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Barack Hussein Obama (born August 4, 1961) is the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois. According to the U.S. Senate Historical Office, he is the fifth African American Senator in U.S. history and the only African American now serving in the U.S. Senate. Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention while still serving in the Illinois State Senate. In November 2004, he was elected to the United States Senate as a Democrat by a landslide in a presidential election year marked by Republican gains. Recent opinion polls identify Obama as the second most popular choice among Democratic voters for their party's nomination in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, after Hillary Clinton. He is married to Mrs. Michelle Obama and is a father to two daughters.
Early life and career
Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Siaya District, Kenya, and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas. His parents met while both were attending the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father was enrolled as a foreign student. In his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama describes a nearly race-blind early childhood. He writes: "That my father looked nothing like the people around me . that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk . barely registered in my mind."
When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced and his father returned to Kenya. His mother then married an Indonesian foreign student, moving to Jakarta with Obama when he was six years old. Four years later, Obama returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School where he graduated from high school in 1979.
In Dreams from My Father, Obama writes about smoking marijuana and trying cocaine during his teenage years. Inviting journalists to contrast his earlier admission with Bill Clinton's "didn't inhale" remarks made during the 1992 presidential campaign, Obama recently stated: "I inhaled.that was the point." Obama added: "It was reflective of the struggles and confusion of a teenage boy; teenage boys are frequently confused."
After high school, Obama studied for two years at Occidental College, before transferring to Columbia College, an undergraduate division of Columbia University. There he majored in political science, with a specialization in international relations. Upon graduation in 1983, Obama worked for one year at Business International Corporation before moving to Chicago and taking a job with a non-profit organization helping local churches organize job training programs for residents of poor neighborhoods.
Obama then left Chicago for three years to study at Harvard Law School. He was elected president of the Harvard Law Review, obtaining his Juris Doctor degree, magna cum laude, in 1991. On returning to Chicago, Obama supported a voter registration drive, then worked for the civil rights law firm Miner, Barnhill and Galland, and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 until his federal election.
In 1996, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate from the 13th District in the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park, in Chicago. In January 2003, Democrats regained control of the chamber, and Sen. Obama was named chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Obama helped to author an Earned Income Tax Credit for the state that provided benefits to the working poor. He also worked for legislation that would cover residents who could not afford health insurance, and helped pass bills to increase funding for AIDS prevention and care programs.
In 2000, Obama made an unsuccessful Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by four-term incumbent candidate Bobby Rush. Rush, a former Black Panther and community activist, charged that Obama hadn't "been around the first congressional district long enough to really see what's going on". Rush received 61% of the vote, while Obama received 30%.
After the loss, Obama rededicated his efforts to the state Senate. In his 2002 campaign, he ran unopposed. Obama authored a law requiring police to videotape interrogations for crimes punishable by the death penalty. He also pushed through legislation that would force insurance companies to cover routine mammograms.
Reviewing Obama's career in the Illinois State Senate, commentators noted his ability to work effectively with both Democrats and Republicans, and to build coalitions. In his subsequent campaign for the U.S. Senate, Obama won the endorsement of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, whose officials cited his "longtime support of gun control measures and his willingness to negotiate compromises", this despite his support for some bills that the police union had opposed.
Midway through his campaign for U.S. Senator, Obama 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 GI Bill programs, Obama said:
Questioning the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War, Obama spoke of an enlisted Marine, Corporal Seamus Ahern from East Moline, Illinois, asking, "Are we serving Seamus as well as he was serving us?" He continued:
Finally he spoke for national unity:
In 2004, Obama ran for the U.S. Senate open seat vacated by Peter Fitzgerald. In early opinion polls leading up to the Democratic primary, Obama trailed multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes. However, Hull's popularity declined following allegations of domestic abuse. Obama's candidacy was boosted by an advertising campaign featuring images of the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon; the support of Simon's daughter; and political endorsements by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. From a crowded field of seven candidates, Obama received over 52% of the vote in the March 16, 2004 primary, emerging well ahead of his Democratic rivals.
Obama was then matched in the general election against Jack Ryan, winner of the Republican primary. However, Ryan withdrew from the race on June 25, 2004 following public disclosure of child custody divorce records containing embarrassing sexual allegations by Ryan's ex-wife. On August 8, 2004, with less than three months to go 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. Through three televised debates, Obama and Keyes expressed opposing views on stem cell research, abortion, gun control, school vouchers, and tax cuts. In the general election held November 2, 2004, Obama received 70% of the popular vote to Keyes' 27%--one of the most one-sided results ever for a statewide race in Illinois.
Obama was sworn in as a Senator on January 4, 2005. He then ranked 99th out of 100 Senators in terms of official seniority, ranking ahead of only new fellow freshman Democrat Ken Salazar of Colorado. During his first months in office Obama drew praise for his perceived attempts to avoid the limelight and focus on being a senator when the Washington Post article reported an anecdote of Obama refusing an upgrade to first-class on a flight home.
Obama's public profile continued to climb through 2005 and 2006. TIME magazine named Obama one of "the world's most influential people," listing him among twenty "Leaders and Revolutionaries" for his high-profile entrance to federal politics and his popularity within the Democratic Party. An October 2005 article in the British journal New Statesman listed Obama as one of "10 people who could change the world." During his first two years in the Senate, Obama received Honorary Doctorates of Law from Knox College, University of Massachusetts Boston, Northwestern University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.
In April 2005, Obama sponsored his first Senate bill, the "Higher Education Opportunity through Pell Grant Expansion Act", S. 697. Entered in fulfillment of a campaign promise to help needy students pay their college tuitions, the bill proposed increasing the maximum amount of Pell Grant awards to $5,100. Provision for Pell Grant awards was later incorporated into the "Deficit Reduction Act", S. 1932, signed by President George W. Bush on February 8, 2006.
Obama was a co-sponsor of the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act", S. 1033, introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on May 12, 2005. Obama also supported a later revision, the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act", S. 2611, passed by the Senate on May 25, 2006. He offered three amendments that were included in the bill passed by the Senate: (1) to protect American workers against unfair job competition from guest workers; (2) require employer verification of their employees' legal immigration status through improved verification systems; and (3) fund improvements in FBI background checks of immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship. In December 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives had passed a parallel bill, H.R. 4437, which provides for enhanced border security measures, but does not address the broader immigration reforms contained in the Senate's bill. As of November 2006, the House and Senate were unable to reconcile the two versions.
In November 2005, Obama and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced the "Cooperative Proliferation Detection, Interdiction Assistance, and Conventional Threat Reduction Act" to expand the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction concept to conventional weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles and anti-personnel mines. The bill, also known as "Lugar-Obama", was passed out of committee and reported to the Senate in May 2006.
Obama joined with Senators Coburn (R-OK), Carper (D-DE), and McCain (R-AZ) in sponsoring the "Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act", S. 2590, to provide citizens with a website, managed by the Office of Management and Budget, listing all organizations receiving Federal funds from 2007 onward, and providing breakdowns by the agency allocating the funds, the dollar amount given, and the purpose of the grant or contract. President George W. Bush signed the bill, also referred to as the "Coburn-Obama Transparency Act", into law on September 26, 2006.
During the August recess of 2005, Obama traveled with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. The latest in Lugar's series of Nunn-Lugar visits to the region, the trip focused on strategies to control the world's supply of conventional weapons, biological weapons, and weapons of mass destruction as a strategic first defense against the threat of future terrorist attacks.
Lugar and Obama inspected a Nunn-Lugar program supported nuclear warhead destruction facility at Saratov, in southern European Russia. In a diplomatic incident the Moscow Times reported as reminiscent of the Cold War, the delegation's departure from an airport in the city of Perm, at the foot of the Ural Mountains, was delayed for three hours when Russian guards sought unsuccessfully to search their plane. In Ukraine, Lugar and Obama toured a disease control and prevention facility and witnessed the signing of a bilateral pact to secure biological pathogens and combat risks of infectious disease outbreaks from natural causes or bioterrorism.
In January 2006 Obama joined Senators Bayh (D-IN), Bond (R-MO), and Congressman Ford (D-TN) for meetings with U.S. military in Kuwait and Iraq. After the visits, Obama split off from the others for more meetings in Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. While in Israel, Obama met with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. A planned meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had been cancelled due to his recent stroke.
Obama also met with a group of Palestinian students two weeks before Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian legislative election. ABC News 7 (Chicago) reported Obama telling the students that "the US will never recognize winning Hamas candidates unless the group renounces its fundamental mission to eliminate Israel", and that he had conveyed the same message in his meeting with Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas. After the election, Obama said: "My hope is that as a consequence of now being responsible for electricity and picking up garbage and basic services to the Palestinian people, that they recognize it's time to moderate their stance." Referring to Obama's comment, editorial columnist George F. Will coined the phrase "Garbage Collection Theory of History."
In August 2006, Obama left for his third official trip, traveling as a Congressional delegation of one to South Africa and Kenya, and making stops in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Chad.
The trip's Kenya segment merged policy and personal elements. Obama flew his wife and two daughters from Chicago to join him in a visit to his father's birthplace, the village of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Siaya District, located near Kisumu in Kenya's rural west. Newspapers reported enthusiastic crowds at Obama's public appearances. In a public gesture aimed to capitalize on his celebrity and encourage more Kenyans to undergo voluntary HIV testing, Obama and his wife took HIV tests at a Kenyan clinic.
In a nationally televised speech to students and faculty at the University of Nairobi, Obama spoke forcefully on the influence of ethnic rivalries in Kenyan politics: "Ethnic-based politics has to stop. It is rooted in the bankrupt ideology that the goal of politics is to pile as much as possible to one's family, tribe or friends. It fractures the fabric of society", Obama stated. The speech touched off a public debate among rival leaders, some formally challenging Obama's remarks as unfair and improper, others defending his positions.
Speaking before the National Press Club in April 2005, Obama defended the New Deal social welfare policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, equating Republican proposals to establish private accounts for Social Security with Social Darwinism.
Also in 2005, in a move more typically taken after several years of holding high political office, Obama established his own leadership political action committee devoted to channeling financial support for Democratic candidates. He has become an effective Democratic fundraiser and much sought after ally. According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Obama participated in 38 fundraising events in 2005, helping to pull in $6.55 million for political issues and candidates he supports.
Obama is among the first national politicians to actively engage the public through new Internet communication tools. In late 2005, he began podcasting from his U.S. Senate official web site. It has been reported that Obama responds to and has personally participated in online discussions hosted on politically-oriented blogosphere sites.
In May 2006, Obama campaigned to maintain a $0.54 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Obama justified the tariff by joining Senator Durbin in stating that "ethanol imports are neither necessary nor a practical response to current gasoline prices," arguing instead that domestic ethanol production is sufficient and expanding.
In June 2006, Obama campaigned against making recent, temporary estate tax cuts permanent, calling the cuts a "Paris Hilton" tax break for "billionaire heirs and heiresses".
Also in June 2006, Obama worked to broaden his party's political base, encouraging Democrats to reach out to evangelicals and other church-going people, saying, "if we truly hope to speak to people where they.re at . to communicate our hopes and values in a way that.s relevant to their own . we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse."
Hill Monitor, a nonpartisan vote tracking group, ranked Obama fourth in frequency of voting with the majority of his party during the 109th Congress, as of September 2006. Obama's rank follows Democratic Party Senators Mikulski (D-MD), Sarbanes (D-MD), and Durbin (D-IL).
On October 31, 2006, the New York Times described Obama as "the prize catch of the midterm campaign" because of his campaigning for fellow Democratic Party members running for election in the 2006 midterms. At an October 2006 campaign rally for Phil Angelides, Democratic Party nominee for Governor of California, Obama criticized the Bush administration "for the war in Iraq, a broken health care system, and a failure to recognize the threat of global warming," according to a news report published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Obama has also campaigned in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Tennessee for candidates such as Jim Doyle, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Walz, and Harold Ford, Jr., among other states and candidates. Obama's political action committee has given $374,000 to federal candidates in the 2006 election cycle, making it one of the top donors to federal candidates for the year.
On November 20, 2006, Obama argued that the United States should begin to withdraw troops from Iraq starting in 2007. "It is time to give Iraqis their country back, and it is time to refocus America's efforts on the wider struggle yet to be won." With the increasing death rate, and lack of progression in Iraq, Obama has now been added to the list of politicians to voice out with a specific date for troop withdraw.
Senator Obama supports Senators Snowe and Dorgan's legislation to protect network neutrality on the internet. He cites his reasons on a June 8, 2006 podcast from his website http://obama.senate.gov/podcast/ "It is because the Internet is a neutral platform that I can put out this podcast and transmit it over the Internet without having to go through any corporate media middleman. I can say what I want without censorship or without having to pay a special charge.But the big telephone and cable companies want to change the Internet as we know it."
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Obama's keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention sparked expectations that he would eventually run for U.S. President. Speculation on a 2008 presidential run intensified after Obama's decisive U.S. Senate election win in November 2004, prompting him to tell reporters: "I can unequivocally say I will not be running for national office in four years". Asked again in a January 2006 television appearance on Meet the Press, Obama repeated his intention to finish his Senate term. However, in an October 2006 interview on the same television program, Obama appeared to open the possibility of a 2008 presidential bid:
In September 2006, Obama was the featured speaker at Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry, a political event traditionally attended by presidential hopefuls in the lead-up to the Iowa caucus. TIME magazine's October 23, 2006 issue featured Obama on its cover beside the headline "Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President."
Commentators have suggested that Obama's chances to be elected president would be better in 2008 than in 2012 or later. A December 2005 article published in The New Republic reasoned that, with no incumbent president or vice president in the race, 2008 offers Obama his best chance at winning the presidency. In an October 2006 editorial published in the Chicago Tribune, Newton Minow compared prospects for a 2008 Obama presidential bid to John F. Kennedy's successful 1960 presidential campaign. An editorial published that same month in The Economist presented a similar opinion.
During his first year in the Senate, Obama acquired several high profile supporters, including U.S. businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Illinois State Comptroller Daniel Hynes have both urged Obama to consider running in 2008. Celebrity television show host Oprah Winfrey and actors George Clooney and Kristin Chenoweth also recently expressed their enthusiasm for Obama entering the 2008 presidential race.
In October 2006, following Obama's statement that he is thinking about running for president, opinion polling organizations began including his name on surveyed lists of Democratic candidates. The first such poll ranked Obama in second place with 17% support among Democrats, after Hillary Clinton who placed first with 28% of the responses. In latest Gallup polling on December 07, 2006 Obama had 36% positive and Hilary Clinton had 37% while on the negative side Obama only had 17% but Clinton had 50%. . If elected President, Senator Obama would become America's first African-American President.
On November 1, 2006 the Chicago Tribune reported that Obama's home in the South Side neighborhood of Chicago was purchased the same day as an adjoining vacant lot owned by the wife of Antoin Rezko, an Illinois businessman charged with political influence peddling, and a past contributor to Obama's election campaigns. Two days after the report, the same newspaper ran an editorial calling on Obama to explain why he would "allow himself any connection" to a developer who "notoriously attaches himself to political figures, often parlaying friendships into business dealings that have attracted official suspicions for several years." The following day the Chicago Tribune reported Obama's statement that it was a mistake to have engaged "in this or any other personal business dealing that would allow [Rezko], or anyone else, to believe that he had done me a favor. For that reason, I consider this a mistake on my part and I regret it."
While working at Sidley Austin LLP, a corporate law firm, in the summer of 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson, who was then an associate attorney at the firm. They married in 1992. The couple have two daughters, Malia (born 1999) and Sasha (born 2001). The Obamas are members of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Of his religious affiliation, Obama has written:
Obama's autobiography Dreams from My Father was published in 1995 and re-released in 2004 with a few new features. The audio book edition earned Obama a 2006 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
In December 2004, Obama made a $1.9 million deal for three books. The first, The Audacity of Hope (summary), was published in October 2006, and discusses Obama's political convictions. The second is a children's book to be co-written with his wife Michelle and their two young daughters, with profits going to charity. The content of the third book has not been announced.
Supporters describe Obama's broad appeal as a cultural rorschach test, an ink spot on which his fans can project their own personal histories and aspirations. Obama's own self-narrative helps encourage diverse multiethnic affinities. In Dreams from My Father, he links his maternal family history to possible Native American ancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, president of the southern Confederacy during the American Civil War. Speaking before an elderly Jewish audience during his 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate, Obama likened the linguistic roots of his East African first name Barack to the Hebrew word baruch, meaning blessed.
Media sources have mirrored and amplified the everyman image. An October 2006 interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show highlighted the ethnic diversity of Obama's extended family. Noting that his half-Indonesian half-sister is married to a Chinese-Canadian, the program cited descriptions by Obama's African American wife of family holiday gatherings as a "mini-United Nations." A headline in The Nation magazine invited comparisons between Obama's first year as U.S. Senator and the popular 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where actor James Stewart stars as an underdog small-town hero standing up to political corruption in the U.S. Congress. Another article in The Nation analyzed Obama's ability to "transcend race" with predominantly white audiences.
A New York Times op-ed by David Brooks, published during Obama's promotion of his bestselling book The Audacity of Hope and campaigns for Democratic candidates before the 2006 midterm election, was noted by an article in the online magazine Slate as evidence of Obama's potential popularity among moderate Republicans and independents. Both folk rock musician Neil Young and urban hip hop artist Common have referenced Obama's presidential prospects in popular song lyrics.
In his October 2006 Time magazine cover story, Primary Colors author Joe Klein compared the cultural sources of Obama's rapid rise and crossover appeal to those of U.S. celebrity icons Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan. Asked to comment, Obama said: "Figures like Oprah, Tiger, Michael Jordan give people a shortcut to express their better instincts [...] I think it's healthy, a good instinct. I just don't want it to stop with Oprah. I'd rather say, If you feel good about me, there's a whole lot of young men out there who could be me if given the chance."
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