Obama, a constitutional law professor and state senator from
the south side of Chicago, is a leading candidate for the
US Senate in the March 2004 Illinois Democratic primary. It's
an open seat with no incumbent. In a crowded field that includes
three well-known and better-funded opponents, Obama is definitely
a contender. But who is Barack Obama?
former community organizer not long out of Harvard Law School,
Obama was tapped in 1992 to head up Project
VOTE Illinois, where he was responsible for registering
120,000 new Democratic voters, mostly minorities, and chasing
the greater part of them out to the polls that November. Barack
and his team made a significant contribution toward Bill Clinton
carrying Illinois that year and enabled Carol Moseley Braun
to squeak by a Republican opponent to become the first and
only black woman ever to sit in the US Senate. In 1996 Obama
was elected to the Illinois state senate. At the midpoint
of a four-year term in 2000, Obama challenged incumbent congressman
Rush and was trounced in the Democratic primary by almost
2 to 1. He is the sponsor of a bill in the Illinois legislature
requiring local police departments in Illinois to record the
race of anyone stopped for questioning so that the data can
be used to track the occurrence of racial profiling.
win the Democratic primary election in Illinois, where African
Americans cast at least a quarter of the ballots, Obama needs
to capture the great majority of a large black turnout, and
pick up a significant slice of white votes as well. To secure
a general election victory in a presidential election year
Obama will have to fire up an expanded Democratic base and
turn the election into a crusade against the incumbent president
and his party. Can he do it?
an antiwar meeting last October Obama was certainly pitching
to that Democratic base in the progressive and African American
don't oppose all wars ... What I am opposed to is a dumb
war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed
to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz
and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration
to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats,
irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships
I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl
Roves to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise
in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income ... to
distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that
has just gone thru the worst month since the Great Depression.
what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based
not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics
else's brand of politics appears to have intruded on Obama's
campaign. For a while the whole speech could be found on Obama's
campaign web site, a key statement of principle for a
serious US Senate candidate in an election season when the
President's party threatens the world with permanent war and
pre-emptive invasion, and cows US citizens with fear mongering,
color coded alerts, secret detentions and the abrogation of
constitutional liberties. Although Obama may have appeared
at meetings of other citizens opposed to the war or let them
use his name, no further public statements from the candidate
on these important issues have appeared.
a few weeks ago, Barack Obama's heartfelt statement of principled
opposition to lawless militarism and the rule of fear was
stricken without explanation from his campaign web site, and
with mild expressions of "anxiety":
I think [people are] all astonished, I think, in many quarters,
about, for example, the recent Bush budget and the prospect
that, for example, veterans benefits might be cut. And so
there's discussion about that, I think, among both supporters
and those who are opposed to the war. What kind of world
are we building?
I think that's - the anxiety is about the international
prospects and how we potentially reconstruct Iraq. And the
costs there, then, tie in very directly with concerns about
how we're handling our problems at home.
passion evaporated, a leading black candidate for the US Senate
mouths bland generalities on war, peace and the US role in
the world. Barack Obama, professor of constitutional law,
is mum on the Patriot Act, silent about increased surveillance
of US citizens, secret searches, and detentions without trial.
His campaign literature and speeches ignore Patriot Act 2,
which would detain US citizens without trial, strip them of
their nationality and deport them to - wherever, citizens
of no nation.
a black candidate who is utterly reliant upon a fired up base
among African American and progressive voters, who must distinguish
himself from a crowded Democratic field, this is strange behavior,
indeed. Polls show Blacks have consistently opposed administration
war policies by at least two to one, as does the white progressive
"base" of the party. Yet Obama appears determined
to contain, rather than amplify, these voices.
win without a fight
Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr.
(D-Chicago), perhaps Obama's most prominent supporter among
local elected officials, knows well the power of passion in
the political process. Jackson has taken pains to state and
restate his opposition to the Bush party's doctrine of "preventive
war," both on constitutional
grounds, and wastes no opportunity to denounce it as utterly
unjustified. Rep. Jackson also has some salient thoughts on
the flavor that African American progressive candidates representing
the views of their base bring to general elections nationally,
or in big states like Illinois.
p. 460 of his recent book "A More Perfect Union,"
Rep. Jackson spells out the possible benefits to the Democratic
Party of nominating a black candidate for vice-president.
The presence of a progressive black candidate, said Jackson,
automatically turns the conversation to the left, and gets
the base's juices flowing.
African American on the ticket enhances the chances of winning
for a good candidate .... It also converts a conventional
campaign into an enthusiastic crusade."
you don't spark a crusade by running away from your base.
So how should we understand Obama's sudden reticence to express
and represent the views of his base in the black and progressive
communities of Illinois?
is the mission of the Democratic
Leadership Council (DLC) to make it financially attractive
to Democratic candidates and office holders to take stands
diametrically opposed to the interests of their constituents,
to sound and vote more like corporate friendly Republicans.
In an excellent American
Prospect article two years ago, Robert Dreyfuss detailed
how the DLC/New Democrats flipped black Rep. Greg Meeks, from
Queens, New York, on a key trade vote.
(a DLC operative) hooked Meeks up with a stream of corporate
officials from Silicon Valley and the New York financial
district. "My boss made sure there'd be support for
Meeks from the business community," says a Dooley aide.
"He spread the word, through groups like the Business
Roundtable, that here was a guy who deserved their support."
Dooley helped bring in businesses who otherwise Congressman
Meeks would not have known, and didn't have a relationship
with, to knock on his door. As a result, scores of meetings
were held with the congressman, says an aide to Meeks, citing
sit-downs with the CEOs of American Airlines and New York
Life Insurance Company. High-tech executives helped ensure
that Meeks would be one of two undecided members to accompany
President Clinton on his high-profile trip to China before
the vote, the aide said; and Meeks also won significant
backing from industry political action committees, which
ended up nearly matching labor's donations to Meeks's campaign
treasury. Included were $5,000 PAC contributions from American
Airlines and New York Life. And in the end, Meeks voted
trying to raise money to help them lessen their reliance
on traditional interest groups in the Democratic Party,"
offers a DLC field director. "In that way," he
adds, "they are ideologically freed .... "
Obama is listed in the DLC/New Democrats directory of local
elected officials, and was featured in its 100
Democratic Leaders to Watch in 2003. It would be a shame
if he is in the process of becoming "ideologically freed"
from the opinions of the African American and other Democrats
whose votes he needs to win.
DLC/New Democrat position is identical to that of the White
House, "free" and scornful of all opposition voices.
Here we have it the words of DLC founder Al From.
... Democrats must overcome both their own and the opposition's
partisan instincts, and act in the national interest. The
president's decision to prosecute this war without explicit
authorization from the United Nations was a close call,
but it was the right call.
... Iraq is clearly involved in both the quest for weapons
of mass destruction and in fomenting anti-Western terrorism,
whether or not there are direct links between Baghdad and
Al Qaeda. The risks of war are eclipsed by the risk of tolerating
a conjunction between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction,
in a country ruled by a bitter enemy of America, and in
the most volatile region of the world."
are definitely multiple voices in Obama's ear right now. On
the one hand, there are the DLC/New Democrats, the right wing
corporate funded arm of the Democratic Party. Their consistent
advice is to shut up and support the president's war at home
and abroad, to get away from the concerns of "special
interests" like minorities, working Americans, environmentalists
and the uninsured, and peel off some not-too-conservative
Republican swing votes. Their champion is Connecticut Senator
Joseph Lieberman, the most rightwing of the Democratic candidates
the other hand, there is Barack Obama's Democratic base -
African Americans, who don't support the war, and other Democratic
voters who don't support President Bush. In fact, according
to the Gallup and Zogby polls the most strongly held common
issue among those opposed to the president is opposition to
the war. Should Obama fail to vigorously attack the party
of war and corporate plunder he will lose the opportunity
to energize and expand his base. The crusade will be smothered
in its crib - the DLC's proven formula for failure.
is wooing whom?
web site features a praiseful article from the March 6 - 12
issue of N'Digo Magazine - a piece that could have been written
by Obama's own hand, last October: "Shunning the allure
of huge corporate dollars and the recognition that would accompany
them, Obama's philosophy is grounded in altruism," said
the magazine. How, then, does one explain his association
with the DLC, the corporate money apparatus of the Democratic
is not the Barack Obama that Illinois progressives would like
to support. It is not the Barack Obama who can win a primary
or general election in a season where the President kicks
off his campaign from the deck of an aircraft carrier impersonating
Top Gun. It's not the Barack Obama who can win in the year
that Republicans will wind up their convention at Ground Zero
NYC, the second week of September 2004, screaming "Terror!"
at the top of their lungs. Unless Barack Obama recovers his
lost voice, he will have no answer.
Obama seems to be listening to the voice of DLC founder and
CEO Al From, who in February declared to so-called New Democrats,
"Your most formidable opponent isn't Bush or your fellow
contestants for the nomination. Your real enemy is the ghost
of Democrats past." Those "ghosts" are the
"activists" and "special interests" of
the Democratic Party - the very same code words that Republicans
use for Blacks, unions and advocates of Obama's own, cherished
Barack Obama renew the challenge he made in his now vanished
speech last October?
am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.
for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for
our children, let us send a clear message to the president
want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with
Bin Laden and Al Qaida, thru effective, coordinated intelligence,
and a shutting down of the financial networks that support
terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves
more than color-coded warnings.
want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure that
the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously
enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies
and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately
eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations
like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons in
already in their possession, and that the arms merchants
in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that
rage across the globe.
want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure our
so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the
Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing
dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging
their economies so that their youth grow up without education,
without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist
want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to wean ourselves
off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn't
simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.
are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles
that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and
intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair.
consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable.
We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise
up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war.
But we ought not - we will not - travel down that hellish
path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march
off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the
full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such
an awful sacrifice in vain."
Obama's web site proudly features this quote from the candidate:
"Anybody who knows the U.S Senate, knows (that) to be
the only African American in that body is a tremendous responsibility."
campaign to date leaves a question hanging, heavily. Responsible