All things To All People
This New York Times article about Barack Obama is a must read. It's so full of interesting topics I am breaking it into parts.
In tommorrow's NYT:
The secret of his transformation — which has brought him to the brink of claiming the Democratic presidential nomination — can be described as the politics of maximum unity: He moved from his leftist Hyde Park base to more centrist circles; he forged early alliances with the good-government reform crowd only to be later embraced by the city's all-powerful Democratic bosses; he railed against pork-barrel politics but engaged in it when needed; and he empathized with the views of his Palestinian friends before adroitly courting the city's politically potent Jewish community.
To broaden his appeal to African-Americans, Mr. Obama had to assiduously court older black leaders entrenched in Chicago's ward politics before selling himself as a young, multicultural bridge to the wider political world.
Others see his deft movements as a politician shifting positions and alliances for strategic advantage, leaving some disappointed and baffled about where he really stands.
"He has a pattern of forming relationships with various communities and as he takes his next step up, kind of distancing himself from them and then positioning himself as the bridge," said Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American author and co-founder of the online publication Electronic Intifada, who became acquainted with Mr. Obama in Chicago.
Even moments that supporters see as his boldest are tempered by his political caution. The forceful speech he delivered in 2002 against the impending Iraq invasion — a speech that has helped define him on the national stage — was threaded with an unusual mantra for a 1960s style antiwar rally: "I'm not opposed to all wars." It was a refrain Mr. Obama had tested on his political advisers, and it was a display of his ability to speak to the audience before him while keeping in mind the broader audience to come.
That seems to be a familiar pattern with Obama - it's "buddies for life" while he needs them, then he forgets about them when they are no longer useful, or tosses them under the bus when they become inconvenient. This doesn't bode well for the OFB.
Remember that stuff about Obama being a civil rights lawyer? It appears there is more to that story than meets the eye:
When Judson H. Miner invited a third-year Harvard Law School student named Barack Obama to lunch at the Thai Star Cafe in Chicago before his 1991 graduation, Mr. Miner thought he was recruiting the 29-year-old to work for his boutique civil rights law firm. Instead, Mr. Obama recruited him.
Mr. Obama made it clear that he was less interested in a job than in learning the political lay of the land from a man who had served at the right hand of the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington. Mr. Miner, who had helped with the historic 1983 election of Mr. Washington and served as his corporation counsel, proved a willing tutor.
Perhaps this explains why this hotshot "civil rights" attorney has nothing to show for his experience. Most people who run on their record have a record to run on. Even Rudy Giuliani made his name going after organized crime.
It was, however, exactly where an aspiring politician might land if he happened to want to run for office from Hyde Park, a neighborhood with a long history of electing reform-minded politicians independent of the city's legendary Democratic machine. Mr. Obama chose to put down roots in the neighborhood after graduating law school and marrying Michelle Robinson, a Chicago native and fellow lawyer.
A tight-knit community that runs through the South Side, Hyde Park is a liberal bastion of integration in what is otherwise one of the nation's most segregated cities. Mayor Washington had called it home, as did whites who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and wealthy black entrepreneurs a generation removed from the civil rights battles of the 1960s. At its heart is the University of Chicago; at its borders are poor, predominately black neighborhoods blighted by rundown buildings and vacant lots. In Congress, it is represented by Representative Bobby L. Rush, a Democrat and a former leader of the Black Panther Party.
The decision to accept Mr. Miner's job offer quickly paid off. By the time Mr. Obama announced his candidacy for the Illinois State Senate in 1995 — at the very Hyde Park hotel where Mr. Washington had kicked off his mayoral campaign — he had cultivated a network of influential supporters from his perch at the law firm.
Mr. Miner was "enormously helpful" in introducing Mr. Obama to the liberal coalition of blacks and whites that had helped elect Mr. Washington, said Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend and close adviser. "It brought in a whole new circle of people."
Mr. Obama cultivated clients like Bishop Arthur M. Brazier, the influential pastor of an 18,000-member black church and founding president of the Woodlawn Organization, which focuses on improving conditions for black residents in a poor neighborhood adjacent to Hyde Park. The two men began talking politics over regular tennis games at Chicago's elite East Bank Club, Mr. Brazier recalled.
Mr. Obama also worked on housing redevelopment projects involving Antoin Rezko, who became one of Mr. Obama's most generous political donors. Mr. Rezko is currently on trial for corruption charges unrelated to Mr. Obama.
It seems everything Obama does benefits Obama. Every job, every friendship, is just part of the same pattern.
It was through the law firm that Mr. Obama met Marilyn Katz, who gave him entry into another activist network: the foot soldiers of the white student and black power movements that helped define Chicago in the 1960s.
As a leader of Students for a Democratic Society back then, Ms. Katz organized Vietnam War protests, throwing nails in the street to thwart the police. But like many from that era, Ms. Katz had gone on to become a politically active member of the Chicago establishment, playing in a regular poker game with Mr. Miner while working as a consultant to his nemesis, Mayor Daley.
"For better or worse, this is Chicago," said Ms. Katz, who has held a number of fund-raisers for Mr. Obama at her home. "Everyone is connected to everyone."
Mr. Obama also fit in at Hyde Park's fringes, among university faculty members like Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, both unrepentant members of the radical Weather Underground that bombed the United States Capitol and the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War.
Mr. Obama was introduced to the couple in 1995 at a meet-and-greet they held for him at their turn-of-the-century home, aides said. Now, along with Mr. Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Ayers has become a prime exhibit in the effort by Mr. Obama's presidential rivals to highlight what could be politically radioactive associations. In 2001, Mr. Ayers said he did not regret the Weatherman bombings. Even so, in Hyde Park, he and his wife were viewed favorably for their more recent civic engagement in addressing city problems. Mr. Ayers was just "a guy who lives in my neighborhood," Mr. Obama said recently.
The two men were involved in efforts to reform the city's education system. They appeared together on academic panels, including one organized by Michelle Obama to discuss the juvenile justice system, an area of mutual concern. Mr. Ayers's book on the subject won a rave review in The Chicago Tribune by Mr. Obama, who called it "a searing and timely account."
Sounds to me like Ayers was more than "just a guy who lives in my neighborhood."
Here's a little bit more about Ayers from Wikipedia:
Ayers grew up in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago, attended Lake Forest Academy and earned a B.A. from the University of Michigan in American Studies in 1968. He is the son of Thomas G. Ayers, former Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison (1973 to 1980), Chicago philanthropist and the namesake of the Thomas G. Ayers College of Commerce and Industry.
We've heard a lot about Ayers bombmaking years. But what about his family? Thomas G. Ayers was "Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison." Hmmm.
Commonwealth Edison (or "ComEd"), owned by Exelon Corporation, is the largest electric utility in Illinois.
Exelon? Where have we heard that before? David Axelrod worked for Exelon. But there's more.
Remember when Obama bragged about passing legislation to regulate nuclear power plants?:
When residents in Illinois voiced outrage two years ago upon learning that the Exelon Corporation had not disclosed radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants, the state's freshman senator, Barack Obama, took up their cause.
Mr. Obama scolded Exelon and federal regulators for inaction and introduced a bill to require all plant owners to notify state and local authorities immediately of even small leaks. He has boasted of it on the campaign trail, telling a crowd in Iowa in December that it was "the only nuclear legislation that I've passed."
"I just did that last year," he said, to murmurs of approval.
A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story. While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks.
Those revisions propelled the bill through a crucial committee. But, contrary to Mr. Obama's comments in Iowa, it ultimately died amid parliamentary wrangling in the full Senate.
"Senator Obama's staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, and we could see it weakening with each successive draft," said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Ill., where low-level radioactive runoff had turned up in groundwater. "The teeth were just taken out of it."
The history of the bill shows Mr. Obama navigating a home-state controversy that pitted two important constituencies against each other and tested his skills as a legislative infighter. On one side were neighbors of several nuclear plants upset that low-level radioactive leaks had gone unreported for years; on the other was Exelon, the country's largest nuclear plant operator and one of Mr. Obama's largest sources of campaign money.
Since 2003, executives and employees of Exelon, which is based in Illinois, have contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama's campaigns for the United States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fund-raisers.
So much for grassroots fundraising. Did I mention that David Axelrod is a specialist at "astroturfing?"
END PART I