In 2004, there was an electricity that could be felt throughout the Democratic National Convention floor and in living rooms across America. A then relatively unknown Illinois senator named Barack Obama stood center stage and made a passionate speech that delivered hope and equality that resonated across racial and political lines. Fast-forward to his historic Feb. 10 Springfield, Ill. announcement where he announced that he will do what only a few other Blacks in history have done before him: Make a bid for the White House.
“The decisions that have been made in Washington these past six years, and the problems that have been ignored, have put our country in a precarious place,” the senator said on his Web site, barackobama.com, when he announced that he would form an exploratory committee. “But challenging as they are, it’s not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most. It’s the smallness of our politics…. We have to change our politics and come together around our common interests and concerns as Americans.”
The money machines are already rolling to back the charismatic senator’s presumed candidacy. Billionaire George Soros sent the maximum contribution of $2,100 to Obama just hours after the senator announced that he would form his exploratory committee, and Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg and other A-listers scheduled a cash-raising bash for Obama later this month. Obama has spoken out about a handful of issues at the top of his list, such as universal health care. He recently declared that all Americans should have health insurance within six years. An ardent opponent of the war in Iraq, he backs the Democratic Party’s push to begin the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in four to six months.
Even before the senator made a decision on his candidacy, the Obama factor could not be denied. Most polls positioned Obama as neck-and-neck with or just trailing popular running mates Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards. However, a recent New Hampshire survey by Zogby International showed that the nation’s first primary state has put Obama at 21 percent, Clinton at 22 percent and Edwards at 16 percent.
Still, skeptics worry whether Obama has enough experience to helm the country. He was the first African-American to become president of the Harvard Law Review and a well-known community activist before he got into politics. In 2004, the Illinois representative was elected to the United States Senate, becoming only the fifth African-American to do so and currently the only one serving in that office.
“Experience has its value, but it isn’t always the best measure of success, nor is it an antidote against failure,” says Cassandra Butts, senior vice-president for domestic policy at The Center for American Progress and Obama’s friend and adviser. “We had one of the most experienced national security teams during the Bush administration, and they led us into a disastrous war.
“It is the quality of the experience that should matter, not the quantity of experience,” Butts adds. “Senator Obama has the right combination of experience, intellect and character that make him uniquely qualified for leadership at the highest level.”
Who is Barack Obama?
Here are a few quick facts about the man who could be our first Black President.
Name: Barack Obama. “Barack” means “blessing” in Swahili.
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Upbringing: Raised in Honolulu and Jakarta, Indonesia. His mother, Ann Dunham, a White woman from Kansas, met his dad, Barack Hussein Obama, a Black man from Alego, Kenya, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
School: Attended the private Punahou School as a child. Transferred from California’s Occidental College to New York City’s Columbia University. Earned his Juris Doctor degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991, where he was the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review.
Professional Background: Worked briefly in finance before taking up grassroots organization in Chicago in 1985. Community organizer. Elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996.
Family: Wife, Michelle Robinson, daughters Malia and Sasha.
Books: Wrote Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (Three Rivers Press, reprint 2004) and New York Times best-selling The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown, 2006).