Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Who is Barack Obama?

By now most of us voters have acquainted ourselves with one Barack Obama. In addition to being a prominent U.S. Senator, Obama recently confirmed what has long been suspected: he will seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. What’s more, if elected, Obama would become the first African-American president.

But who is Barack Obama, and what’s with the funny name?

The child of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4th, 1961 and lived part of his childhood in Indonesia. He attended Columbia and Harvard universities, serving as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He went on to practice civil rights law in Illinois and to teach at the University of Chicago Law School.

Elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996, he served four years before campaigning unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives. After being reelected to the state senate in 2002, Obama participated in a television interview in which he criticized a possible war in Iraq and noted that he would have voted against the Iraq Resolution. Two years later, Obama ran for an open seat in the U.S. Senate, winning by a landslide vote of 70% in November of 2004. His visibility during the campaign was assisted by the keynote address he delivered at the Democratic National Convention. He has since garnered further national attention with the publication of two best-selling books, “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity Hope.”

Ever-ambitious, Obama has talked relentlessly about hope and the possibility of change. Since announcing his decision to seek the Democratic nomination for president, he has expressed his desire to “take our country back and change the fundamental nature of our politics.” If elected, Obama has pledged to address difficulties such as poor schools, economic instability, oil dependence, and to seek universal health care for Americans.

And there’s the war. While Obama was not yet elected to the Senate when Congress granted President Bush the power to go to war, he delivered a speech in 2002 in which he noted that Saddam Hussein was in fact not an immediate threat and that any invasion would result in an occupation plagued by unforeseeable costs and ramifications. He has since proposed a bill that would prevent Bush from increasing troop levels in Iraq and would bring U.S. forces home by March 31, 2008. Of course, such legislation will never become law while Bush is president.

Yet it is perhaps Obama’s ambition, more than anything, that has caused many to identify him as Senator Hillary Clinton’s chief rival. Clinton makes one tough adversary; in addition to the name-recognition factor, Clinton, who has been campaigning for years, begins with $11 million at her disposal and is attempting to raise $75 by 2008. Conversely, Obama is asking the Federal Election Committee to consider letting him take money from donors now and give it back later in order to keep his options open in terms of using the public financing system to support his campaign if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

However, one area where Obama may come out ahead of Clinton is the war. Clinton has not recanted her 2002 vote with which she authorized the invasion of Iraq, much to the skepticism of potential supporters. However, if she does recant her vote, she will likely be charged with indecisiveness, meaning she is generally between a rock and a hard place. She has likewise never proposed a specific plan for removing troops from Iraq.

Obama, commenting upon this, said “I know she’s stated that she thinks the war should end by the start of the next president’s first term. Beyond that, though, how she wants to accomplish that I’m not clear on.”

While only time will tell who has the right stuff to win the Democratic nomination, the possibility of the first African-American president and the first female president is certain to make for an exciting and potentially inspiring race.

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