Barack Obama is the American-born son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas. He was raised mostly in Hawaii, with a few years in Indonesia. He went to Columbia College in NYC for his undergraduate degree and got his J.D. from Harvard Law School. He was elected by his peers as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review – the premier legal academic journal.
Although Professor Lawrence Tribe, a giant of American constitutional scholarship, has said that Senator Obama was the smartest student he ever had, Obama did not go on to clerk for the Supreme Court, as do most high-achieving Harvard Law graduates. Instead, he went to Chicago to become a community organizer in the historically black and poor area known as Chicago’s south side. There he ran one of the biggest and most effective voter registration drives before he went on to be elected to the Illinois state legislature, where he served for 12 years. From that position he introduced and fought for legislation that included strict ethics rules for legislators and lobbyists, protected a woman’s right to choose, and otherwise furthered progressive causes. In 2002 he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but in 2004 he ran for the U.S. Senate and won with over 70% of the vote across Illinois.
Barack Obama was one of the only politicians with national stature and ambitions who spoke out against invading Iraq, when most Democratic Senators voted to give President Bush the authority to got to war. He has been given a 100% rating by national organizations who promote choice. He has been aggressive on ethical reforms and he has a national heath care proposal that will make health insurance affordable for all Americans – often free for those who need it. He has international credibility based in part upon his heritage and upbringing, and in part on the fact that he has acted and spoken his conscience, even in the face of overwhelming pressure to the contrary.
On a personal level, I support him for several reasons. He alone of the candidates has demonstrated consistent support for progressive issues -- rather than poll-driven reactionary governance. He is clearly brilliant but has a confirmed reputation for listening to and considering the advice of others before declaring a position. He has made it clear that his first choice of international strategy is negotiation – even with our enemies, not only with our friends. But he has not shied away from strength – he alone has said that he would consider sending American troops into Pakistan if the location of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda stronghold was pinpointed and if the Pakistan government did not act.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, Obama is of a new generation of leaders. He is not tied into the 60s where folks expect to be rewarded for their past struggles and contributions. He recognizes that we should elect a president based upon what we think that person will do in changing circumstances over the next 4 or 8 years, not because of what he or she deserves as a reward for past actions and efforts. And, he, as a black man with an international heritage, can return credibility to America in the world and to our government at home where so many people feel like they have been disenfranchised and ignored by our own government. I trust his judgment and experience.
originally published in Currents Feb/Mar 2008