Barack Obama

Barack Obama delivering a speech at University of Southern California. 2006 photo by Ari Levinson.

Barack Obama delivering a speech at University of Southern California. 2006 photo by Ari Levinson.

Barack Obama is the current and 44th President of the United States. Born August 4, 1961, he is the first African American to be elected as President. Before entering politics he was a community organizer, attorney and college teacher. He then served as state Senator for Illinois then as a Senator for that state. Entering the race for President as an outsider against the expected Democrat nominee Hilary Clinton, he went on to secure nominated and then the Presidency against Republican John McCain. Many attribute his success to his grassroots support and campaign focussed on ‘change’. He assumed office shortly after the start of the biggest financial crisis in generations. His policies have been controversial, especially on health care reform, with a large right-wing ‘Tea Party’ movement against him. He has also alienated some of his supporters by failing to bring the ‘change’ they expected, such as by increasing troop levels in Afghanistan.

Early Life

Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to American mother Ann Dunham and Kenyan father Barack Obama, Sr. His parents had met just a year before Barack’s birth in a Russian language class, then married in February 1961. However they soon separated due to his father gaining a scholarship to Harvard, and they eventually divorced in 1964. For most of his childhood Barack did not know his father, who only visited in 1971 before being killed in an automobile accident eleven years later in 1982.

His mother married Lolo Soetoro, a student from Indonesia. The whole family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1967 following a recall of foreign students when Suharto came to power. Obama received his educated from six to ten in local schools there.

Obama moved back to Hawaii to attend school in 1971, living with his grandparents. His mother returned the following year, although went back to Indonesia in 1977 until 1994 a year before dying of cancer.

His teenage years were not without problems, taking alcohol and drugs such as cannabis and cocaine, which he would later describe as his ‘greatest moral failure’. In 1979 he began attending Occidental College in Los Angeles. In 1981 he transferred to New York’s Columbia University and majored in political science, graduating in 1983.

Community organizer and Law School

Barack Obama with his family

Barack Obama with his family

After a period working in New York, Obama became director of the Developing Communities Project in Chicago. The project was organised by eight catholic churches on Chicago’s far South Side. By the end of his time working there the staff had increased from one to thirteen. The project included job training, tenants rights organisations and college preparation tutoring.

It is in the period, in 1988, that Obama first traveled to Kenya and met many of his relatives.

That same year he began a course at Harvard Law School and by the end of his first year was an editor of the Harvard Law Review then president a year later. After graduating, Obama returned to Chicago where he became an academic at the University of Chicago Law School and wrote the manuscript for his 1995 book Dreams From My Father. He stayed with the University of Chicago until 2004.

Political career

In 2006 Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate. He legislated for reforms in health care, welfare and increases in tax-credits and childcare subsidies. He was re-elected in 1998 and 2002. When the Democrats took control of the State Senate in 2003 he became the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee.

In 2000 he attempted to run for the House of Representatives, but was defeated in the Democratic primary to incumbent Bobby Rush. In 2004 Obama stood for House of Senate, and won the primary in a landslide. The same year he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, showing his quick rise within the party. He was elected in November with 70% of the vote.

Obama became the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus from the Senate. He was ranked one of the most liberal members of the Senate by surveys, and remained popular with a approval rating of 72%.

With the 2008 Presidential Election approaching, Obama announced his candidacy on February 10, 2007. He quickly became one of the front-runners in a campaign largely between himself and Hillary Clinton. Due in part to his ability to mobilise and fundraise from grassroots Democrats as well as his more liberal policies which appealed to Democratic voters he was able to win the nomination after Clinton announced she was backing him on June 7th 2008.

In the November 4th election Obama gained 52.9% of the popular vote, with his nearest rival Republican John McCain gaining 45.7%. In electoral college votes, he gained 365 to 173 that McCain received. Thus Obama became the United States’ first African-American president.

Barack Obama being sworn in as President

Barack Obama being sworn in as President

 

Presidency

After being inaugurated on January 20th 2009 Obama set about changing many of the policies of the previous administration. Executive orders were issued to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Major changes in policies on global warming were also forthcoming, but the major issue of his Presidency so far has been Health Care. His initial project for universal health insurance received strong opposition from Republicans, leading to the setting up of the Tea Party campaign. The policy ultimately changed considerably from its original intent due to this, upsetting many Democrats who had hoped for universal health care as well as those Republicans opposed to any health care reform. Despite this Obama managed to get changes to healthcare that require everyone to purchase health insurance, keep children on their parents insurance longer and helped to end the situation where tens of millions of Americans were without health insurance.

The second major issue of his Presidency is arguably the bail-out of the banks and the economic stimulus after the world-wide financial crisis. This included bailing out car manufacturers General Motors and Chrysler. In 2009 a $787 billion economic stimulus package was announced and $11.5 trillion in loan guarantees and spending. Republicans have been largely against these measures and they divided the public too. The division creates by these two policies in part led to the Congressional defeats the democrats suffered in 2010.

Both the bailout and the healthcare reform would become major issues in the 2012 Presidential Election. The Republicans were pretty upbeat about their chances given their impressive gains in 2010 Congressional elections and opinion polling suggesting a close race. Their primaries moved the party significantly to the right due to an influx of Tea Partiers and libertarians into the party, with strong showings for more right wing candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as well as libertarian candidate Ron Paul before more centrist candidate Mitt Romney ultimately claimed victory after shifting to the right and outspending his rivals on attack ads. Arguably this move to the right, especially on women’s issues, caused the Republicans to lose ground against Obama and ultimately lead to their defeat in the 2012 Presidential Election where Obama had an eleven point lead over Romney among women voters. The election appeared to be close and was decided by a few battleground states such as Colorado, Ohio and Virginia which all relatively narrowly voted for Obama.

Obama starts his second term with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House (in part due to gerrymandering – Democrats had a larger popular vote). His first issue to deal with is the so called ‘fiscal cliff’ where if no deal is reached large tax rises and spending cuts will automatically start. Obama has announced this time he will insist on tax rises for the wealthy and won’t accept a solution largely based on spending cuts. With the House Republicans unlikely to accept this a fight at the end of 2012 on the issue is looming.

What Obama will try to achieve in his second term isn’t yet clear. He has two options: to become more conciliatory to the Republicans or, as he needed worry about re-election, to go on the offensive. His 2012 campaign largely lacked policy promises unlike in 2008 campaign, but one issue from 2008 he has yet to deliver on which he may raise in his second term is immigration reform to find a solution for the millions of undocumented Americans.

Barack Obama Facts

  • President No.: 44th
  • Served: 2009-present
  • Party: Democrat
  • From: Hawaii
  • Married: Michelle Robinson in 1992
  • Born: August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Education: Occidental College, Columbia University, Harvard Law School
  • Jobs Before President: Community organizer, Attorney, Professor, Author
  • Height: 6 feet, 1 inch
  • Population at time: 307,000,000
  • Hobbies: Gym, reading, playing Scrable, American football, soccer
  • Pets:Portuguese water dog called “Bo
  • Transportation: Helicopter, airplane, car
  • Communication Methods: Letters, phone (blackberry), email

Election Results

 

2008 Presidential Election

PartyCandidateCandidate's StateRunning MateRunning Mate's StatePopular VotePercent of Popular VoteElectoral College Votes
DemocraticBarack ObamaIllinoisJoe BidenDelaware6945689752.92365
RepublicanJohn McCainArizonaSarah PalinAlaska5993481445.66173
IndependentRalph NaderConnecticutMatt GonzalezCalifornia7384750.560
LibertarianBob BarrGeorgiaWayne Allyn RootNevada5236860.40
ConstitutionChuck BaldwinFloridaDarrell CastleTennessee1993140.150
GreenCynthia McKinneyGeorgiaRosa ClementeNorth Carolina1616030.120

Speeches


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