama has other half-siblings from his father's other marriages). When Obama was ten he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandparents, and later his mother, for the better educational opportunities. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School, a prestigious academy that once taught the Hawaiian royal family, where he graduated with honors.

College and career

Upon finishing high school, Obama studied for two years at Occidental College in California, before transferring to Columbia University. There he majored in political science, with a specialization in international relations. Upon graduation, he worked for a year at newsletter publisher Business International (now part of The Economist Group), and then moved to Chicago, where he took up community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the city's South Side. It was during his time spent here that Obama converted to Christianity (from being formerly secular) and joined the Trinity United Church of Christ.

He left Chicago for three years to study law at Harvard University, where he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated Magna Cum Laude. While working one summer at a corporate law firm in 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson, then an associate attorney at the firm; he married her in 1992. Robinson is also a graduate of Harvard Law.

Although as a top graduate of Harvard Law, Obama could have taken his pick of high-paying law firm jobs, he returned to serving as a community organizer in Chicago once again. Obama organized an aggressive voter registration effort that aided in the election of President Bill Clinton and Senator Carol Moseley Braun. The campaign registered over 100,000 voters. Soon after, he joined a local civil rights law firm, and he became a lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, where he served as a professor until his election to the U.S. Senate.


Illinois General Assembly

In 1996, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate from the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park, in Chicago. He served as chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee when the Democrats regained control of the chamber. The Chicago Tribune called him "one of the General Assembly's most impressive members."

Regarded as a staunch liberal during his tenure in the legislature, he helped to author a state Earned Income Tax Credit that provided benefits to the working poor. He also worked for legislation that would cover residents who could not afford health insurance. Speaking up for leading gay and lesbian advocacy groups, he successfully helped pass bills to increase funding for AIDS prevention and care programs.

In 2000, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Illinois' 1st Congressional district against incumbent Representative Bobby Rush. Rush received 61% of the vote, while Obama received 30%. [3]

After the loss, Obama rededicated his efforts to the state Senate. He authored one of the most progressive death penalty reform laws in the nation, under the guidance of former U.S. Senator Paul Simon. He also pushed through legislation that would force insurance companies to cover routine mammograms.

Despite his principled liberalism, Obama was also highly regarded for his ability to build coalitions and persuade opponents. He engineered the unanimous passage in the Senate of several pieces of progressive legislation, and in one instance, successfully convinced the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Rifle Association to endorse a bill they had previously opposed.

United States Senate campaign

In 2004, Obama decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who chose not to run for re-election. In the Democratic primary, he trailed business tycoon Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes. However, Hull was soon embroiled by allegations of domestic abuse. As Obama's name recognition rose, voters took a liking to the bright, charismatic senator. He won the endorsements of four Illinois congressmen, as well as those of many progressive leaders such as former DNC chairman David Wilhelm.

He won decisively in the March primary, dispatching the other six candidates easily, and winning more than 50 percent of the vote. His primary political consultant and message strategist was David Axelrod, whose firm, AKP Message and Media, produced the campaign's television ads.

Barack Obama joins his wife Michelle and U.S. Senator Richard Durbin for a parade on Independence Day July 4, 2004 in Wheaton, Illinois.
Barack Obama joins his wife Michelle and U.S. Senator Richard Durbin for a parade on Independence Day July 4, 2004 in Wheaton, Illinois.

Entering the U.S. Senate campaign, Obama had become a national Democratic star. He squared off against former Goldman Sachs partner and teacher Jack Ryan, the winner of the Republican primary. Ryan trailed Obama in the polls, and Obama opened up a twenty point lead after the media reported that Ryan had assigned an aide to stalk Obama. In addition, during the campaign, a California court ruling opened custody files from Ryan's divorce from actress Jeri Ryan, in which she alleged that he had brought her without her knowledge to sex clubs, intending for her to have sex with him in public. The files, which were part of the custody proceedings regarding the Ryans' young son, were opened as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV, a local ABC affiliate. Ryan had insisted that there was nothing damaging in the files, and many Republican leaders openly questioned Ryan's integrity following the release. Ryan was forced to leave the race on June 25, 2004, leaving Obama without an opponent.

A campaign banner used by Obama supporters during his 2004 bid for the Senate.
A campaign banner used by Obama supporters during his 2004 bid for the Senate.

After many more candidates turned down the Illinois GOP, Republican state Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka announced two possible replacements: Alan Keyes, a former ambassador residing in Maryland, and Andrea Barthwell, a DEA official. After much deliberation, Keyes was chosen, and he officially accepted the nomination on August 8. He had gained much attention as a conservative firebrand in his unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000. The nomination was widely viewed as a victory for the more conservative wing of the party, and a loss for the more moderate Topinka.

The selection of Keyes backfired; his extreme-right positions ended up driving many Republicans to abstain or support Obama. Some pundits suggested that the Republicans would have done better with either incumbent Senator Fitzgerald, or primary runner-up James Oberweis; however Fitzgerald had angered the state Republican leadership, which led to his declining to run for re-election, while Oberweis's attacks on illegal immigration caused him to be rejected despite his willingness to spend his personal fortune. Others suggested that the state Republican party would even save money by letting Obama be acclaimed, since he was so far ahead in polls at a late stage in the campaign and none of the possible candidates mentioned had a chance of catching him.

Keyes, who is an African American and a conservative Republican, had an uphill battle, as Obama had high popularity across the state and Keyes had no ties to Illinois politics. During the time when he had no opponent, Obama campaigned across more conservative downstate areas that ordinarily served as the base for the Republican nominee. A Marylander, Keyes had established legal residency in Illinois with the nomination, the only requirement to run for office. The Chicago Tribune sarcastically greeted Keyes by editorializing: "Mr. Keyes may have noticed a large body of water as he flew into O'Hare. That is called Lake Michigan."

Keyes's previous comments about U.S. Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton's run for Senate in New York, ("I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness to go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there, so I certainly wouldn't imitate it,") led many to call Keyes hypocritical. Keyes often rebutted this by pointing out that he was invited to run for the position in Illinois, whereas, he said, Clinton was not.

Overall, there was a stark contrast in the campaigns of both opponents. Obama put on one of the most successful Senate campaigns of the 2004 election and was so far ahead in polls that he was soon going out of Illinois to support other Democratic candidates, notably in Keyes' former home of Maryland. Keyes had further alienated many in his own party with his extreme positions, and other prominent Republican politicians in Illinois quickly distanced themselves from him. After a campaign in which Keyes called Obama's position on abortion "the slave-holder's position", accused gays and lesbians of being "selfish hedonists", and also claimed that Jesus would not vote for Obama, Obama won handily in the general election, receiving 70% of the popular vote to Keyes's 27%.

Keynote address

Introducing himself as a "skinny kid with a funny name", Obama delivers the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Introducing himself as a "skinny kid with a funny name", Obama delivers the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Obama was chosen to deliver a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, and became the third African-American to do so. (The first was Barbara Jordan, at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, and the second was Harold Ford, Jr. at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.)

His speech outlined his own family's pursuit of the American Dream, and his belief in a 'generous America'. His maternal grandfather, after serving in World War II, was the beneficiary of the New Deal's FHA and GI Bill and had high hopes for their daughter, because, as Obama said, "in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential". But he charged that "we have more work to do" for people who are not able to realize the American Dream, maintaining that self responsibility is an important component and people "don't expect government to solve all their problems".

He criticized the Bush administration for not supporting troops in Iraq. He spoke of an enlisted Marine, Cpl. Seamus Ahern from East Moline, asking, "Are we serving Seamus as well as he was 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.

Finally he spoke for national unity: "Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." Perhaps the most often quoted sound bite followed: "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq."

The address was generally regarded as a great success, thrusting Obama into the national spotlight (similar to New York Governor Mario Cuomo's address at the 1984 DNC).

Other projects

In December 2004, Obama landed a $1.9 million deal for 3 books. The first is to be released in 2006, and will discuss his political convictions. The second is a children's book to be co-written with his wife Michelle and their two young daughters (profits will go to charity). The content of the third book has not been determined yet.

His 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father was re-released in 2004 with a few new features. The book has been on The New York Times non-fiction best seller list for more than forty weeks.

Senate career

Obama addresses the First Year Student Convocation at Boston College.
Obama addresses the First Year Student Convocation at Boston College.

Obama was sworn in as a Senator on January 5, 2005. He ranked 99th out of 100 Senators in terms of official seniority (greater seniority brings greater privileges in the Senate), ranking ahead of only new Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. In his first few months in office, Obama drew praise by his perceived attempts to avoid the limelight and devote large amounts of effort to being a Senator; a Washington Post article spread an anecdote of Obama refusing an upgrade to first-class on a flight home. Obama also drew criticism from some on the left for his vote in favor of making Condoleezza Rice Secretary of State. In March of 2005, Obama announced that he was forming his own PAC, a move not usually undertaken until several years into a politician's career.

In late March 2005, Obama announced his first proposed Senate bill, the Higher Education Opportunity through Pell Grant Expansion Act of 2005 (HOPE Act), which aims to raise the maximum amount of Pell Grant awards to help assist American college students with paying for their tuition. Obama announced the bill at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and said, "Everywhere I go, I hear the same story: 'We work hard, we pay our bills, we put away savings, but we just don't know if it's going to be enough when that tuition bill comes.'" [4]

The April 18, 2005 issue of TIME Magazine listed the 100 most influential people in the world. Obama was included on the list under the section of 'Leaders and Revolutionaries' for his high-profile entrance to federal politics [5] and his popularity within the Democratic Party. British journal the New Statesman listed Obama as one of 10 people who will change the world in its October 2005 edition.

In the early days of debate in Washington over establishing private accounts for Social Security, Obama stood by his party when he delivered a speech on April 26, 2005 to the National Press Club, entitled "A Hope To Fulfill." In this speech, he pointed to the original ideas of social welfare that Franklin D. Roosevelt had in mind when crafting the Social Security program as part of the New Deal.

During the August Recess of 2005 as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the chairman of that committee, and Senator Obama went on a strategic trip to Russia to inspect the nuclear facilities there and were detained for three hours at an airport in the city of Perm, near the Ural Mountains, during their departure for Ukraine, where they were scheduled to meet the President and the Speaker of the House of Ukraine. The Russian government quickly apologized, saying it "regret[ted] the misunderstanding that arose."

As evidence of both the appeal and intellect of Senator Obama on a national scale, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton enlisted Obama to join them in New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Chicago Tribune reported President Clinton's office as saying that Obama was "an important voice during this tragedy given that so many victims are African-American."

On September 8, 2005 Barack Obama began a podcast downloadable from his website and the iTunes Music Store. As of September 28 four podcasts have been released.


Barack Obama's first podcast (info)
Barack Obama's second podcast (info)
Problems listening to the files? See media help.


See also

External links

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Preceded by:
Peter Fitzgerald
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
Succeeded by:
Illinois Congressional Delegation serving in the 109th United States Congress
Senators Richard Durbin (D), Barack Obama (D)
Representative(s) Bobby Rush (D), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D), Dan Lipinski (D), Luis Gutiérrez (D), Rahm Emanuel (D), Henry Hyde (R), Danny K. Davis (D), Melissa Bean (D), Jan Schakowsky (D), Mark Kirk (R), Jerry Weller (R), Jerry Costello (D), Judy Biggert (R), Dennis Hastert (R), Timothy V. Johnson (R), Donald A. Manzullo (R), Lane Evans (D), Ray LaHood (R), John Shimkus (R)


Current members of the United States Senate

AL: Shelby (R), Sessions (R)
AK: Stevens (R), Murkowski (R)
AZ: McCain (R), Kyl (R)
AR: Lincoln (D), Pryor (D)
CA: Feinstein (D), Boxer (D)
CO: Allard (R), Salazar (D)
CT: Dodd (D), Lieberman (D)
DE: Biden (D), Carper (D)
FL: Nelson (D), Martinez (R)
GA: Chambliss (R), Isakson (R)

HI: Inouye (D), Akaka (D)
ID: Craig (R), Crapo (R)
IL: Durbin (D), Obama (D)
IN: Lugar (R), Bayh (D)
IA: Grassley (R), Harkin (D)
KS: Brownback (R), Roberts (R)
KY: McConnell (R), Bunning (R)
LA: Landrieu (D), Vitter (R)
ME: Snowe (R), Collins (R)
MD: Sarbanes (D), Mikulski (D)

MA: Kennedy (D), Kerry (D)
MI: Levin (D), Stabenow (D)
MN: Dayton (D), Coleman (R)
MS: Cochran (R), Lott (R)
MO: Bond (R), Talent (R)
MT: Baucus (D), Burns (R)
NE: Hagel (R), Nelson (D)
NV: Reid (D), Ensign (R)
NH: Gregg (R), Sununu (R)
NJ: Corzine (D), Lautenberg (D)

NM: Domenici (R), Bingaman (D)
NY: Schumer (D), Clinton (D)
NC: Dole (R), Burr (R)
ND: Conrad (D), Dorgan (D)
OH: DeWine (R), Voinovich (R)
OK: Inhofe (R), Coburn (R)
OR: Wyden (D), Smith (R)
PA: Specter (R), Santorum (R)
RI: Reed (D), Chafee (R)
SC: Graham (R), DeMint (R)

SD: Johnson (D), Thune (R)
TN: Frist (R), Alexander (R)
TX: Hutchison (R), Cornyn (R)
UT: Hatch (R), Bennett (R)
VT: Leahy (D), Jeffords (I)
VA: Warner (R), Allen (R)
WA: Murray (D), Cantwell (D)
WV: Byrd (D), Rockefeller (D)
WI: Kohl (D), Feingold (D)
WY: Thomas (R), Enzi (R)

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