Barack Hussein Obama II; born August 4, 1961 is the junior United States Senator from Illinois. He is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential election, and the first African American to be a major party's presumptive nominee for President of the United States.
Early life and career
Main article: Early life and career of Barack ObamaObama was born on August 4, 1961, at the Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Obama, Sr., a Black Kenyan of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Siaya District, Kenya, and Ann Dunham, a White American from Wichita, Kansas. His parents met while both were attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father was enrolled as a foreign student. They separated when he was two years old and later divorced. Obama's father returned to Kenya and saw his American-born son only once more before dying in an automobile accident in 1982. After her divorce, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, and the family moved to Soetoro's home country of Indonesia in 1967, where Obama attended local schools in Jakarta until he was ten years old. He then returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents while attending Punahou School from the fifth grade in 1971 until his graduation from high school in 1979. Obama's mother returned to Hawaii in 1972 for several years, then returning to Indonesia for her fieldwork. She died of ovarian cancer in 1995.
State legislator, 1997 - 2004
Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, succeeding State Senator Alice Palmer as Senator from the 13th District, which then spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park-Kenwood south to South Shore and west to Chicago Lawn. Once elected, Obama gained bipartisan support for legislation reforming ethics and health care laws. He sponsored a law increasing tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for childcare. In 2001, as co-chairman of the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Obama supported Republican Governor Ryan's payday loan regulations and predatory mortgage lending regulations aimed at averting home foreclosures, and in 2003, Obama sponsored and led unanimous, bipartisan passage of legislation to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they detained and legislation making Illinois the first state to mandate videotaping of homicide interrogations.
2004 U.S. Senate campaign
In mid-2002, Obama began considering a run for the U.S. Senate, enlisting political strategist David Axelrod that fall and formally announcing his candidacy in January 2003. Decisions by Republican incumbent Peter Fitzgerald and his Democratic predecessor Carol Moseley Braun not to contest the race launched wide-open Democratic and Republican primary contests involving fifteen candidates. Obama's candidacy was boosted by Axelrod's advertising campaign featuring images of the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and an endorsement by the daughter of the late Paul Simon, former U.S. Senator for Illinois. He received over 52% of the vote in the March 2004 primary, emerging 29% ahead of his nearest Democratic rival.
U.S. Senator, 2005 present
Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 4, 2005. Though a newcomer to Washington, he recruited a team of established, high-level advisers devoted to broad themes that exceeded the usual requirements of an incoming first-term senator. He hired Pete Rouse, a 30-year veteran of national politics and former chief of staff to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, as his chief of staff, and economist Karen Kornbluh, former deputy chief of staff to Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, as his policy director. He recruited Samantha Power, author on human rights and genocide, and former Clinton administration officials Anthony Lake and Susan Rice as foreign policy advisers.
gislationConsistent with his interests in conservation, Obama voted in favor of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Obama took an active role in the Senate's drive for improved border security and immigration reform. In 2005, he cosponsored the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" introduced by Republican John McCain of Arizona. He later added three amendments to the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act", which passed the Senate in May 2006, but failed to gain majority support in the 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 Statesâ€“Mexico border. President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act into law in October 2006, calling it "an important step toward immigration reform."
Partnering with Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Obama successfully introduced two initiatives bearing his name. "Lugarâ€“Obama" expanded the Nunnâ€“Lugar cooperative threat reduction concept to conventional weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles and anti-personnel mines. The "Coburnâ€“Obama Transparency Act" authorized the establishment of www.US Aspending.gov, a web search engine launched in December 2007 and run by the Office of Management and Budget. After Illinois residents complained of waste water contamination by a neighboring nuclear plant, Obama sponsored legislation requiring plant owners to notify state and local authorities of radioactive leaks. A compromise version of the bill was subsequently blocked by partisan disputes and later reintroduced. In December 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.
Obama held assignments on the Senate Committees for Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and Veterans' Affairs through December 2006. In January 2007, he left the Environment and Public Works committee and took additional assignments with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He also became Chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on European Affairs.
2008 presidential campaign
In February 2007, standing before the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois, Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Describing his working life in Illinois, and symbolically linking his presidential campaign to Abraham Lincoln's 1858 House Divided speech, Obama said: "That is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America." Speaking at a Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting one week before the February announcement, Obama called for putting an end to negative campaigning. Since announcing his presidential campaign Obama has emphasized ending the war in Iraq, increasing energy independence, and providing universal health care as his top three priorities.
With two months remaining before the first electoral contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and national opinion polls showing him trailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama began directly charging his top rival with failing to clearly state her political positions. Campaigning in Iowa, he told The Washington Post that as the Democratic nominee he would draw more support than Clinton from independent and Republican voters in the general election.
Policies and proposals
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, he 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 the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Obama spoke out against government indifference to growing economic class divisions, calling on both political parties to take action to restore the social safety net for the poor. Shortly before announcing his presidential campaign, Obama told the health care advocacy group Families USA that he supports universal healthcare in the United States, the same kind of health care that Members of Congress give themselves.
A standard method that political scientists use for gauging ideology is to compare the annual ratings by the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) with the ratings by the American Conservative Union (ACU). Based on his years in Congress (i.e. 2005, 2006, and 2007), Senator Obama has a lifetime average conservative rating of 7.67% from the ACU, and a lifetime average liberal rating of 90% from the ADA.
Speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in November 2006, Obama called for a "phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq" and an opening of diplomatic dialogue with Syria and Iran. In a March 2007 speech to AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby, he said that the primary way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is through talks and diplomacy, although not ruling out military action. Obama has indicated that he would engage in "direct presidential diplomacy" with Iran without preconditions. Detailing his strategy for fighting global terrorism in August 2007, Obama said "it was a terrible mistake to fail to act" against a 2005 meeting of al-Qaeda leaders that U.S. intelligence had confirmed to be taking place in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He said that as president he would not miss a similar opportunity, even without the support of the Pakistani government.
Family and personal life
Obama met his wife, Michelle Robinson, in June 1989 when he was employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin. Assigned for three months as Obama's adviser at the firm, Robinson joined him at group social functions, but declined his initial offers to date. They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married on October 3, 1992. The couple's first daughter, Malia Ann, was born on July 4, 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha ("Sasha"), in 2001.
Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was published before his first run for political office. 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 few chapters describe his first visit to Kenya, a journey to connect with his Luo family and heritage. In the 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." In a 1995 review, novelist Paul Watkins wrote that Dreams "persuasively describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither." The audiobook edition earned Obama the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album of 2006.
Cultural and political image
With his Kenyan father and white American mother, his upbringing in Honolulu and Jakarta, and his Ivy League education, Obama's early life experiences differ markedly from those of African American politicians who launched their careers in the 1960s through participation in the civil rights movement. In January 2007, The End of Blackness author Debra Dickerson warned against drawing favorable cultural implications from Obama's political rise: "Lumping us all together," Dickerson wrote in Salon, "erases the significance of slavery and continuing racism while giving the appearance of progress." Film critic David Ehrenstein, writing in a March 2007 Los Angeles Times article, compared the cultural sources of Obama's favorable polling among whites to those of "magical negro" roles played by black actors in Hollywood movies. Expressing puzzlement over questions about whether he is "black enough," Obama told an August 2007 meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists that the debate is not about his physical appearance or his record on issues of concern to black voters. Obama said, "we're still locked in this notion that if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong."