Barack Obama (born August 4, 1961) is a U.S. Senator from Illinois. He is a member of the main Democratic Party. He has received international media coverage for his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, delivered while he was still an Illinois state senator.
As a senior lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago law school, Obama won the open Senate seat by defeating former ambassador Alan Keyes. He is the only African American who is currently serving in the U.S. Senate, and the fifth in the entire United States history and the third since Reconstruction. The 2004 U.S. Senate election in Illinois made history as the first Senate election to feature black nominees from both major parties. Obama won the election in a landslide, with 70% of the vote to Keyes' 27%. He is junior senator to Richard Durbin.
Obama is married to Michelle Obama, a Chicago native. They have two daughters: Malia Ann (born in 1999) and Natasha (born 2001).
His Early life
Barack Obama was born at the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii to Harvard-educated economist Barack Obama, Sr., a native of Kenya, and S. Ann Dunham, of Kansas. Ms. Dunham is a distant descendant of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America; she is also part Cherokee Indian.
At the time of Obama's birth, both his parents were students at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Barack" means "blessed" in Swahili.
Of his years in Hawaii, Obama has written, "The irony is that my decision to work in politics, and to pursue such a career in a big Mainland city, in some sense grows out of my Hawaiian upbringing, and the ideal that Hawaii still represents in my mind."
When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father eventually returned to Kenya, and he saw his son only once more before his death in 1982. Ann Obama married another East-West Center student from Indonesia. The family then moved to Jakarta, where Obama's half-sister Maya was born (Obama has other half-siblings from his father's later marriages). When Obama was ten he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandparents, and later his mother, for the better educational opportunities. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School, a prestigious academy that once taught the Hawaiian royal family. He graduated with honors.
His College experience and career
Upon finishing high school, Obama studied for two years at Occidental College in California, before transferring to Columbia University in New York City. There he majored in political science, with a specialization in international relations. Upon graduation, he moved to Chicago, where he took up community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the city's South Side. While in Chicago, he joined the Trinity United Church of Christ.
He left Chicago for three years to study law at Harvard University, where he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated Magna Cum Laude. While working one summer at a corporate law firm in 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson, whom he married in 1992. Robinson is also a graduate of Harvard Law.
While in Chicago as a community organizer once again, Obama organized an aggressive voter registration effort that aided in the election of President Bill Clinton and Senator Carol Moseley Braun. The campaign registered over 100,000 voters. Soon after, his talents earned him a position at a local civil rights law firm, and he became a lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, where he served as a professor until his election to the U.S. Senate.
Barack Obama and Politics
Illinois General Assembly
In 1996, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate from the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park, in Chicago. He served as chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee when the Democrats regained control of the chamber. The Chicago Tribune called him "one of the General Assembly's most impressive members."
Regarded as a staunch liberal during his tenure in the legislature, he helped to author a state Earned Income Tax Credit which provided benefits to the working poor. He also worked for legislation that would cover residents who could not afford health insurance. Speaking up for leading gay and lesbian advocacy groups, he successfully helped pass bills to increase funding for AIDS prevention and care programs.
In 2000, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Illinois' 1st Congressional district against incumbent Representative Bobby Rush.
After the loss, Obama rededicated his efforts to the state Senate. He authored one of the most progressive death penalty reform laws in the nation, under the guidance of his mentor, former U.S. Senator Paul Simon. He also pushed through legislation that would force insurance companies to cover routine mammograms.
His United States Senate campaign
In 2004, Obama decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. In the Democratic primary, he trailed business tycoon Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes. However, Hull was soon embroiled by allegations of domestic abuse. As Obama's name recognition rose, voters took a liking to the bright, charismatic senator. He won decisively in the March primary, dispatching the other six candidates easily, and winning more than 50 percent of the vote.
Entering the U.S. Senate campaign, Obama had become a national Democratic star. He squared off against former Goldman Sachs partner and teacher Jack Ryan, the winner of the Republican primary. Ryan trailed Obama in the polls, and Obama opened up a twenty point lead after the media brought attention to the fact that Ryan had assigned an aide to stalk Obama. However, during the campaign, a California court ruling opened custody files from Ryan's divorce from actress Jeri Ryan, in which she alleged that he had brought her without her knowledge to sex clubs, intending for her to have sex with him in public. The files, which were part of the custody proceedings regarding the Ryans' young son, were opened as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV, a local ABC affiliate. Ryan had insisted that there was nothing damaging in the files, and many Republican leaders openly questioned Ryan's integrity following the release. Ryan was forced to leave the race on June 25, 2004, leaving Obama without an opponent.
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka had considered running as a Republican to replace Ryan, but opted not to because of family and business considerations. After many more candidates turned down the Illinois GOP, Republican state Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka announced two possible replacements: Alan Keyes, a former ambassador residing in Maryland, and Andrea Barthwell, a DEA official. After much deliberation, Keyes was chosen, and he officially accepted the nomination on August 8. He had gained much attention as a conservative firebrand in his unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000. This was widely viewed as a victory for the more conservative wing of the party, and a loss for the more moderate Topinka.
Keyes, a black conservative Republican, had an uphill battle, as Obama had high popularity across the state and Keyes had no ties to Illinois politics. During the time when he had no opponent, Obama campaigned across more conservative downstate areas that ordinarily served as the base for the Republican nominee. A Marylander, Keyes had established legal residency in Illinois with the nomination, the only requirement to run for office. The Chicago Tribune sarcastically greeted Keyes by editorializing: "Mr. Keyes may have noticed a large body of water as he flew into O'Hare. That is called Lake Michigan."
Keyes's previous comments about U.S. Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton's run for Senate in New York, ("I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness to go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there, so I certainly wouldn't imitate it.") led many to call Keyes hypocritical. Keyes often rebutted this by pointing out that he was invited to run for the position in Illinois, whereas he claimed Clinton was not.
After a campaign in which Keyes called Obama's position on abortion "the slave-holder's position" and also claimed that Jesus would not vote for Obama, Obama won handily in the general election. Obama received 70% of the popular vote, to Keyes' 27%.
Obama was chosen to deliver a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, and became the third African American to do so. (The first was Barbara Jordan, at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, and the second was Harold Ford, Jr. at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.)
His speech outlined his own family's pursuit of the American Dream, and his belief in a 'generous America'. His maternal grandfather, after serving in World War II, was the beneficiary of the New Deal's FHA and GI Bill and had high hopes for their daughter, because, as Obama said, "in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential". But he charged that "we have more work to do" for people who are not able to realize the American Dream, maintaining that self responsibility is an important component and people "don't expect government to solve all their problems".
He criticized the Bush administration for not supporting troops in Iraq. He spoke of an enlisted Marine named Shamus from East Moline, asking, "Are we serving Shamus as well as he was serving us?" He continued:
When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.
Finally he spoke for national unity: "Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." Perhaps the most often quoted sound bite followed: "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States."
The address was generally regarded as a great success, thrusting Obama into the national spotlight (similar to New York Governor Mario Cuomo's address at the 1984 DNC).
Obama was sworn in as a Senator on January 5, 2005. He ranked 99th out of 100 Senators in terms of official seniority (greater seniority brings greater privileges in the Senate), ranking ahead of only new Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. In his first few months in office, Obama drew praise by his perceived attempts to avoid the limelight and devote large amounts of effort to being a Senator; a Washington Post article spread an anecdote of Obama refusing an upgrade to first-class on a flight home. In March of 2005, Obama announced that he was forming his own PAC, a move not usually undertaken until several years into a politician's career.
In late March 2005, Obama announced his first proposed Senate bill, the Higher Education Opportunity through Pell Grant Expansion Act of 2005 (HOPE Act), which aims to raise the maximum amount of Pell Grant awards to help assist American college students with paying for their tuition. Obama announced the bill at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and said, "Everywhere I go, I hear the same story: 'We work hard, we pay our bills, we put away savings, but we just don't know if it's going to be enough when that tuition bill comes.'"
The April 18, 2005 issue of TIME Magazine listed the 100 most influential people in the world. Obama was included on the list under the section of 'Leaders and Revolutionaries' for his high-profile entrance to federal politics and his popularity within the Democratic Party.
Throughout his public career, John McCain has been a leader in the most critical issues facing our country. He has waged a determined and often solitary campaign against pork barrel spending, fighting for ten years to pass a line item veto. He has been a persistent proponent of lower taxes, genuine deregulation and free trade. He has become one of Congress' most respected voices for a strong national defense, and for sound foreign policy and is considered one of the leading defenders of the rights of Native Americans .
John McCain has been an outspoken advocate for the reform of government institutions, and has fought and won to change a campaign finance system that favors the interests of a special few over the needs of the majority. Recently, millions of Americans rallied to John McCain's campaign for the presidency and to his cause of reforming the institutions of government and were inspired to fight for causes greater than their self interests.
John McCain was first elected to represent the state of Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. As a longtime admirer of Ronald Reagan, McCain was an early foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution. He served two terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1985. He was re-elected to a third Senate term in November 1998. In that election, he received nearly 70% of the vote, a total which included 65% of the women's vote, 55% of the Hispanic vote, and even 40% of the Democrats.
Senator McCain is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and has in that capacity become a recognized leader on telecommunications and aviation issues, stressing the need to promote competition and government deregulation in the industries that are so important to the growth of our economy.
Senator McCain has received numerous awards from taxpayer and foreign policy organizations for his distinguished public service and conservative leadership. In 1997, he was named one of the "25 Most Influential People in America" by Time magazine.
The son and grandson of prominent Navy admirals, John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1958, McCain began a twenty-two year career as a naval aviator. In 1967, he was shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner-of-war in Hanoi for five and a half years (1967-1973), much of it in solitary confinement. He retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1981. McCain's naval honors include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
John McCain tells what he learned about life and honor from his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals in the U.S. Navy, in his best-selling family memoir, "Faith of My Fathers." The book, detailing McCain's early life and military career, spent 24 weeks on the New York Times "Best Sellers" list.
Senator McCain has seven children and four grandchildren. He and his wife, Cindy, reside in Phoenix.
John McCain's 5 1/2 years of captivity in North Vietnam were divided into two phases. Early on, this son and grandson of high-ranking Naval officers was accorded relatively privileged status. Then he refused early release--which he saw as a public relations stunt by his captors--insisting that POWs held longer than him should be granted their freedom first. Thereafter, McCain was treated much more severely, but he also had an opportunity to bond with his fellow prisoners. Those experiences strengthened his resolve and eased his transition back into civilian life.
HANOI, Vietnam, April 26, 2000 -- As he strode through the shadowy hallways and incongruously sunny courtyards, gesturing here, pointing to a detail there, Senator John McCain might have been a father showing his son his alma mater.
Except the landmarks on this tour were dank cells like the one where Mr. McCain spent two years in solitary confinement, and leg irons, which he once wore as a punishment for insulting the guards.
"It's always interesting for me to be back here and show my son the place where I lived for a long time," the Arizona Republican said as he paused next to a faded photograph of himself as a grim-faced, unmistakably defiant inmate. "But I put Vietnam behind me when I left."
Yet, as he guided his wife and 13-year-old son through the remnants of the grim jail known as the "Hanoi Hilton , " Mr. McCain, long a proponent of better relations with Vietnam, betrayed feelings still raw a quarter of a century later.
"I still bear them ill will," he said of the prison guards, "not because of what they did to me, but because of what they did to some of my friends -- including killing some of them."
Mr. McCain and his wife, Cindy, had visited the prison, known as Hoa Lo, on one of his seven previous trips to Vietnam since his release in 1973. But Mr. McCain, whose visit comes just before the 25th anniversary on Sunday of the end of the Vietnam War, said he wanted to show his son Jack the place.
A sprawling French colonial-era fortress, the jail housed 300 American pilots at various periods during the war. The Vietnamese authorities tore down much of it in 1993 to make way for a luxury hotel and office complex called Hanoi Towers. But they preserved one corner as a museum.
Today, Mr. McCain seemed aware that the site had become just another stop on the tourist trail for people visiting Vietnam's now-popular capital. At several points during the self-guided tour he stopped to say hello or to have his picture taken with American tourists -- most of whom said they supported him during his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination this year.
He also offered an acidic commentary on how the Vietnamese portrayed life inside the prison. Alongside the pictures of Mr. McCain and his fellow prisoners, a plaque declared: "Though having committed untold crimes on our people, the American pilots suffered no revenge once they were captured and detained. Instead, they were treated with adequate food, clothing and shelter."
Shaking his head, Mr. McCain muttered, "That's entertainment."
Nearby, another set of photos showed the Americans receiving letters from their families, meeting with North Vietnamese journalists and attending Mass. Mr. McCain pointed out that one of the pilots photographed at Mass had placed his hand on his chin, with only his middle finger extended.
"I think that sums up how he felt about being here," Mr. McCain said.
Mr. McCain has described his five and a half year imprisonment as a nightmarish time, in which he was beaten and kept in solitary confinement. Twice he tried to hang himself, only to be cut down and assaulted by the guards.
Mr. McCain was captured on Oct. 26, 1967, after his Navy plane was shot down while on a bombing run over Hanoi. He parachuted into a lake, breaking both arms and a leg.
On Tuesday, Mr. McCain paid a visit to the lake, known as Truc Bac, where he described to reporters being dragged ashore and beaten by an angry mob. On this visit, several curious locals stepped forward to greet Mr. McCain -- some posing for photographs with his family.
In prison, Mr. McCain said the American inmates communicated by tapping on the walls of their cells. The prisoners nicknamed their cell-block Thunderbird, and Mr. McCain described how it was lighted with a single bulb. During the day, loudspeakers that hung from the ceiling would drone with music by North Vietnamese propaganda figures like the singer known as Hanoi Hannah. "I heard her every day," Mr. McCain said. "She's a marvelous entertainer. I'm surprised she didn't get to Hollywood."
The Vietnamese government has expressed anger at Mr. McCain's description of his treatment as a prisoner of war, especially in his recent memoir. Today, despite his sarcasm and fleeting bitterness, the senator seemed reluctant to add to his earlier accounts of that period.
Indeed, Mr. McCain has long advocated reconciling the two countries and was instrumental in the establishment of diplomatic relations with Hanoi five years ago. At his arrival here on Tuesday, he said he had come to "commemorate the beginning and continuation of a new relationship between the United States and Vietnam."
In meetings with senior Vietnamese officials, the senator said he discussed negotiations on a trade agreement between the two countries. A deal was agreed to in principle last July, but has bogged down since then as the Vietnamese have balked at several provisions.
Still, for this most celebrated of P.O.W.'s , the war is the shadow that lurks behind every meeting. On Tuesday, soon after he landed in Hanoi, Mr. McCain attended a ceremony on a sweltering airport tarmac, in which the remains of six people, believed to be American soldiers missing since the war, were loaded on an Air Force plane and flown to Hawaii for forensic analysis.
For Jack McCain, the visit seemed to confirm the stories his father had told him. As he left the prison, the young Mr. McCain said he had expected the cells to be cramped and dark. Indeed, his knowledge of the prison seemed so thorough that he expressed surprise at only one small detail: the iron doors at the main entrance were wide enough that his father was delivered through them in a truck.