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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Senator Barack Obama and the Paradox of Dr. King

Saturday 30 August 2008

by: Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Senator Barack Obama delivers his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.

On August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the greatest speeches ever - what has now become known as the "I Have a Dream" speech. Forty-five years later to the very day, Senator Barack Hussein Obama became the first African-American to accept the presidential nomination of a major political party in America.

On this day, many see Senator Obama's historic accomplishment as evidence of the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!" According to The New York Times, Dr. King's daughter, Bernice King, declared that Senator Obama's nomination is part of her father's dream, citing Obama's nomination as, "the acceptance of a Democratic presidential nominee, decided not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character." This is, in fact, evidence that America has made progress on the long and difficult road toward racial tolerance and acceptance. However, there are still many miles left to travel.

The interesting paradox of Senator Obama's historic nomination and Dr. King's speech is that while Democratic candidate Obama is the beneficiary and living evidence of the realization of the "dream," President Obama will have to address the current realities of systemic racism and personal prejudice that have resulted in continued disparity between African- Americans and Euro-Americans in much the same way as they did in 1963.

The "dream" reference actually comes toward the end of the speech. As Dr. King was close to ending his nine-minute delivery, the great gospel singer Ms. Mahalia Jackson was standing behind him and said, "... tell them about the dream Martin ... tell them about the dream...." With that prompting, Dr. King left the prepared text and began, "... so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream." It's important to understand that he spoke of the dream in the context of a horrific reality for "Negroes" and the poor. What makes the "dream" significant is its juxtaposition against America's reality, failures and systemic oppression of its own citizens.

Dr. King opened the speech with scathing indictments of America. "... we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land." That was no dream; that was the reality for Negroes in 1963 and a clear indictment of the social conditions in America at that time. Unfortunately, in 2008 those social conditions continue to exist for too many Americans.

Systemic racism manifests itself today as a reality for children who languish in inner-city schools, resulting in excessive high school dropout rates, parents who lose their jobs and their homes, and those unjustly incarcerated in American jails and prisons. In 2008, African-American men are incarcerated at a rathe rate of Euro-Americans; an African-American family's income is little more than half that of a similar Euro-American family's income, and African-Americans continue to deal with "Driving While Black" and imbalances in health care.

Personal prejudice and hatred are also still alive and well and living in America. While many marveled and wept during Senator Obama's historic acceptance speech, three men had been arrested two days before in an alleged plot to kill Senator Obama. According to investigators, they had expressed plans to shoot him from a high sniper position at the Invesco Field at Mile High stadium using a "rifle - sighted at 750 yards" simply because they felt that a black man should not hold elected office. Various guns and equipment were seized by the police in the arrest of Tharin Robert Gartrell, 28; Nathan Johnson, 32, and Shawn Robert Adolf, 33. Also, investigators state, the men may have ties to Sons of Silence, an outlaw biker group, and are believed to have connections with white supremacists.

Fortunately, prosecutors insist that Senator Obama was not in any real danger from the three individuals. Senator Obama has been under heightened Secret Service protection since May of last year after a series of credible death threats were received by authorities. These arrests and threats are evidence of the personal hatred that still exists in the hearts and minds of more Americans than we care to count.

In his acceptance speech, Senator Obama told America that the time for change is now and, "What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you." He went on to say, "Change happens because the American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time."

Senator Obama is correct. The time for change is now, and change is not easy. It can make people very uncomfortable, especially when the agent of change is an African-American man. Senator Obama is also correct when he says that this election is not about him, it's about what he represents and, unfortunately, that continues to make some people in America very uncomfortable.

According to July's CBS/New York Times poll, 26 percent of Euro-Americans said they have been victims of discrimination. Twenty-seven percent said too much has been made of the problems facing African-American people. Twenty-four percent said the country isn't ready to elect an African-American president. Five percent of Euro-American voters acknowledged that they, personally, would not vote for an African-American candidate.

These sentiments were reflected in the exit polls in the Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey Democratic primaries as well. According to Slate, "In the Pennsylvania primary, one in six white voters told exit pollsters race was a factor in his or her decision. Seventy-five percent of those people voted for Clinton.... Twelve percent of the Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that it didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American."

As America moves forward from its historic night, forty-five years after Dr. King told us about his dream, we have much to celebrate. Senator Barack Obama is evidence of the fact that progress has been made. He is a powerful symbol of what America can be. However, America must not get lost in the symbolism; the reality is still too stark.

As he closed his speech, Obama said, "America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past." He's correct; the work will not be easy and the toughest choice for too many Americans will be a choice based on prejudice, bigotry and hatred instead of policy, competence and vision. Can Americans look into the depths of their hearts, search worn-out ideas and politics of the past? Can we live up to the very founding principles of this great nation?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

If so, Senator Barack Hussein Obama has the same chance as Senator John Sidney McCain III to become the 44th president of the United States.


Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III is the producer/host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "On With Leon" on XM Satellite Radio Channel 169, and a teaching associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, DC. Go to or

Friday, August 29, 2008

First Lady: On Michelle

Kim McLarin takes a crack at explaining Michelle Obama. I think what she is saying is that Michelle's dignity is firmly rooted, not among the elite, including the black elite, but in the black working class. In the process, Kim quotes Toni Morrison who discusses the complexities of what it means to be Michelle Obama. She will bring a real beauty and class to the White House. RGN

Michelle's Neighborhood

Many Americans are waiting for Barack, but Michelle's place on stage may represent a greater transcendence.

By Kim McLarin

Updated: 4:24 PM ET Aug 22, 2008

Aug. 25, 2008--The great Toni Morrison once said in an interview that whenever she bumped up against some incident of racial exclusion or insult as a child, her father would shield his daughter's tender heart by reminding her, "You don't live in that neighborhood. That is not your home."

When Michelle Obama takes the stage as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention tonight, I will think of those words, which pierced me when first I read them. Because of all the remarkable things about this remarkable woman who may become our first lady, what seems most remarkable to me is that Michelle Obama clearly lives in no one's neighborhood but her own.

I'm not suggesting that this is a new or singular accomplishment. Zora Neale Hurston had the same kind of vibe going on, and that was decades ago. Hurston, like Obama, was entirely her own woman, utterly herself. She wrote, famously, "Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?"

I, myself, know legions of beautiful black women who stand secure and confident in who they are and what they bring to the world. But for most of us, such self-possession is an accomplishment, one very few arrived at easily or overnight.

Oprah Winfrey is a shrewd business woman and the most powerful person in American media, but we've all had to witness her hard uphill climb to selfhood (and beyond). Halle Berry's formerly fragile and emotional self was painfully documented in the tabloid press. A few months back, I watched a documentary about the peerless Ella Fitzgerald which suggested this great singer remained shy and self-conscious about her appearance well into her career. And she always, always yearned for love.

For some of the most amazing black women I know, it took hard and conscious work to fight through both external and internalized obstacles and find their way back to the neighborhood. As James Baldwin put it, "You know, it's not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself."

Michelle Obama, on the other hand, seems never to have left her home. Her sense of self comes across as being as natural a part of her as her beautiful skin or her bold and funky walk. It is a birthright, immutable and clear. For a woman—especially a black woman, especially a black woman who did not grow up clutching either the silver spoon of wealth and privilege, or the silver spoon of a normative kind of beauty—to possess such an unshakable sense of self is, as my grandmother would say, something! It is also something not often seen in America. Which is precisely the reason Michelle Obama has sparked the reactions that she has.

That Barack Obama is so clearly a man in full has been explained, variously, as the result of his biracial heritage, his direct African connection, his distance from the "bitterness" of regular black folks or his international upbringing.

But Michelle possesses none of those elements; she is not the exotic that her husband can sometimes be made out to be. She is deeply, fully, indisputably rooted in the African-American experience that, for so many, can be a weight. How do we explain her? I do not know.

I do know that when she takes the stage on Monday night, I will be front and center before my television, cheering her on. With me will be my daughter, who is far less interested in the possibility of an African-American first lady than in her own imminent and nerve-wracking entry into middle school. When I asked my daughter what she thought about Michelle Obama, she just shrugged. If Michelle Obama does become first lady, it will mean both more and less to my daughter than it does to me.

But that stage in Denver will clearly be Michelle's neighborhood. And we'll be happy to join her there.

Kim McLarin is the author of Jump at the Sun: A Novel.

Also on The Root:

Kim McLarin finds the real prize, Thomas Sayers Ellis times the Obama hour, and Paul Devlin pens a letter to Michelle.

Return to The Root Homepage



Clinton Supporters for McCain

While the size and importance of this group is often exaggeration. PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) predicted thousands of protesters for Denver, their numbers were much more meager. While their numbers is not likely to make a difference in the election, Clinton supporters who dessert Obama for McCain obviously feel that his defeat is more critical than the feminist issues they say they support. One of the major reasons for their opposition to Obama is that they say he is unqualified. Historically, in the eyes of whites, African Americans have been considered to be "unqualified." RGN

Angry Clinton supporters toast McCain, roast Obama

  • Story Highlights
  • The Republican Party held a happy hour for Hillary Clinton backers in Denver
  • Some Clinton backers say Obama lacks experience necessary to be president
  • Only two-thirds of the New York senator's supporters are backing Obama, poll finds
  • John McCain's campaign has been actively courting Clinton backers

By Ed Hornick

DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- The last place Kathy Archuleta could have ever imagined she'd spend the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, was at a happy hour sponsored by the Republican Party.

But the 54-year-old Democrat joined several other Hillary Clinton supporters, along with volunteers and officials from John McCain's campaign, at a Happy Hour for Hillary.

The event, sponsored by the Republican National Committee and approved by the McCain campaign, was a chance for McCain and Clinton supporters to come together for one cause: their opposition to Barack Obama's candidacy.

"Four years ago, if you said we'd be at a Hillary happy hour at the DNC, I would have called you crazy. But today is a great opportunity for people who ... agree that Sen. Barack Obama doesn't have the experience to be president of the United States," said McCain campaign regional communications director Tom Kise.

As Michelle Obama was delivering her "One Nation" unity speech on the convention floor several blocks away, more than 100 people gathered at the Paramount Café in downtown Denver.

In a side room, both groups of supporters discussed politics, sports and the convention while sipping cocktails and munching on tacos and a cheese spread.

But there was nothing unified for these Clinton supporters who walked across the aisle or, in this case, the cafe Monday night.

Archuleta, who hails from Denver, has been a registered Democrat all her life -- until now.

"I'm a registered Republican ... for the first time in my voting life," Archuleta said. "No Obama for me. I'm voting for John McCain."

"He reminds me of what the Jimmy Carter era was like. ... If they think Jimmy Carter had it bad, just wait if Obama gets into the White House. That will be bad news in so many ways," she added.

Obama's relative lack of experience in national politics -- long seen as his Achilles heel -- was something that Clinton supporters, Republicans and independents attending the happy hour rallied behind.

"His lack of experience has been demonstrated so painfully every time he opens his mouth just about. ... You cannot have good judgment without experience; that's how you get it," said 58-year-old Marnie Delano of New York.

Adam Edwards, a 20-year-old Clinton supporter, said that although the New York senator "was the stronger candidate," voters may have "just discredited her because of some imagined baggage she carried from her husband's administration."

Leland Kritt, a McCain supporter who made his way to Denver from Los Angeles, California, said Obama's message of 'change' is simply flawed.

"The simple fact remains, change will occur anyway, no matter who the president is. For every man, woman and child, change will happen. Question is: who is best able to handle that change?" the 51-year-old Republican said.

The McCain campaign has been aggressively courting Clinton's voters in recent days, especially after Obama announced Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden as his running mate Saturday.

Shortly after the announcement, the Arizona senator's campaign released a TV ad in several swing states that used video of Biden criticizing Obama as too inexperienced to be president.

And just as the Democrats' convention was getting started in Denver, both the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee unveiled four TV ads geared toward Clinton supporters.

The most recent McCain ad involves the famous Hillary Clinton "3 a.m." spot and will be aired during the convention. The 30-second spot uses footage from Clinton's original ad and declares, "Hillary's right."

The ad, set to run in key battleground states and specifically in Denver this week, also goes a step further than the New York senator's original ad, explicitly detailing the national security threats America faces.

Clinton, speaking to member of the New York delegation in Denver on Monday, said she was opposed to Republicans using her words against Obama.

Meanwhile, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken August 23-24 found that 56 percent of registered voters have a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton, with 40 percent having an unfavorable view. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Are you in Denver?

So while Clinton's die-hard supporters are in Denver in full force, the poll showed that her negative approval rating is very high among registered voters nationwide.

But there is some bad news for Obama. The poll showed that 66 percent of Clinton supporters -- registered Democrats who want Clinton as the nominee -- are now backing Obama. That's down from 75 percent in the end of June. Twenty-seven percent of them now say they'll support McCain, up from 16 percent in late June.

And nowhere was that statistic more prevalent than at the RNC-sponsored happy hour for Hillary.

Clinton supporters-turned-McCain converts at the event were not just angry at Obama's campaign; they're furious with the Democratic Party's nomination process this year.

"The DNC really pushed [Barack Obama] on us. Now they've left us with two choices: somebody who has no substance or a Republican," said Jessi Cleaver, 35, of New York. "And these are terrible choices, and they worked hard to select this candidate. ... We're watching the DNC pick this candidate for us."

It's a point Mitt Marr agreed with.

"We're taking a stand and not backing down. It's 'we the people,' not 'we the DNC.' We are standing up for what is right. I know in my heart," said the woman from Sugar Land, Texas, who would give her age only as 50-something.

As the convention heats up and tensions remain high over how to make sure Clinton's 18 million or so votes are counted, supporters will rally by her side, even if their pick in November is her enemy.

The Feminist: A Unity Proposal

The deep division between the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns was in part a clash movements -- African American aspirations for the success of an African American who had their interests at heart and feminist aspirations equal treatment for women embodied in Hillary Clinton. Each of these campaigns were of historic importance to each group. Social movements require an emotional commitment to the movement's goals. Consequently, the passions ran were high. In this contest there could only be one winner. Either the African American male or the white woman was going to win. Given that early on she was the front-runner in the money and the polls, it was largely taken-for-granted assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. The thought that a major political party would have a African American as its nominee was, if not unthinkable, at best a long shot. The unthinkable happened. Barack Obama's campaign out organized the Clinton campaign. Iowa was key. The vote split three ways, with Barack winning, Edwards coming second and Clinton coming in third. Five weeks later, by Super Tuesday, she was short of money and in trouble by delegate count. Even though she could not win as things stood, she loaned her campaign money and remained in the primaries until the bitter end. Having won a majority of the pledged delegates, Obama won the nomination.

Embittered by a Clinton loss, many of her supporters vowed to not support Obama. The National convention seems to have put a salve on the wounds. Lani Guinier, someone close to the Clintons, has proposed a commonality of interests between the feminist agenda and the black community. As we change the future of America, there needs to be a unity of progressive forces. RGN

The Root

18 Million Cracks, Now What?

What the Clinton campaign must do to have lasting significance.

Updated: 11:13 AM ET Aug 25, 2008

Aug. 26, 2008--Without a doubt, Hillary Clinton has been a trailblazer. She steeled herself for a tough primary battle, became a terrific campaigner by the end of the season and ended up, in her own words, making 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, with the help of her fiercely loyal and energized base of supporters. Those who voted for her and those who simply admired her from afar can swell with pride at her accomplishment.

But if Hillary Clinton's campaign is to have a lasting effect, her supporters and admirers must rechannel their energy to make those 18 million cracks amount to real change in women's lives. If the campaign remains focused on her as an individual rather than the broader goals that her achievement can help bolster, then it will have fallen far short of its much-touted significance.

It is inspiring to rally around a "symbol" of women's aspirations, but it is self-defeating to harp on lists of women's hurts at the hands of the media, the political establishment or the sexist views of ignorant eavesdroppers. Reciting the refrain of press bias exclusively along gender lines, for instance, obscures the fact that the press is not Obama's friend either, as Frank Rich observes in The New York Times.

The advancement of an exceptional symbol of women's accomplishment is a powerful motivator. However, it does little concrete good for ordinary women, unless more attention is paid to organizing fervent supporters into a mobilized constituency that can hold the next president, the next Congress and the media accountable to a pro-women and pro-America agenda. Being agents of change will require rolling up our sleeves and holding all politicians more accountable, including those who wear pantsuits and pearls.

Why not come together around concrete proposals to better the lives of poor and working-class women, rather than merely championing the stepping stones to which many college-educated professional women now feel entitled? From the proliferation of HIV among black women to the double bind of work and family faced by all women, it is time for a women's agenda that enlists support from all classes, all races and from men as well as women.

For example, Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written about the importance of entrepreneurship in a woman's agenda. Many women, she says, are small business owners: running beauty parlors, nail salons and day-care services. Why not focus on ways to change the tax code to make it easier for these small business owners to maintain a home office? Why not allow more women (and men) with small children to work at home, logging into computers when the kids are taking a nap or in school? If more women (and men) could work from their homes in the United States, it would solve several problems at once, from shipping jobs overseas to getting snagged in pollution-clogged traffic jams or sending a sick child to school because there is no adult to care for them.

Could Barack do more? Certainly. He should acknowledge gratitude to the contributions that feminism has made to this country, from pay equity to basic respect for women. In addition, he and others must continue to take seriously the legitimate frustrations of women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. These early pioneers fought every step of the way to gain access to good jobs, decent wages and a chance to participate as equals in private and public life. They withstood hateful slurs, dead-end mommy tracks and arbitrary rules against marriage or pregnancy, as they broke through one barrier after another to work as firefighters, police officers, partners in law firms and elected officials. They deserve the right to fight back against any perceived loss of ground.

But Sen. Clinton's supporters might take a page out of Obama's 1995 organizing manifesto, if they seriously intend to put their legions to meaningful work.

In 1995, as he launched his first campaign for public office in Chicago, Barack Obama wondered aloud, "What if a politician were to see his (or her) job as that of an organizer: as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?" Then, answering his own question, Obama concluded, "We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions."

One of the biggest accomplishments of the Obama campaign has been to build a new generation of leaders. It has spent its time not merely wooing young enthusiastic supporters; it has been grooming them to assume the mantle of leadership within their local communities. Obama's model of organizing goes beyond raising money or turning in great debate performances. It involves building a new capacity for Democratic governance, not just acting as litmus paper for a set of progressive proposals. Progressive reform without the people, after all, is not progressive at all.

As the Clinton campaign and its supporters assess the way forward this week, they must solicit the views and input of more black, Asian and Latina feminists. And black, Asian and Latina feminists need to offer ourselves up as part of the solution, especially those of us who support the advancement of women in our society as a way of energizing new ways of solving old problems for everyone. We are at our best as change agents when we speak out as women (and men) with a cause, not simply a litany of grievances. That cause may be recruiting more women to run for office, training more women to assume leadership within our communities or developing a platform of "women's" issues that benefit everyone. These issues might include a healthy families initiative to repeal draconian drug laws that have led to the mass incarceration—and absence from their children's lives—of black and Latino men. Attention should also be given to promoting public-spirited entrepreneurship within the informal economy of African-American and Latino communities. And real policy should be put into place to secure broad and formal support for grandparents raising their children's children. From professional women to high school dropouts, from granny voters to those who are perpetually homeless or jobless, it is time to focus on what we can do to rebuild a sense of common purpose and shared commitment.

Collective change won't come, however, through the election of any one person, whether it is the first black president of the United States or the first white female president. Our future lies in training the next generation of future leaders to create productive communities that recognize and applaud the contributions of all their members, from the women who mop the floors in our boardrooms to the women who map the geography of our imagination in our classrooms.

Hillary Clinton will be introduced at the convention by her daughter, Chelsea Clinton. But bringing Chelsea onto the stage, literally and figuratively, is not enough. As Sen. Clinton prepares to campaign for the Obama-Biden ticket, one of the top items on her, and our, agenda should be training a cadre of young, visionary leaders to wield power in a more democratic and egalitarian fashion across race, class and gender lines. If women are to resist becoming prisoners of men's dreams, we need to do more than make 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. We need to redefine what breaking the ceiling means.

Lani Guinier is a professor of law at Harvard.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama is a really unique personality. He is very complex. Yet, he is a star. McCain says he is a celebrity. McCain was fifth from the bottom of his class at Annapolis. Barack Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review. We can only assume that the celebrity charge is a cover-up for McCain’s inadequacy. Barack draws 200,000 people in Berlin. McCain shows up to a crowd of 50,000 Harleys. The Rovian tactic is attack the opponent’s strength. All of that aside, this article by Jodi Kantor (Jeremiah Wright accused Jodi Kantor of misrepresenting his ideas) shows aspects of Barack that are unseen. RGN

August 28, 2008

Man in the News

For a New Political Age, a Self-Made Man


DENVER — From the earliest days of his presidential campaign, those around Senator Barack Obama have heard the same mantra. He repeated it after he announced his candidacy and after debates, after victories and defeats.

“I need to get better,” he would say.

In the way Mr. Obama has trained himself for competition, he can sometimes seem as much athlete as politician. Even before he entered public life, he began honing not only his political skills, but also his mental and emotional ones. He developed a self-discipline so complete, friends and aides say, that he has established dominion over not only what he does but also how he feels. He does not easily exult, despair or anger: to do so would be an indulgence, a distraction from his goals. Instead, they say, he separates himself from the moment and assesses.

“He doesn’t inhale,” said David Axelrod, his chief strategist.

But with Barack Hussein Obama officially becoming the Democratic presidential nominee on Wednesday night, some of the same qualities that have brought him just one election away from the White House — his virtuosity, his seriousness, his ability to inspire, his seeming immunity from the strains that afflict others — may be among his biggest obstacles to getting there.

There is little about him that feels spontaneous or unpolished, and even after two books, thousands of campaign events and countless hours on television, many Americans say they do not feel they know him. The accusations of elusiveness puzzle those closest to the candidate. Far more than most politicians, they say, he is the same in public as he is in private.

The mystery and the consistency may share the same root: Mr. Obama, 47, is the first presidential candidate to come of age during an era of relentless 24-hour scrutiny. “He is, more than any other contemporary political figure, a creature of these times,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, a fellow Democrat who campaigned this spring with Mr. Obama in Oregon, Mr. Blumenauer’s home state.

Last month, while visiting Jerusalem, Mr. Obama crammed a note in the Western Wall that was promptly fished out and posted on the Internet. The message was elegantly phrased, as if Mr. Obama, a Christian, had anticipated that his private words to the Almighty would soon be on public display.

In the note, Mr. Obama asked for protection, forgiveness and wisdom, a message in keeping with the humility he tries to emphasize. But his uncanny self-assurance and seemingly smooth glide upward have stoked complaints from his critics and his opponents, first Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and now Senator John McCain, that he has not spent enough time earning and learning, that his main project in life has been his own ascent.

Because he betrays little hint of struggle, Mr. Obama can seem far removed from the troubles of some voters. Older working-class whites may be uncomfortable with his race — he is the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya — and his age. But they may also find it hard to identify with him, even though he tries to assure them that they have much in common, mentioning that his mother relied on food stamps at times and that he worked as a community organizer in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. His command of crowds of 75,000, his unfailing eloquence and his comparing himself to Joshua and Lincoln can belie his point.

These voters are not the first to see a contradiction between Mr. Obama’s aura of specialness and his insistence that he is just like everyone else.

“I’m just a first among equal folks,” Mr. Obama’s fellow editors at the Harvard Law Review wrote about him in an affectionate but biting parody issue after he was elected its president. “But still, no one’s interviewing any of them.”

Racing to the Top

Nearly a decade ago, Mr. Obama joined luminaries like George Stephanopoulos and Ralph Reed for regular seminars, organized by Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard and the author of “Bowling Alone,” about the deterioration of American community ties. As a young state senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama was one of the less prominent members of the group. But soon everyone was referring to him as “the governor” — a friendly smack, said Mr. Putnam, at Mr. Obama’s precocity and drive.

From an early age, Mr. Obama was taught by his mother to think grandly about his potential to help others. Once he reached adulthood, admiring teachers and mentors reinforced the message, steadily directing his sights higher and higher. As a law student, he mused about wanting to be mayor of Chicago; as a law professor, he talked about running for governor of Illinois; not long after that, he was running for president.

Mr. Obama groomed himself more carefully than he sometimes admits. In an interview this year, he denied that he wrote “Dreams From My Father,” the post-law-school memoir that has enchanted so many followers, with political ambitions in mind. But his Harvard law school classmates say Mr. Obama was already talking about a future run for public office. To truly address the poverty and injustice he had seen as an organizer, he would need to gain some power.

Starting in law school, Mr. Obama began pulling together a large cast of mentors, well-connected and civic-minded friends who rose in Chicago and Illinois politics along with him, including a spouse he thought was ideal.

“He loved Michelle,” said Gerald Kellman, Mr. Obama’s community organizing boss, but he was also looking for the kind of partner who could join him in his endeavors. “This is a person who could help him manage the pressures of the life he thought he wanted.”

Mr. Obama won his army of powerful champions — including Abner J. Mikva, a former federal judge; Tom Daschle, a former Senate majority leader; Senator Edward M. Kennedy; and too many Chicago leaders to count — by impressing them with his intellectual heft and idealism, but also with his eagerness to absorb their lessons. As a man who barely knew his own father, Mr. Obama might have sought many things from these figures: authority, security, even love.

But his needs were more concrete, Mr. Kellman said. “He forms mentorships in order to learn,” he said. “He wants to know what they know.”

Both allies and critics sometimes concluded that Mr. Obama was too gifted, or in too much of a hurry, for the tasks that consumed others.

“I thought of him much more as a colleague” than a student, said Laurence Tribe, a law professor at Harvard for whom Mr. Obama worked. “I didn’t think of him as someone to send out on mechanical tasks of digging out all the cases.” Other students could do that, Professor Tribe added.

Mr. Obama’s campaign promotes accomplishments from his days in the Illinois Senate: He successfully championed campaign finance and racial profiling laws, as well as child care subsidies and tax credits for the working poor. But “he didn’t participate in rank-and-file things,” said John Corrigan, a former consultant to the State Senate’s Democratic caucus. “He was destined for something bigger than potholes.”

And in the United States Senate, Mr. Obama leads a subcommittee on European affairs, but he has not held any oversight hearings to investigate foreign policy issues, just a few to discuss nominations.

The McCain campaign has seized on this pattern, mocking its opponent as a self-consumed star, even suggesting that he has a messianic complex.

Mr. Obama has heard the accusations before. Long before the presidential race, some around him seemed to resent his ability to galvanize a following. “Bluebooking is not important for celebrities,” fellow students joked about him in the law review parody, referring to the tedious process of checking citations.

As for the messiah accusation, Michael Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and a Democrat, once publicly called Mr. Obama the same thing.

Disciplined and Detached

If there is one quality that those closest to Mr. Obama marvel at, it is his emotional control. This is partly a matter of temperament, they say, partly an effort by Mr. Obama to step away from his own feelings so he can make dispassionate judgments. “He doesn’t allow himself the luxury of any distraction,” said Valerie Jarrett, a close adviser. “He is able to use his disciplined mind to not get caught up in the emotional swirl.”

In 2006, Mr. Obama backed Alexi Giannoulias, a 29-year-old friend from the basketball court, for Illinois treasurer. Opponents accused Mr. Giannoulias of corruption, citing thin evidence: a loan his family’s bank made to a convicted felon. After Mr. Giannoulias worsened the situation by calling the felon a nice guy, Mr. Obama told him to fix his campaign or get out of the race.

“I was almost crying,” said Mr. Giannoulias, who eventually won. “He was almost upset at how thin-skinned I was.”

It is not that Mr. Obama does not experience emotion, friends say. But he detaches and observes, revealing more in his books than he does in the moment. “He has the qualities of a writer,” Mr. Axelrod said. “I get the sense that he’s participating in these things but also watching them.”

Mr. Obama watches no one more avidly than himself. During the primary season, supporters who complimented him on debate appearances found that he often disagreed. “I wasn’t great nor was I wonderful,” Mr. Obama responded last spring at a fund-raiser in Seattle. Then came his usual refrain: “I have to get better, and I will do better,” he said, according to Michael Parham, a donor.

As a campaigner, Mr. Obama had to learn to sometimes let simple emotion rule. When Mr. Axelrod first devised “Yes We Can” as a slogan during Mr. Obama’s Senate campaign, the candidate resisted: it was a little corny for his taste. “That’s where the high-minded and big-thinking Barack came in,” said Peter Giangreco, a consultant to the Obama campaign. “His initial instincts were off from where regular people’s were.”

While he speeds along rope lines, Mr. Obama sometimes connects better one on one. In spare moments, he will surprise supporters — a doorman who scraped together a small contribution, an elderly woman he had heard enjoyed his memoir — with an out-of-the blue phone call. Waiting backstage to speak to 20,000 people in Seattle in February, Mr. Obama grew so absorbed in talking to a retired Michigan couple that he had to be reminded not to miss his entrance cue.

Once in a very long while, Mr. Obama will relax his guard completely. Two years ago at a party celebrating the publication of his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” the new senator rose to say a few words, recalled Ms. Jarrett. As he talked about what his new job in Washington had cost his wife and two daughters, tears began to course down his face, leaving him unable to continue.

Michelle Obama rescued him with a kiss, and after a moment, everyone started to applaud.

An Outsider’s New Role

Mr. Obama is often called a perpetual outsider — racially, geographically, politically. But his story is more complicated than that. “He’s been an outsider at Columbia and Harvard,” said Matthew McGuire, a friend. “He was an outsider but within the ultimate insider clubs.”

Within those and other powerful institutions, Mr. Obama has always appointed himself critic. After being elected the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, Mr. Obama gave a speech to black students and alumni that was rousing, some recall it nearly two decades later. “Don’t let Harvard change you,” went the refrain. As a community organizer, he led Chicago residents to challenge the local authorities. In the Illinois Senate, Mr. Obama was not only a reformer who pushed for tighter campaign finance rules, but also an everyday skeptic who often pointed out hilarities and hypocrisies to colleagues.

Despite the speed of his rise, Mr. Obama often talks of politics as a closed system, one stacked against outsiders who lack powerful patrons or fat donor bases.

These sorts of criticisms have become the cornerstone of his political identity. Changing government, making it more responsive to citizens’ needs, has been the promise of every campaign he has ever run. Today, despite the millions of people and dollars devoted to his election, Mr. Obama insists, improbably enough, that he is still the same advocate for the poor he was 20 years ago on the streets of Chicago.

“All the time, he says, let’s keep in mind that this is not about Barack Obama,” said Ms. Jarrett, an adviser. “He still sees himself as the community organizer.”

But after he accepts his party’s nomination on Thursday night, it will be hard to call Mr. Obama anything but the establishment. As head of his party, he will preside over everything he says he objects to about politics: the artifice, the influence of special interests, the partisanship. If he wins the presidency, there will be no more rungs on the ladder for Mr. Obama to climb, only re-election. The system he says is broken will become his.

Even those closest to him are not quite sure how he would make the transformation.

“That’s uncomfortable,” said Mr. Axelrod, about the prospect of Mr. Obama’s becoming the ultimate insider. “You need to accept that role to a degree if you’re the nominee or the president.”

And yet, Mr. Axelrod said, “I don’t think that’s a role he wants to play. His idea is that you should always be challenging the institution.”

Republican Panic????

Team -

I wanted to share a memo from our Director of Strategy, Sarah Simmons.
After naming his running-mate, Senator Joe Biden, our campaign believes
Senator Obama will receive a bump in polling numbers after this week's
Democratic Convention in Denver.

Senator Obama's bump in the polls means we need to re-double our efforts
this week as we head into our own Convention starting September 1st.
We're focused on electing the man we all know is ready to lead, a man
who puts his country before all else, John McCain. That's why I'm asking
you to make an immediate donation to our campaign
so we
have the financial resources necessary heading into our Convention next
week. Your generous support is critical as we're quickly approaching our
August 31st deadline- the last day to accept your primary donations.

As of September 1st, we'll be limited in the amount of money we can
spend to elect John McCain. Senator Obama broke his promise to accept
federal funds and will be able to spend whatever he wants to defeat us.
Any amount you can give today
- up
to the legal limit of $2,300 will go a long way in helping us reach our
financial goals by the end of the month.

Please take a few minutes to read Sarah's memo and if you can, make a
contribution to our campaign.
always, I thank you for your time and support.

Many Thanks-

Rick Davis
Campaign Manager
John McCain 2008

*From: *Simmons, Sarah
*Sent:* Friday, August 22, 2008 7:32 AM
*To: *All Staff
*CC: *Rick Davis
*Subject:* Strategy Memo: Obama's Convention Bounce

TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Sarah Simmons, Director of Strategy
RE: Obama's Convention Bounce
DATE: August 22, 2008

Monday marks the beginning of the Democratic National Convention in
Denver. A combination of factors makes this particular convention
historic on many levels. Democrats have just completed an incredibly
compelling primary cycle that has both energized and divided the
Democratic Party. Because of the unique nature of the Democratic
primary, we believe Obama will receive a significant bump from his

This cycle mirrors Bill Clinton's Democratic convention in 1992: A
historic 16-point bump. Barack Obama is more similarly situated to Bill
Clinton in 1992 than any other candidate in recent history. Bill Clinton
was a new candidate on t he national scene; he was running in a "change"
oriented election cycle and the economy was voters' top issue -- a
dynamic he was able to capitalize on. He received a 16-point bump coming
out of his convention. Obama is also a "new" candidate in a
change-oriented environment. And, like Bill Clinton, he will spend the
convention presenting himself as the agent of change who will fix the

Obama will ride his VP bump. In addition to Obama taking advantage of
the political environment, he will announce his Vice Presidential
candidate late this week. This announcement typically gives a candidate
a 5-point temporary bump that dissipates. However, Obama's timing allows
him to maximize his Vice Presidential bump and sustain press attention
for the course of the week. He will ride the wave of an announcement
from late this week (announcement expected by Saturday) through his
speech on Thursday. This means that whatever bump he gains from the
announcement has the potential to be lasting.

Obama will correct his underperformance with Hillary Clinton's primary
voters and emerge with a much more cohesive base. This convention gives
Obama a platform to unite his base. There continues to be a divide in
the Democratic base: Between 10-15% of Democrats are voting for McCain
or sitting on the fence. In target states, that number is even higher,
between 15-20% in many surveys. The Obama campaign knows that winning or
losing in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania depends on Obama's
ability to bring these voters home. If his convention successfully
showcases Hillary Clinton and heals the wounds from the primary, he will
move large groups of voters in those key places.

Obama's stadium address on Thursday -- the 45th anniversary of Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech -- will result in
effusive and overwhelming press coverage. On Thursday, Obama will give a
great speech, as has been his trademark. The press will sing his praises
and remark on his historic address and Obama's place in history. For
example, The Associated Press today published an article comparing the
historic nature of the addresses - a week before Obama's speech. This
coverage will be impenetrable and will undoubtedly impact the polls.

We believe Obama will see a significant bump, and believe it is
reasonable to expect nearly a 15-point bounce out of a convention in
this political environment.


Paid for by John McCain 2008

*Republican National Committee* | 310 First Street, SE | Washington,
D.C. 20003
p: 202.863.8500 | f: 202.863.8820 | e:

Paid for by the Republican National Committee.
310 First Street, SE - Washington, D.C. 20003 - (202) 863-8500
Authorized by John McCain 2008


Copyright 2008 Republican National Committee

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jon Nichols on Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama's Elegant Remarks

by John Nichols on 08/26/2008 @ 01:59am

DENVER -- Asking the wife of a candidate for president to address the national convention at which her husband is to be nominated is a relatively recent phenomenon.

And the history is a mixed one.

Hillary Clinton did a good job of it at the Democratic conventions of the 1990s.

Elizabeth Dole was scary bad at the Republican convention of 1996, and Teresa Heinz Kerry did her husband no great favors with her address to the 2004 Democratic convention.

And what of Michelle Obama?

She went into Monday facing a greater challenge than any of her predecessors.

Already the target of a vicious Republican attack campaign--that attacks her patriotism when it's not accusing her of elitism--Michelle Obama had to introduce herself to a nation that knew very little about her and that was being warned by the GOP not to even think about falling in love with her.

"Everything about this woman has been totally distorted for political purposes," explained Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat. "That's what she had to address tonight, and she did it!"

The woman who would be first lady rose to the challenge with a speech that was as gracious as it was politically smart.

At a convention where it is still a bit of a struggle to bring supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton together, Michelle Obama merged the civil rights and women's rights struggles in remarks that referenced the woman who tried to defeat her husband for the nomination.

Speaking of herself and her husband, she said:

We know what fairness and justice and opportunity look like. And he urged us to believe in ourselves – to find the strength within ourselves to strive for the world as it should be. And isn't that the great American story?

It's the story of men and women gathered in churches and union halls, in town squares and high school gyms – people who stood up and marched and risked everything they had – refusing to settle, determined to mold our future into the shape of our ideals.

It is because of their will and determination that this week, we celebrate two anniversaries: the 88th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and the 45th anniversary of that hot summer day when Dr. King lifted our sights and our hearts with his dream for our nation.

I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history – knowing that my piece of the American Dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me. All of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work. The same conviction that drives the men and women I've met all across this country:

People who work the day shift, kiss their kids goodnight, and head out for the night shift – without disappointment, without regret – that goodnight kiss a reminder of everything they're working for.

The military families who say grace each night with an empty seat at the table. The servicemen and women who love this country so much, they leave those they love most to defend it.

The young people across America serving our communities – teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day.

People like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters – and sons – can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher.

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, an early and ardent Clinton backer, hailed Michelle Obama's speech as "exquisite."

But Lawton said there was something else that made it powerful.

"She spoke in her own voice," explained the state official. "There was a lot of message-discipline going on tonight. Even Teddy Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi were speaking to the themes of the convention. But Michelle Obama's voice, her personality, came through loud and clear. It was so impressive."

Unlike so many speeches, Michelle Obama's was understated and elegent.

She has been attacked by Republicans for failing to display sufficient patriotism.

She knew she had to express her love for her country. But she did so with a measure of grace and dignity that few political speakers muster these days.

All of us (are) driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do – that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.

That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack's journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope.

That is why I love this country.

And in my own life, in my own small way, I've tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That's why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us – no matter what our age or background or walk of life – each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.

"She took charge of her story, built her narrative," said Lawton. "It was an essential intro to her -- and to Barack Obama."


The First Night

Obama's Family Night Out
After Kennedy Electrifies Crowd, the Would-Be First Lady Calls on Democrats to 'Stop Doubting' and 'Start Dreaming'

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008; A01

DENVER Aug. 25 -- After an emotional speech by an ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the face of the Democratic Party shifted on Monday night to a new generation of leaders, as Michelle Obama opened the Democratic National Convention with a tribute to her husband and a call to the country to listen "to our hopes instead of our fears," and "to stop doubting and to start dreaming."

Seeking to ground Sen. Barack Obama in the experience of America's working class while recapturing the lofty ideals that propelled him toward his party's presidential nomination, Michelle Obama's family-themed speech was the climax of a dramatic opening day for a political party confident of its chances of capturing the White House but still struggling to lay aside its own divisions. A weak economy and a war in Iraq now in its sixth year have offered Democrats and their young candidate an ideal political environment in which to push for widespread change. But Obama has yet to close the deal with the electorate, or even some of the Democrats who backed his primary opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

But once the curtain raised on a raucous Pepsi Center, the party appeared poised to come together. The delegates cheered every mention of Clinton and gave the same treatment to Obama's running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), and the party's 2004 nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). Kennedy, who has a brain tumor but appeared spry in a surprise appearance, offered a poignant moment of reflection on the last time a youthful Democrat won the White House. To thunderous applause, he promised to be present in the Senate in January to greet a new Democratic president.

"The work begins anew. The hope rises again, and the dream lives on," he said, echoing his speech from the 1980 Democratic convention, in which he was denied the party's nomination.

Michelle Obama also did her part to try to heal the lingering wounds of the long struggle for the nomination when she recognized Clinton, "who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters -- and our sons -- can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher."

But the stream of new faces -- including Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson, and freshman Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), one of the candidate's fiercest supporters -- and a rousing anthem from John Legend, who helped craft the viral music videos that have powered the Obama movement, signaled that the torch is changing hands. Caroline Kennedy tried to bridge that generational shift when she told the crowd, "I have never had someone inspire me the way people tell me my father inspired them, but I do now: Barack Obama."

When Michelle Obama took to the podium, she was greeted with sustained applause and a sea of blue "Michelle" placards.

"Barack doesn't care where you're from, or what your background is, or what party -- if any -- you belong to. That's not how he sees the world," she said. "He knows that thread that connects us -- our belief in America's promise, our commitment to our children's future -- is strong enough to hold us together as one nation."

After she finished, daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, met her onstage, where they were soon joined by her husband via a video link from Kansas City, Mo., where he watched the speech at the home of Jim and Alicia Girardeau. "You were unbelievable," he said, "and you look pretty cute," to which Sasha replied, "Thanks."

Michelle Obama's task was to reintroduce her husband to the nation as the candidate most capable of responding to the struggles of ordinary Americans, weary of war and beset by debt, division and fears of decline.

"Even though he had this funny name, even though he'd grown up all the way across the continent, in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine," she recalled of the man who courted her as a young lawyer. "He was raised by grandparents who were working-class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did. And like my family, they scrimped and saved so that he could have opportunities they never had themselves. And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them."

Standing "where the current of history meets this new tide of hope," the woman who would be the first African American first lady looked ahead to an evening when her daughters would tell their children about the 2008 election, and "how this time, in this great country -- where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House -- we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be."

Indeed, the anti-Republican red meat was left for an unlikely source, soft-spoken former GOP congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, who hailed Obama as "a transcendent candidate" as he criticized his own party.

"The party that once emphasized individual rights has gravitated in recent years toward regulating values," Leach said. "The party of military responsibility has taken us to war with a country that did not attack us. The party that formerly led the world in arms control has moved to undercut treaties crucial to the defense of the Earth. The party that prides itself on conservation has abdicated its responsibilities in the face of global warming. And the party historically anchored in fiscal restraint has nearly doubled the national debt, squandering our precious resources in an undisciplined and unprecedented effort to finance a war with tax cuts."

Campaigning in Iowa, Obama tried to ease his party's divisions, conceding that "there are going to be some of Senator Clinton's supporters who we're going to have to work hard to persuade to come on board -- that's not surprising." But, he added: "If you take a look this week, I am absolutely convinced that both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton understand the stakes."

But the nerves were not easily calmed ahead of Hillary Clinton's speech on Tuesday and Bill Clinton's appearance on Wednesday. Hillary Clinton addressed the New York delegation at a breakfast in the morning. But while supporters waved signs declaring "Hillary Made History," the senator's focus was on the future.

"We were not all on the same side as Democrats, but we are now," she said. "We are united and we are together and we are determined."

Clinton is expected to release her delegates to Obama on Tuesday. That symbolic gesture reduces the prospects for major disruptions when the roll is called to nominate the senator from Illinois -- a historic moment when Obama will become the first black politician to head a major party's national ticket.

Divisions clearly remain, however, and the campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain did its best to foment unrest. It released a new advertisement featuring Wisconsin delegate Debra Bartoshevich declaring herself "a proud Hillary Clinton Democrat" who for the first time is supporting a Republican, McCain.

"A lot of Democrats will vote McCain," she says in the spot. "It's okay, really."

Clinton repudiated the ad in her appearance before the New York delegation, saying: "I'm Hillary Clinton, and I do not approve that message." But Howard Wolfson, who was her communications director, went public with the grievances her husband is still nursing. Writing in the New Republic, Wolfson said the former president "feels like the Obama campaign ran against and systematically dismissed his administration's accomplishments. And he feels like he was painted as a racist during the primary process."

Wolfson made it clear that he thinks it is Obama who needs to make amends.

"Senator Obama would go a long way towards healing these wounds if he were to specifically praise the accomplishments of the Clinton presidency in a line or two during his speech on Thursday," he concluded. "That should be painless."

Staff writers Shailagh Murray in Denver and Anne E. Kornblut, traveling with Obama, contributed to this report.