Barack Hussein Obama ( born August 4, 1961) is the junior United States Senator from Illinois and presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2008 United States presidential election.
Obama is the first African–American to be nominated by a major American political party for president. A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama worked as a community organizer and practiced as a civil rights attorney before serving three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. He taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, he announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate in January 2003. After a primary victory in March 2004, Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. He was elected to the Senate in November 2004 with 70 percent of the vote.
As a member of the Democratic minority in the 109th Congress, he helped create legislation to control conventional weapons and to promote greater public accountability in the use of federal funds. He also made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. During the 110th Congress, he helped create legislation regarding lobbying and electoral fraud, climate change, nuclear terrorism, and care for returned U.S. military personnel. Obama announced his presidential campaign in February 2007, and was formally nominated at the 2008 Democratic National Convention with Delaware senator Joe Biden as his running mate.
Barack Obama was born at the Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Luo from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya, and Ann Dunham, a white American from Wichita, Kansas. His parents met while attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father was a foreign student. They separated when he was two years old and later divorced. Obama's father returned to Kenya and saw his 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 and then back to Indonesia to complete fieldwork for her doctoral dissertation. She died of ovarian cancer in 1995.
As an adult Obama admitted that during high school he used marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol, which he described at the 2008 Civil Forum on the Presidency as his greatest moral failure.
Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, where he studied at Occidental College for two years. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations. Obama graduated with a B.A. from Columbia in 1983, then at the start of the following year worked for a year at the Business International Corporation and then at the New York Public Interest Research Group.
After four years in New York City, Obama moved to Chicago, where he was hired as director of Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Greater Roseland (Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale) on Chicago's far South Side, and worked there for three years from June 1985 to May 1988. During his three years as the DCP's director, its staff grew from one to thirteen and its annual budget grew from $70,000 to $400,000, with accomplishments including helping set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time to Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his Kenyan relatives for the first time.
Obama entered Harvard Law School in late 1988. At the end of his first year, he was selected, based on his grades and a writing competition, as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. In February 1990, in his second year, he was elected president of the Law Review, a full-time volunteer position functioning as editor-in-chief and supervising the Law Review's staff of eighty editors. Obama's election as the first black president of the Law Review was widely reported and followed by several long, detailed profiles. During his summers, he returned to Chicago where he worked as a summer associate at the law firms of Sidley & Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990. After graduating with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, he returned to Chicago.
The publicity from his election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review led to a publishing contract and advance for a book about race relations. In an effort to recruit him to their faculty, the University of Chicago Law School provided Obama with a fellowship and an office to work on his book. He originally planned to finish the book in one year, but it took much longer as the book evolved into a personal memoir. In order to work without interruptions, Obama and his wife, Michelle, traveled to Bali where he wrote for several months. The manuscript was finally published in mid-1995 as Dreams from My Father.
Obama directed Illinois' Project Vote from April to October 1992, a voter registration drive with a staff of ten and seven hundred volunteers; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African-Americans in the state, and led to Crain's Chicago Business naming Obama to its 1993 list of "40 under Forty" powers to be.
Beginning in 1992, Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years, being first classified as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and then as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004.
He also, in 1993, joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a twelve-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004, with his law license becoming inactive in 2002.
Obama was a founding member of the board of directors of Public Allies in 1992, resigning before his wife, Michelle, became the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago in early 1993. He served from 1994 to 2002 on the board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which in 1985 had been the first foundation to fund the Developing Communities Project, and also from 1994 to 2002 on the board of directors of The Joyce Foundation. Obama served on the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge from 1995 to 2002, as founding president and chairman of the board of directors from 1995 to 1999. He also served on the board of directors of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.
Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, succeeding State Senator Alice Palmer as Senator from Illinois' 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.
Obama was reelected to the Illinois Senate in 1998, and again in 2002. In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush by a margin of two to one.
In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Illinois Senate's Health and Human Services Committee when Democrats, after a decade in the minority, regained a majority. He 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. During his 2004 general election campaign for U.S. Senate, police representatives credited Obama for his active engagement with police organizations in enacting death penalty reforms.Obama resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004 following his election to the US Senate.
In mid-2002, Obama began considering a run for the U.S. Senate; he enlisted political strategist David Axelrod that fall and formally announced 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.
Obama's expected opponent in the general election, Republican primary winner Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race in June 2004.
In July 2004, Obama wrote and delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 spoke about changing the U.S. government's economic and social priorities. He questioned the Bush administration's management of the Iraq War and highlighted America's obligations to its soldiers. Drawing examples from U.S. history, he criticized heavily partisan views of the electorate and asked Americans to find unity in diversity, saying, "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." Broadcasts of the speech by major news organizations launched Obama's status as a national political figure and boosted his campaign for U.S. Senate.
In August 2004, two months after Ryan's withdrawal and less than three months 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. In the November 2004 general election, Obama received 70% of the vote to Keyes's 27%, the largest victory margin for a statewide race in Illinois history.
Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 4, 2005. Obama was the fifth African American Senator in U.S. history, and the third to have been popularly elected. He is the only Senate member of the Congressional Black Caucus. CQ Weekly, a nonpartisan publication, characterized him as a "loyal Democrat" based on analysis of all Senate votes in 2005–2007, and the National Journal ranked him as the "most liberal" senator based on an assessment of selected votes during 2007. In 2005 he was ranked sixteenth, and in 2006 he was ranked tenth. In 2008, he was ranked by Congress.org as the eleventh most powerful Senator.
Obama voted in favor of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and cosponsored the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. In September 2006, Obama supported a related bill, the Secure Fence Act. Obama introduced two initiatives bearing his name: Lugar–Obama, which expanded the Nunn–Lugar cooperative threat reduction concept to conventional weapons, and the Coburn–Obama Transparency Act, which authorized the establishment of USAspending.gov, a web search engine on federal spending. On June 3, 2008, Senator Obama, along with Senators Thomas R. Carper, Tom Coburn, and John McCain, introduced follow-up legislation: Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008.
Obama sponsored legislation that would have required nuclear plant owners to notify state and local authorities of radioactive leaks, but the bill failed to pass in the full Senate after being heavily modified in committee. 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. In January 2007, Obama and Senator Feingold introduced a corporate jet provision to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which was signed into law in September 2007. Obama also introduced Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, a bill to criminalize deceptive practices in federal elections and the Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007, neither of which have been signed into law.
Later in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act adding safeguards for personality disorder military discharges. This amendment passed the full Senate in the spring of 2008. He sponsored the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act supporting divestment of state pension funds from Iran's oil and gas industry, which has not passed committee, and co-sponsored legislation to reduce risks of nuclear terrorism. Obama also sponsored a Senate amendment to the State Children's Health Insurance Program providing one year of job protection for family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries.
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. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. He met with Mahmoud Abbas before he became President of Palestine, and gave a speech at the University of Nairobi condemning corruption in the Kenyan.
On February 10, 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. The choice of the announcement site was symbolic because it was also where Abraham Lincoln delivered his historic "House Divided" speech in 1858. Throughout the campaign, Obama has emphasized the issues of rapidly ending the Iraq War, increasing energy independence, and providing universal health care, at one point identifying these as his top three priorities.
Obama's campaign raised $58 million during the first half of 2007, of which "small" donations of less than $200 accounted for $16.4 million. The $58 million set the record for fundraising by a presidential campaign in the first six months of the calendar year before the election. The magnitude of the small donation portion was outstanding from both the absolute and relative perspectives. In January 2008, his campaign set another fundraising record with $36.8 million, the most ever raised in one month by a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries.
Among the January 2008 DNC-sanctioned state contests, Obama tied with Hillary Clinton for delegates in the New Hampshire primary and won more delegates than Clinton in the Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina elections and caucuses. On Super Tuesday, he emerged with 20 more delegates than Clinton. He again broke fundraising records in the first two months of 2008, raising over $90 million for his primary to Clinton's $45 million. After Super Tuesday, Obama won the eleven remaining February primaries and caucuses. Obama and Clinton split delegates and states nearly equally in the March 4 contests of Vermont, Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island; Obama closed the month by winning Wyoming and Mississippi.
In March 2008, a controversy broke out concerning Obama's former pastor of twenty years, Jeremiah Wright, after ABC News broadcast clips of his racially and politically charged sermons.Initially, Obama responded by defending Wright's wider role in Chicago's African American community, but condemned his remarks and ended Wright's relationship with the campaign. During the controversy, Obama delivered a speech entitled "A More Perfect Union" that addressed issues of race. Obama subsequently resigned from Trinity United Church of Christ "to avoid the impression that he endorsed the entire range of opinions expressed at that church."
During April, May, and June, Obama won the North Carolina, Oregon, and Montana primaries and remained ahead in the count of pledged delegates, while Clinton won the Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and South Dakota primaries. During the period, Obama received endorsements from more superdelegates than did Clinton. On May 31, the Democratic National Committee agreed to seat all of the Michigan and Florida delegates at the national convention, each with a half-vote, narrowing Obama's delegate lead while increasing the delegate count needed to win. On June 3, with all states counted, Obama passed the threshold to become the presumptive nominee. On that day, he gave a victory speech in St. Paul, Minnesota. Clinton suspended her campaign and endorsed him on June 7. Since then, he has campaigned for the general election race against Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee.
On June 19, Obama became the first major-party presidential candidate to turn down public financing in the general election since the system was created in 1976, reversing his earlier intention to accept it.
On August 23, 2008, Obama selected Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate. At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, Obama's former rival Hillary Clinton gave a speech strongly supporting Obama's candidacy and later called for Obama to be nominated by acclamation as the Democratic presidential candidate. Then, on August 28, Obama delivered a speech to the 84,000 supporters in Denver. During the speech, which was viewed by over 38 million people worldwide, he accepted his party's nomination and presented his policy goals.
On November 2, 2008, Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died from cancer at the age of 86. Obama learned of his grandmother's death on November 3, one day before the election.
Obama was an early opponent of the Bush administration's policies on Iraq. On October 2, 2002, the day President George W. Bush and Congress agreed on the joint resolution authorizing the Iraq War, Obama addressed the first high-profile Chicago anti-Iraq War rally in Federal Plaza, speaking out against the war. On March 16, 2003, the day President Bush issued his 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Obama addressed the largest Chicago anti-Iraq War rally to date in Daley Plaza and told the crowd that "it's not too late" to stop the war.
Obama stated that if elected he would enact budget cuts in the range of tens of billions of dollars, stop investing in "unproven" missile defense systems, not "weaponize" space, "slow development of Future Combat Systems," and work towards eliminating all nuclear weapons. Obama favors ending development of new nuclear weapons, reducing the current U.S. nuclear stockpile, enacting a global ban on production of fissile material, and seeking negotiations with Russia in order to take ICBMs off high alert status.
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.
In a December 2005, Washington Post opinion column, and at the Save Darfur rally in April 2006, Obama called for more assertive action to oppose genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. He has divested $180,000 in personal holdings of Sudan-related stock, and has urged divestment from companies doing business in Iran. In the July–August 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, Obama called for an outward looking post-Iraq War foreign policy and the renewal of American military, diplomatic, and moral leadership in the world. Saying "we can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission," he called on Americans to "lead the world, by deed and by example."
In economic affairs, in April 2005, he defended the New Deal social welfare policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and opposed Republican proposals to establish private accounts for Social Security. 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 said he supports universal healthcare in the United States. Obama proposes to reward teachers for performance from traditional merit pay systems, assuring unions that changes would be pursued through the collective bargaining process.
In September 2007, he blamed special interests for distorting the U.S. tax code. His plan would eliminate taxes for senior citizens with incomes of less than $50,000 a year, repeal income tax cuts for those making over $250,000 as well as the capital gains and dividends tax cut, close corporate tax loopholes, lift the income cap on Social Security taxes, restrict offshore tax havens, and simplify filing of income tax returns by pre-filling wage and bank information already collected by the IRS. Announcing his presidential campaign's energy plan in October 2007, Obama proposed a cap and trade auction system to restrict carbon emissions and a ten year program of investments in new energy sources to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil. Obama proposed that all pollution credits must be auctioned, with no grandfathering of credits for oil and gas companies, and the spending of the revenue obtained on energy development and economic transition costs.
Obama has encouraged Democrats to reach out to evangelicals and other religious groups. In December 2006, he joined Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) at the "Global Summit on AIDS and the Church" organized by church leaders Kay and Rick Warren. Together with Warren and Brownback, Obama took an HIV test, as he had done in Kenya less than four months earlier. He encouraged "others in public life to do the same" and not be ashamed of it. Before the conference, eighteen anti-abortion groups published an open letter stating, in reference to Obama's support for legal abortion: "In the strongest possible terms, we oppose Rick Warren's decision to ignore Senator Obama's clear pro-death stance and invite him to Saddleback Church anyway."Addressing over 8,000 United Church of Christ members in June 2007, Obama challenged "so-called leaders of the Christian Right" for being "all too eager to exploit what divides us."
A 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, Obama has a lifetime average conservative rating of 7.67% from the ACU, and a lifetime average liberal rating of 90 percent from the ADA.
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 in 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha ("Sasha"), in 2001.
Applying the proceeds of a book deal, the family moved in 2005 from a Hyde Park, Chicago condominium to their current $1.6 million house in neighboring Kenwood. The purchase of an adjacent lot and sale of part of it to Obama by the wife of developer and friend Tony Rezko attracted media attention because of Rezko's indictment and subsequent conviction on political corruption charges that were unrelated to Obama.
In December 2007, Money magazine estimated the Obama family's net worth at $1.3 million. Their 2007 tax return showed a household income of $4.2 million—up from about $1 million in 2006 and $1.6 million in 2005—mostly from sales of his books.
In a 2006 interview, 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." Obama has seven half-siblings from his Kenyan father's family, six of them living, and a half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, the daughter of his mother and her Indonesian second husband. Obama's mother was survived by her Kansas-born mother, Madelyn Dunham until her death on November 2, 2008, just before the presidential election. In Dreams from My Father, Obama ties his mother's family history to possible Native American ancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, president of the southern Confederacy during the American Civil War.
Obama plays basketball, a sport he participated in as a member of his high school's varsity team. Before announcing his presidential candidacy, he began a well-publicized effort to quit smoking.
Obama is a Christian whose religious views have evolved in his adult life. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes that he "was not raised in a religious household." He describes his mother, raised by non-religious parents (whom Obama has specified elsewhere as "non-practicing Methodists and Baptists") to be detached from religion, yet "in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known." He describes his father as "raised a Muslim", but a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met, and his stepfather as "a man who saw religion as not particularly useful." In the book, Obama explains how, through working with black churches as a community organizer while in his twenties, he came to understand "the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change." He was baptized at Trinity United Church of Christ in 1988.
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. 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 that "we're still locked in this notion that if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong."
Echoing the inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, Obama acknowledged his youthful image in an October 2007 campaign speech, saying: "I wouldn't be here if, time and again, the torch had not been passed to a new generation."
In March 2007, Global Language Monitor added "Obama" to its English lexicon based on the use of Obama- as a root for neologisms such as: obamamentum, obamaBot, obamacize, obamarama, obamaNation, obamanomics, obamican, obamafy, obamamania, and obamacam.
Many commentators mentioned Obama's international appeal as a defining factor for his public image. Not only did several polls show strong support for him in other countries, but Obama also established close relationships with prominent foreign politicians and elected officials even before his presidential candidacy, notably with then current British Prime minister Tony Blair, whom he met in London in 2005, with Italy's Democratic Party leader Walter Veltroni, who visited Obama's Senate office in 2005, and with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also visited him in Washington in 2006.
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