Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Obama launches presidential bid

Illinois senator targets voters seeking change

Sen. Barack Obama has filed paperwork forming a presidential exploratory committee. The committee allows him to raise money and put together a campaign structure. He is expected to announce a full-fledged candidacy on Feb. 10 in Springfield, Ill., where he can tap into the legacy of hometown hero Abraham Lincoln.

The freshman Illinois senator - and top contender for the Democratic nomination - said the past six years have left the country in a precarious place and he promoted himself as the standard-bearer for a new kind of politics.

"Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, commonsense way," Obama said in a video posted on his Web site. "Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that's what we have to change first."

The 45-year-old has few accomplishments in national politics after serving little more than two years in the Senate. However, at a time when many voters say they are unhappy with the direction of the country, a lack of experience in the nation's capital may not be a liability.

Obama's appeal lies with his soft-spoken demeanor as he connects with crowds across the country. Others seem intrigued by his ethnic background, his opposition to the Iraq war and his fresh face. Obama has entered a competitive race that also is expected to include front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Meanwhile, London's Sunday Times reports that there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm among American black political activists. Clearly, Obama is a media darling. Photographers seem to follow him everywhere. Could the cool reception among many old-guard civil rights activists be a simple case of political envy? The Sunday Times writes, in part:
At a meeting of activists in New York last week, the Rev Jesse Jackson, the first black candidate to run for president, declined to endorse Obama. "Our focus right now is not on who's running, because there are a number of allies running," Jackson said.

The Rev Al Sharpton, the fiery New York preacher who joined the Democratic primary race in 2004, said he was considering another presidential run of his own. And Harry Belafonte, the calypso singer who became an influential civil rights activist, said America needed to be "careful" about Obama: "We don't know what he's truly about." . . .

When asked about Obama's likely candidacy, [Sharpton] shrugged: "Right now we're hearing a lot of media razzle-dazzle. I'm not hearing a lot of meat, or a lot of content. I think when the meat hits the fire, we'll find out if it's just fat, or if there's some real meat there." . . .

"He's a young man in many ways to be admired," Belafonte said. "Obviously very bright, speaks very well, cuts a handsome figure. But all of that is just the king's clothes. Who's the king?"

Some believe that Obama threatens Jackson, Sharpton and Belafonte because he has an appeal that transcends race. The Wall Street Journal addresses the issue in an op-ed piece:

Men like Jackson, Sharpton and Belafonte have made their careers on the exploitation of white guilt. Obama is a threat to their power and livelihood.

Many Americans who are attracted by the Illinois senator's charm are also intrigued by his background. Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his parents met while studying at the University of Hawaii. His father was black and from Kenya; his mother, white and from Wichita, Kan.

Obama's parents divorced when he was two and his father returned to Kenya. His mother later married an Indonesian student and the family moved to Jakarta. Obama returned to Hawaii when he was 10 to live with his maternal grandparents.

He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the first African-American elected editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama settled in Chicago, where he joined a law firm, helped local churches establish job training programs and met his future wife, Michelle Robinson. They have two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

In 1996, he was elected to the Illinois state Senate, where he earned a reputation as a consensus-building Democrat who was strongly liberal on social and economic issues, backing gay rights, abortion rights, gun control, universal health care and tax breaks for the poor.

Obama's two best-selling autobiographies, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream and Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, showcase the senator's writing skills. Obama's quick rise to national prominence began with his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

For Sharpton to use words like "media razzle-dazzle" to describe Obama is interesting - in light of the fact that Sharpton himself is the king of "media razzle-dazzle," at least in this writer's eyes. As for Jackson, some of us have been waiting for years for Jesse to get a real job.

It's not uncommon for some highly visible black activists, so-called civil rights leaders, to be highly critical of black Republicans. Over the years, Sharpton made some cutting remarks about Colin Powell. Clarence Thomas has been taking hits by the African-American community for a long, long time. Many Americans, however, are surprised to see liberal-minded African-American activists on the fence about Obama, another liberal. But Democratic strategists are not surprised at all. Once again, this proves that African-Americans are not monolithic.

For another look at Obama, check out an editorial by Newsday's Les Payne, titled Osama's long road ahead.

Next up: Obama squares off with Sen. Clinton. Other Democrats who have announced a campaign or exploratory committee are 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also are considering a run.

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Ian Lidster said...

It's been noted by a few pundits that Obama's race has gone virtually unmentioned by anybody, friend or foe alike. That's a very positive thing.

Oh, and I'd love to go to coffee with you, too. Too bad there's so much geography in between.

Cheers, your friend, Ian

shirazi said...

Excellent post. I wish the man reads it himself. And I think that the change may take him to success. Reason: Change is what people are looking for.

Elizabeth said...

Well to me it's pretty obvious that Harry Belafonte, and probably Al Sharpton's, caution about Obama isn't about "envy," it's about the fact they are both far to the left of Obama!

How interesting that some pundits come up with the most petty, silly, demeaning explanation for a difference of views among black leaders

Deb S. said...

Ian: It's interesting that you bring up race. The major players in the Democratic party are too smart for that, I think. But that doesn't mean supporters of his rivals won't bring it up. After all, politicians cannot completely control the actions of volunteers, or others acting independently.

Meanwhile, the media clearly has taken note of Obama's race. And I think that whole issue of bringing up Obama's middle name (Hussein) was getting at race through the back door, an effort to scare the bigots.

You might want to read a couple of news stories that appear this week - a column by Clarence Page and a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

Also, you might also check out a blog post on The Reaction - by Michael J.W. Stickings

Shirazi: As always, thank you.

Elizabeth: You make some very good points.

stan said...

I agree that Obama is receiving so much scrutiny, because people are looking for change. We finally have some potential choices in candidates. This almost feels like a real democratic process of selecting the best person for the position...You know, like America in the sixties...I don't want to get my hopes up too high though..we've been complacent for awhile you know, so "all on the same page" (politically correct?)Our decision making skills may be a little off..Change could be good, refreshing, and, in todays world, necessary

Deb S. said...

Stan: There is much truth in what you say. I just put up a follow-up post on Obama. If you haven't seen it aleady, you might want to check it out. Thanks for stopping by.