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History > 2008 > USA > Politics (IV)




Black Americans

on long road to political equality


Mon Jun 30, 2008
9:35am EDT
By Matthew Bigg


ATLANTA (Reuters) - For black Americans, the road to political inclusion that has allowed Democratic candidate Barack Obama to make a serious bid for the White House has been long and difficult.

After the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in 1863, a series of laws and amendments to the U.S. constitution allowed Hiram Revels to be elected to the senate in 1870 in Mississippi as the country's first African American congressman.

But only a small number of black Americans have entered the U.S. senate or become state governors since then and most of those who have found a slot on a presidential ticket had no chance of winning.

The most unlikely black American on a presidential ticket was Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, Douglass taught himself to read, illegal for blacks at the time, fought a slave master and was repeatedly whipped.

He escaped to New York in 1838, where he became a prominent lecturer, newspaper publisher and a spokesman for the abolition of slavery and for women's rights.

His autobiography became a bestseller and he advised President Abraham Lincoln during the civil war and delivered a stirring eulogy at Lincoln's funeral.

But when Victoria Woodhull ran for president for the Equal Rights Party in 1872 and named Douglass as her vice-presidential candidate, Douglass, who supported incumbent President Ulysses Grant, never acknowledged that he was on Woodhull's ticket and never campaigned on his own behalf.

"It was a publicity stunt to generate attention to some for the issues she believed in," said Eric Foner, a leading expert on the period.


In the decades after the end of the civil war, two black Americans were elected to the U.S. Senate before a series of laws ushered in an era of disenfranchisement, segregation and lynchings, all of which stifled black political participation.

In 1932, 1936 and 1940, James Ford, a labor organizer, ran as the Communist Party's vice-presidential candidate. Though the party gained less than 1 percent of the vote in 1932, some blacks including prominent intellectuals were attracted to its commitment to end racial discrimination as part of the drive for equality for all oppressed workers.

Until that point, most Americans would have laughed off the idea of a black presidential bid as far-fetched.

But a change started when, in the teeth of violent opposition, the civil rights movement set winning the right for blacks to vote in the South as a goal. After landmark acts in 1964 and 1965, blacks were able to vote in large numbers.

Eldridge Cleaver, a leader of the militant Black Power movement, ran for president in 1968 on a pro-civil rights, anti-Vietnam War platform. The same year, comedian and activist Dick Gregory ran for president for the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from Cleaver's Peace and Freedom Party.

That year, Charlene Mitchell, another communist, became the first African American woman on a presidential ballot -- she ran in two states.

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, was also the first African American to vie for a major party's nomination, attempting to become the Democratic party's candidate for president in 1972.

"With her, it was something of a symbolic political exercise that people, including blacks, didn't think was possible," said Lee Edwards, presidential historian at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank.

"People were not seriously thinking that Chisholm ... could become president," Edwards said.


Rev. Jesse Jackson, who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King for civil rights, won primary elections in five states during his 1984 bid for the Democratic nomination and in at least 11 states in a repeat bid in 1988, when he was briefly considered the front-runner.

"My first run was to put the civil rights agenda, the structure of equality agenda, on the front burner," Jackson said in an interview. "It broke a cultural barrier".

Jackson set his own bids in the context of a process that began in 1954 with a landmark Supreme Court decision on public school desegregation that laid the groundwork for democratic equality and civil rights.

Obama was "running the final lap of a marathon" that had lasted for decades, Jackson said.

He said political access for minorities was already entrenched whether Obama won or not, an argument partly backed up by the increasing number of black Americans who have run for president in recent elections.

Activist Lenora Fulani was the first black woman to have her name on the ballot in 50 states at the 1988 election. Alan Keyes ran for the Republican nomination in 1996 and in 2000.

Rev. Al Sharpton campaigned for the Democratic nomination for the 2004 presidential election, a campaign in which Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was also briefly a candidate.

While none has matched Obama's prominence, he is not the only black candidate in 2008. Cynthia McKinney, an African American former congresswoman from Georgia, is the Green Party's presumptive nominee.

(Editing by Michael Christie and Eddie Evans)

    Black Americans on long road to political equality, R, 30.6.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN1735279520080630







Black U.S. senators and governors


Sun Jun 29, 2008
9:41pm EDT


(Reuters) - Democratic candidate Barack Obama is the first black American with a serious shot at becoming U.S. president. He is also the country's fifth black senator.

The following list of African American senators and governors can be divided into two parts -- during the so called Reconstruction era that followed the civil war and a second period after a landmark voting act in 1965:



Hiram Revels -- elected in 1870 to the U.S. Senator as a Republican from Mississippi, where there was a black majority after the civil war. Served until 1871.

Blanche Bruce -- elected in 1875 as a Republican from Mississippi. Served until 1881.


Edward Brooke -- A Massachusetts Republican, served between 1967 and 1979.

Carol Moseley Braun -- An Illinois Democratic senator between 1993 and 1999.

Barack Obama -- Became the junior senator from Illinois in 2005.



Pinckney Pinchback - served as Republican governor of Louisiana for 35 days starting in December 1872 after the previous governor was impeached.


Douglas Wilder - a Democrat, he served one term as governor of Virginia from 1990. He was the country's first elected black governor.

Deval Patrick - was elected Democratic governor of Massachusetts in 2006.

David Paterson - the lieutenant governor of New York became Democratic governor in March when Eliot Spitzer resigned because of a sex scandal.

(Compiled by Matthew Bigg in Atlanta;

Editing by Michael Christie)

FACTBOX: Black U.S. senators and governors, R, 29.6.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN2044253720080630?virtualBrandChannel=10112






Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol


June 23, 2008
The New York Times


When VeraSun Energy inaugurated a new ethanol processing plant last summer in Charles City, Iowa, some of that industry’s most prominent boosters showed up. Leaders of the National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association, for instance, came to help cut the ribbon — and so did Senator Barack Obama.

Then running far behind Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in name recognition and in the polls, Mr. Obama was in the midst of a campaign swing through the state where he would eventually register his first caucus victory. And as befits a senator from Illinois, the country’s second largest corn-producing state, he delivered a ringing endorsement of ethanol as an alternative fuel.

Mr. Obama is running as a reformer who is seeking to reduce the influence of special interests. But like any other politician, he has powerful constituencies that help shape his views. And when it comes to domestic ethanol, almost all of which is made from corn, he also has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry at a time when energy policy is a point of sharp contrast between the parties and their presidential candidates.

In the heart of the Corn Belt that August day, Mr. Obama argued that embracing ethanol “ultimately helps our national security, because right now we’re sending billions of dollars to some of the most hostile nations on earth.” America’s oil dependence, he added, “makes it more difficult for us to shape a foreign policy that is intelligent and is creating security for the long term.”

Nowadays, when Mr. Obama travels in farm country, he is sometimes accompanied by his friend Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader from South Dakota. Mr. Daschle now serves on the boards of three ethanol companies and works at a Washington law firm where, according to his online job description, “he spends a substantial amount of time providing strategic and policy advice to clients in renewable energy.”

Mr. Obama’s lead advisor on energy and environmental issues, Jason Grumet, came to the campaign from the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan initiative associated with Mr. Daschle and Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican who is also a former Senate majority leader and a big ethanol backer who had close ties to the agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland.

Not long after arriving in the Senate, Mr. Obama himself briefly provoked a controversy by flying at subsidized rates on corporate airplanes, including twice on jets owned by Archer Daniels Midland, which is the nation’s largest ethanol producer and is based in his home state.

Jason Furman, the Obama campaign’s economic policy director, said Mr. Obama’s stance on ethanol was based on its merits. “That is what has always motivated him on this issue, and will continue to determine his policy going forward,” Mr. Furman said.

Asked if Mr. Obama brought any predisposition or bias to the ethanol debate because he represents a corn-growing state that stands to benefit from a boom, Mr. Furman said, “He wants to represent the United States of America, and his policies are based on what’s best for the country.”

Mr. Daschle, a national co-chairman of the Obama campaign, said in a telephone interview on Friday that his role advising the Obama campaign on energy matters was limited. He said he was not a lobbyist for ethanol companies, but did speak publicly about renewable energy options and worked “with a number of associations and groups to orchestrate and coordinate their activities,” including the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition.

Of Mr. Obama, Mr. Daschle said, “He has a terrific policy staff and relies primarily on those key people to advise him on key issues, whether energy or climate change or other things.”

Ethanol is one area in which Mr. Obama strongly disagrees with his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona. While both presidential candidates emphasize the need for the United States to achieve “energy security” while also slowing down the carbon emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming, they offer sharply different visions of the role that ethanol, which can be made from a variety of organic materials, should play in those efforts.

Mr. McCain advocates eliminating the multibillion-dollar annual government subsidies that domestic ethanol has long enjoyed. As a free trade advocate, he also opposes the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff that the United States slaps on imports of ethanol made from sugar cane, which packs more of an energy punch than corn-based ethanol and is cheaper to produce.

“We made a series of mistakes by not adopting a sustainable energy policy, one of which is the subsidies for corn ethanol, which I warned in Iowa were going to destroy the market” and contribute to inflation, Mr. McCain said this month in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de São Paulo. “Besides, it is wrong,” he added, to tax Brazilian-made sugar cane ethanol, “which is much more efficient than corn ethanol.”

Mr. Obama, in contrast, favors the subsidies, some of which end up in the hands of the same oil companies he says should be subjected to a windfall profits tax. In the name of helping the United States build “energy independence,” he also supports the tariff, which some economists say may well be illegal under the World Trade Organization’s rules but which his advisers say is not.

Many economists, consumer advocates, environmental experts and tax groups have been critical of corn ethanol programs as a boondoggle that benefits agribusiness conglomerates more than small farmers. Those complaints have intensified recently as corn prices have risen sharply in tandem with oil prices and corn normally used for food stock has been diverted to ethanol production.

“If you want to take some of the pressure off this market, the obvious thing to do is lower that tariff and let some Brazilian ethanol come in,” said C. Ford Runge, an economist specializing in commodities and trade policy at the Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy at the University of Minnesota. “But one of the fundamental reasons biofuels policy is so out of whack with markets and reality is that interest group politics have been so dominant in the construction of the subsidies that support it.”

Corn ethanol generates less than two units of energy for every unit of energy used to produce it, while the energy ratio for sugar cane is more than 8 to 1. With lower production costs and cheaper land prices in the tropical countries where it is grown, sugar cane is a more efficient source.

Mr. Furman said the campaign continued to examine the issue. “We want to evaluate all our energy subsidies to make sure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth,” he said.

He added that Mr. Obama favored “a range of initiatives” that were aimed at “diversification across countries and sources of energy,” including cellulosic ethanol, and which, unlike Mr. McCain’s proposals, were specifically meant to “reduce overall demand through conservation, new technology and improved efficiency.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama has not explained his opposition to imported sugar cane ethanol. But in remarks last year, made as President Bush was about to sign an ethanol cooperation agreement with his Brazilian counterpart, Mr. Obama argued that “our country’s drive toward energy independence” could suffer if Mr. Bush relaxed restrictions, as Mr. McCain now proposes.

“It does not serve our national and economic security to replace imported oil with Brazilian ethanol,” he argued.

Mr. Obama does talk regularly about developing switchgrass, which flourishes in the Midwest and Great Plains, as a source for ethanol. While the energy ratio for switchgrass and other types of cellulosic ethanol is much greater than corn, economists say that time-consuming investments in infrastructure would be required to make it viable, and with corn nearing $8 a bushel, farmers have little incentive to shift.

Ethanol industry executives and advocates have not made large donations to either candidate for president, an examination of campaign contribution records shows. But they have noted the difference between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain.

Brian Jennings, a vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said he hoped that Mr. McCain, as a presidential candidate, “would take a broader view of energy security and recognize the important role that ethanol plays.”

The candidates’ views were tested recently in the Farm Bill approved by Congress that extended the subsidies for corn ethanol, though reducing them slightly, and the tariffs on imported sugar cane ethanol. Because Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama were campaigning, neither voted. But Mr. McCain said that as president he would veto the bill, while Mr. Obama praised it.

    Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol, NYT, 23.6.2008,http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/23/us/politics/23ethanol.html






Obama says

bin Laden must not be a martyr


June 18, 2008
Filed at 3:50 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama says if Osama bin Laden were captured on his watch, he'd want to ensure he doesn't become a martyr if he were prosecuted.

Obama said he's not sure that the terrorist mastermind would be captured alive. But if he were, Obama said he would want to bring him to justice ''in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he's engaged in and not to make him into a martyr.''

Obama was asked about how he would handle bin Laden at a news conference Wednesday after he met with a new team of national security advisers. The meeting came after rival John McCain's campaign criticized Obama for a having a pre-9-11 mind-set for promoting trial of terrorists.

    Obama says bin Laden must not be a martyr, NYT, 18.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-Obama-National-Security.html






McCain Extends His Outreach,

but Evangelicals Are Still Wary


June 9, 2008
The New York Times


Lori Viars, an evangelical activist in Warren County, Ohio, essentially put her life on hold in the fall of 2004 to run a phone bank for President Bush. Her efforts helped the president’s ambitious push to turn out evangelicals and win that critical swing state in a close election.

But Ms. Viars, who is among a cluster of socially conservative activists in Ohio being courted by Senator John McCain’s campaign through regular e-mail messages, is taking a wait-and-see attitude for now toward Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

“I think a lot of us are in a holding pattern,” said Ms. Viars, who added that she wanted to see whom Mr. McCain picked for his running mate.

Ms. Viars’s hesitation illustrates what remains one of Mr. McCain’s biggest challenges as he faces a general election contest with Senator Barack Obama: a continued wariness toward him among evangelicals and other Christian conservatives, a critical voting bloc for Republicans that could stay home in the fall or at least be decidedly unenthusiastic in their efforts to get out the vote.

To address this, Mr. McCain’s campaign has been ramping up its outreach to evangelicals over the last month, preparing a budget and a strategic plan for turning them out in 18 battleground states this fall.

The campaign has been peppering over 600 socially conservative grass-roots and national leaders with regular e-mail messages — highlighting, for example, Mr. McCain’s statement criticizing a May 15 decision by the California Supreme Court overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, or his recent speech on his judicial philosophy. It has also held briefings for small groups of conservative leaders before key speeches. Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s senior advisers, recently sat down with a dozen prominent evangelical leaders in Washington, where he emphasized, among other things, Mr. McCain’s consistent anti-abortion voting record.

Mr. McCain’s outreach to Christian conservatives has been a quiet courting, reflecting a balancing act: his election hopes rely on drawing in the political middle and Democrats who might be turned off should he woo the religious right too heavily by, for instance, highlighting his anti-abortion position more on the campaign trail.

“If McCain tried Bush’s strategy of just mobilizing the base, he would almost certainly fall short,” said John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “Because the Republican brand name is less popular and the conservative base is restive, McCain has special needs to reach out to independent and moderate voters, but, of course, he can’t completely neglect the evangelical and conservative base.”

The instrumental role of evangelicals in Mr. Bush’s victory in 2004 over Senator John Kerry is an oft-repeated tale at this point. Mr. Bush’s openness about his personal faith and stances on social issues earned him a following among evangelicals, who represented about a quarter of the electorate in 2004. Exit polls in the 2004 election found that 78 percent of white “born again” or evangelical Protestants had voted for Mr. Bush.

In contrast, Mr. McCain’s relationship with evangelicals has long been troubled. In 2000, when he was running against Mr. Bush for the Republican nomination, Mr. McCain castigated Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance.”

In a sign of the lingering distrust, Mr. McCain finished last out of nine Republican candidates in a straw poll last year at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, a gathering for socially conservative activists.

James C. Dobson, the influential founder of the evangelical group Focus on the Family, released a statement in February, when Mr. McCain was on the verge of securing the Republican nomination, affirming that he would not vote for Mr. McCain and would instead stay home if he became the nominee. Dr. Dobson later softened his stance and said he would vote but has remained critical of Mr. McCain.

“For John McCain to be competitive, he has to connect with the base to the point that they’re intense enough that they’re contagious,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “Right now they’re not even coughing.”

The balancing act Mr. McCain faces in appealing to both moderate voters and evangelicals was starkly illustrated last month when he rejected the endorsements of the Rev. John Hagee and the Rev. Rod Parsley, prominent evangelical leaders, after controversial statements by the two came to light. Mr. Parsley has been vocally anti-Islam and Mr. Hagee, in a sermon, said Hitler and the Holocaust had been part of God’s plan to drive the Jews to Palestine.

Mr. McCain’s actions complicated his relationship with evangelical leaders, some of whom said in interviews that the senator’s actions contributed to the impression among some evangelicals that he did not know or understand them. They argued that he should have stood by them, while making clear that he did not necessarily agree with all of their views.

“I think that was a stumble that will add to the challenges here,” said Gary Bauer, president of the group American Values, who in February became arguably the most visible evangelical leader to begin actively working on Mr. McCain’s behalf. “Those are both very influential men and it will just make things more challenging to accomplish between now and November.”

Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain is decidedly reticent about religion on the stump. Mr. McCain grew up Episcopalian and shifted to a Baptist church after marrying his second wife, Cindy, but has not been baptized into the denomination. When asked about his personal faith at town hall forums, he often relates a familiar story. When Mr. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a guard who had once loosened his bonds while he was being tortured sidled up to him on Christmas Day and drew a cross on the dirt in front of them. But some evangelical leaders say the account sheds more light on the guard’s faith than on Mr. McCain’s.

Nevertheless, a small group of McCain staff members and surrogates have begun stepping up, largely behind the scenes, his outreach to evangelicals and other social conservatives.

The group includes Marlys Popma, a prominent socially conservative leader in Iowa who has been with the campaign since the beginning but about a month ago took on the title of national coordinator for evangelical and social conservative outreach; Robert C. Heckman, the campaign’s director of conservative outreach who was the political director of Mr. Bauer’s presidential campaign in 2000; and Brett O’Donnell, the campaign’s director of messaging who was a debate coach at Liberty University, Mr. Falwell’s institution.

Former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, a graduate of Wheaton College, an evangelical school, is also playing an active role, as is Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and a longtime social conservative stalwart.

The initial outreach plans call for replicating the campaign’s approach in the Republican primary, creating “Family Issues Leaders for McCain” committees for each state made up of key social conservatives who have endorsed him.

About a dozen people, including staffers and socially conservative leaders who are advising the campaign, have begun a weekly conference call to plot strategy.

Mr. McCain’s advisers said they were in a talking and listening mode with evangelical leaders, as opposed to seeking endorsements aggressively, in part out of recognition that many Christian conservatives remained suspicious of him.

Mr. McCain may be aided by Mr. Obama’s own problems lately among religious voters. Mr. Obama, who speaks comfortably about his own Christian faith, was once seen as the kind of candidate who could help Democrats close the gap with Republicans among weekly churchgoers, who voted for Mr. Bush in droves in 2004. But those efforts have been complicated by the incendiary remarks by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and the comments by Mr. Obama at a fund-raiser in the Bay Area about people in small towns clinging to guns and religion.

Nevertheless, the Obama campaign plans to add a full-time evangelical-focused staff member to its existing religious outreach team and is rolling out an effort over the summer to organize over a thousand house parties built around an hour-and-a-half-long curriculum on faith and politics. With the broadening of the evangelical agenda to include issues like poverty, global warming and AIDS, Mr. Obama’s advisers hope to peel off more moderate evangelical voters.

David Brody, a political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said he believed Mr. Obama’s comments had hurt his chances among evangelicals, but he added, “I think Obama has a great opportunity still, with the Jeremiah Wright controversy behind him, to re-introduce himself with the American people, especially with his spiritual walk.”

To make Mr. McCain’s case, his supporters highlight his speech on his judicial philosophy, in which he vowed to appoint judges with a “commitment to judicial restraint,” as well as his anti-abortion voting record, though his critics argue he has hardly been passionate about the issue over the years.

In 2006 Mr. McCain was featured in television advertisements supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Arizona, but he argued vigorously against a federal ban on the Senate floor that year, breaking with Mr. Bush and the Republican leadership, citing his belief that states should decide the issue.

Many conservative activists revile Mr. McCain for his sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul measure. Similarly, his support for federal financing of embryonic stem cell research puts him at odds with many conservatives.

Mr. McCain’s supporters, however, contend that if they simply outline Mr. McCain’s policy stances on issues that matter to social conservatives and make clear where Mr. Obama stands, the choice will be obvious.

“It’s my job to make sure the people out there in the leadership and the grass roots get a chance to know John McCain for what he really is,” Ms. Popma said.

    McCain Extends His Outreach, but Evangelicals Are Still Wary, NYT, 9.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/us/politics/09mccain.html







Why Obama Must Go to Iraq


June 5, 2008
The Wall Street Journal


Earlier this year, I spent five days in Iraq, walking the same streets in Baghdad where I had served two years earlier as an infantry platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division.

The visit reinforced for me not only the immense complexity of the war – so often lost in our domestic political debate – but also the importance of taking the time to visit Iraq to talk with the soldiers and Marines serving on the front lines in order to grasp the changing dynamics of a fluid battlefield.

It is for this reason that the failure of Sen. Barack Obama to travel to Iraq over the past two and a half years is worrisome, and a legitimate issue in this presidential election.

Since his election to the United States Senate in 2004, Mr. Obama has traveled to Iraq just once – in January 2006. This was more than a year before Gen. David Petraeus took command and the surge began. It was also several months before Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government came into office. Although Mr. Obama frequently criticizes the Iraqi leader on the campaign trail, he has never actually met him.

Mr. Obama's conduct is strikingly different from that of Sen. John McCain, who has been to Iraq eight times since 2003 – including three times since surge forces began to arrive in Baghdad. The senior senator from Arizona has made it his mission to truly understand what is happening on the ground, in all its messy reality.

Mr. Obama has dismissed the value of such trips, suggesting they are stage-managed productions designated to obfuscate, not illuminate, the truth. This has become an all-too-common sentiment within the Democratic Party leadership, especially since the surge began to transform conditions on the ground for the better. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has denied that there is any value in visiting the troops in Iraq, and has never done so.

In fairness, there are a number of Democrats who visit Iraq frequently – namely Sens. Joe Biden, who has made eight Iraq trips, and Jack Reed, with 10 trips. Mr. Obama's absence and cynicism stands in stark contrast to their serious approach. It is especially problematic given his intention to become our next commander in chief.

As anyone who has spent time on the ground in Iraq – speaking with troops of all ranks and backgrounds – can tell you, it is hardly a mission impossible to get them out to speak bluntly and openly about the problems they face.

Indeed, Mr. McCain's own frequent and vociferous criticisms of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his warnings, as early as 2003, that the Bush administration was pursuing a flawed strategy in Iraq, were directly informed by his firsthand interactions during his trips to Iraq. Troops and commanders warned him that we lacked sufficient forces to defeat al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, and they were correct.

In turn, Mr. McCain's early advocacy for the surge and his prescient conviction that it would succeed were rooted not only in his extensive knowledge of military affairs, but in his close consultations with troops serving in the theater. They recognized that the new strategy was succeeding far before the mainstream media in the U.S. was willing to acknowledge these gains.

That Mr. Obama apparently doubts his ability to distinguish spin from reality, and to draw bad news out of subordinates, does not bode well for his possible future as our nation's chief executive. As I'm sure he will discover, if he wins the White House, these are among the most important skills for a president to possess.

Even more astonishing than Mr. Obama's absence from Iraq, however, is the fact that he has apparently never sought out a single one-on-one meeting with Gen. Petraeus. The general has made repeated trips back to Washington, but Mr. Obama has shown no interest in meeting privately with him. It's enough to make you wonder who exactly Mr. Obama listens to when it comes to Iraq?

Mr. Obama frequently decries the danger of "dogmatists" and "ideologues" in public policy, yet he himself has proven consistently uninterested in putting himself in situations where he might be confronted with the hard complexities of this war. It suggests a dangerous degree of detachment and overconfidence in his own judgment.

After all, Mr. Obama was among those in January 2007 who stridently opposed the surge and confidently predicted its failure – even going so far as to vote against funding our soldiers in the field unless the Bush administration abandoned this new approach. It is now clear that Mr. Obama's judgment on the surge was spectacularly wrong.

Yet rather than admit his mistake, Mr. Obama has instead tried to downplay or disparage the gains our troops have achieved in the past 12 months, clinging to a set of talking points that increasingly seem as divorced from reality as some in the Bush administration were at the darkest moments of the war.

Mr. Obama continues to insist that "Iraq's political leaders have made no progress in resolving the political differences at the heart of their civil war" – despite the passage of numerous pieces of benchmark legislation by the Iraqi Parliament and unequivocal evidence of grassroots reconciliation across the country.

Mr. Obama also continues to claim that America has "simply thrown U.S. troops at the problem, and it has not worked" – despite the dramatic reduction in violence in precisely those areas of Iraq where American forces have surged, and since handed over to Iraqi Security Forces.

And of course, Mr. Obama persists in his pledge to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq, on a fixed timeline, beginning the moment he enters office – regardless of the recommendations of our commanders on the ground, regardless of conditions on the ground, and regardless, in short, of reality.

America is longing for an informed and principled debate about the future of Iraq. However, such a debate seems unlikely if the Democratic nominee for president won't take the time to truly understand the dynamics on the ground, let alone meet with commanders.

The time for talking points is over. Too much is at stake. When will Mr. Obama finally return to Iraq and see the situation for himself?

Mr. Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom, served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division and returned as an embedded reporter.

    Why Obama Must Go to Iraq, WSJ, 5.6.2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121262094242346677.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_today


















For Clinton, a Key Group Didn’t Hold        NYT        5.6.2008
















For Clinton, a Key Group Didn’t Hold


June 5, 2008
The New York Times

This article was reported by Julie Bosman, Larry Rohter and Katharine Q. Seelye and was written by Ms. Seelye.

By mid-March, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign knew it had a problem with what it had once assumed was a reliable firewall — its support among superdelegates.

The fight for pledged delegates for the Democratic nomination was essentially over. Senator Barack Obama was ahead, after winning a series of caucuses in states that Mrs. Clinton virtually ignored.

Still, it became apparent that neither he nor Mrs. Clinton could claim the presidential nomination with pledged delegates alone, and the two would need superdelegates — elected officials and party activists — to fill the gap.

For Mrs. Clinton in particular, that signaled danger. The commanding lead she had held in superdelegates at the start of the contests — she was about 100 ahead of Mr. Obama — had dwindled by mid-March, to 12.

And superdelegates were showing an independence that the Clinton campaign had not counted on, not quite buying her argument that she was more electable than Mr. Obama.

The break in Mrs. Clinton’s supposed firewall turned out to be one of the most important factors in her campaign.

“Sure, Senator Clinton was the favorite early on, but that was simply because of the institutional support that she already had,” said Jason Rae of Wisconsin, a superdelegate who endorsed Mr. Obama in February. “In the beginning, people were unsure of Senator Obama. But as they continued to see primary after primary, and him excelling, and him attracting all these new voters, I think the superdelegates really started feeling more comfortable with him.”

Of all the assumptions the Clinton campaign made going into the race, its support among the party establishment seemed like a safe bet. Many of the superdelegates, who help pick the nominee at the convention in August, came of age during the Bill Clinton presidency. Many were personal Clinton loyalists, cultivated to help deliver the vote.

But the Obama campaign convinced many superdelegates that they should follow the voters’ will in making their endorsements. To the puzzlement and increasing frustration of the Clinton camp, few flowed her way. Her campaign never recovered from its string of losses through February. By the time she started winning again, with Ohio on March 4, her support among superdelegates hardly inched up.

At the same time, Mr. Obama posted a small but steady increase, culminating in a flood that surged on Tuesday and helped him claim the nomination.

In retrospect, relying on superdelegates as a firewall was flawed, said superdelegates who endorsed Mr. Obama.

Representative David E. Price, a superdelegate from North Carolina, said the idea that Mrs. Clinton could amass enough superdelegates to overturn the verdict of pledged delegates “was never in the cards.”

Don Fowler, a former party chairman and a superdelegate who had supported Mrs. Clinton, said as much in a memo to the campaign on March 11 predicting that at the end of the primaries Mr. Obama would have about 100 more pledged delegates than Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Fowler said that “everything humanly possible should be done” to keep that number below 100, because it would be easier to persuade superdelegates that the two were essentially tied.

The Clintons certainly tried, interviews with two dozen superdelegates found. Many said that the Clintons had intensely pressured them and that their endorsements became a test of personal loyalty, subject to a hard sell. At the same time, many said they were drawn to the Obama campaign’s excitement.

So even during the Obama campaign’s darkest days — an eight-week stretch between Ohio and the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, during which Mr. Obama had called rural voters “bitter” and had to renounce his ties to his former pastor because of racial comments — more superdelegates were lining up with him than with her.

The Obama campaign skillfully managed the flow. Richard Machacek, a farmer and superdelegate from Iowa, for instance, said he told the Obama campaign on a Monday, April 29, that he was endorsing Mr. Obama. The campaign waited until Tuesday afternoon, the same day that Mr. Obama held a news conference to angrily renounce Reverend Wright, to announce Mr. Machacek’s endorsement.

“I don’t know if that was on my mind,” Mr. Machacek said of the timing. “But he needed it more then than he did before.”

David Wilhelm, Mr. Clinton’s first chairman of the Democratic Party, endorsed Mr. Obama in mid-February because, he said, he recognized the race might come down to them and he wanted to send a message to other superdelegates that it was time to support Mr. Obama.

Representative Ben Chandler of Kentucky, who came out for Mr. Obama on April 29, said he timed his endorsement to an “unusually critical” moment.

Mr. Chandler made a reference to the controversial Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. “Reverend Wright’s second incarnation,” Mr. Chandler said. “I did step forward then, because I thought it would be particularly important to him at that time. They seemed to be very happy about it.”

It was the sense among many superdelegates that they should follow the voters’ lead rather than loyalty to the Clintons that prompted many to come out on Mr. Obama’s behalf.

Patsy Arceneaux, a National Committee member from Louisiana who had a friendship with the Clintons, was persuaded early this year to support Mrs. Clinton. But when Mr. Clinton made what she saw as racially inflammatory comments in South Carolina, Ms. Arceneaux said she developed serious misgivings about supporting Mrs. Clinton.

After switching to Mr. Obama two weeks ago, the Clinton campaign bombarded her with dozens of calls, she said. “You can’t imagine how stressful this has been,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “It had gotten to where my life had just been taken over by this.”

Debbie Marquez, a superdelegate from Colorado, said she had made up her mind to shift to Mr. Obama, largely because he opposed the Iraq war from the start. The ex-president called and talked for 45 minutes, she said.

“When people talk about the finger wagging and lecturing in his speeches, I kind of felt that was going on over the phone,” Ms. Marquez said.

In the end, she was not swayed.

Austin Bogues contributed reporting.

    For Clinton, a Key Group Didn’t Hold, NYT, 5.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/05/us/politics/05superdelegates.html






Clinton Ready to End Bid and Endorse Obama


June 5, 2008
The New York Times


Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will endorse Senator Barack Obama on Saturday, bringing a close to her 17-month campaign for the White House, aides said. Her decision came after Democrats urged her Wednesday to leave the race and allow the party to coalesce around Mr. Obama.

Howard Wolfson, one of Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategists, and other aides said she would express support for Mr. Obama and party unity at an event in Washington that day. One adviser said Mrs. Clinton would concede defeat, congratulate Mr. Obama and proclaim him the party’s nominee, while pledging to do what was needed to assure his victory in November.

Her decision came after a day of conversations with supporters on Capitol Hill about her future now that Mr. Obama had clinched the nomination. Mrs. Clinton had, in a speech after Tuesday night’s primaries, suggested she wanted to wait before deciding about her future, but in conversations Wednesday, her aides said, she was urged to step aside.

“We pledged to support her to the end,” Representative Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat who has been a patron of Mrs. Clinton since she first ran for the Senate, said in an interview. “Our problem is not being able to determine when the hell the end is.”

Mrs. Clinton’s decision came as some of her most prominent supporters — including former Vice President Walter F. Mondale — announced they were now backing Mr. Obama. “I was for Hillary — I wasn’t against Obama, who I think is very talented,” Mr. Mondale said. “I’m glad we made a decision and I hope we can unite our party and move forward.”

One of Mrs. Clinton’s aides said they were told that except for her senior advisers, there was no reason to report to work after Friday, and that they were invited to Mrs. Clinton’s house for a farewell celebration. The announcement from Mrs. Clinton was moved to Saturday to accommodate more supporters who wanted to attend, aides said.

“Senator Clinton will be hosting an event in Washington, D.C., to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity,” Mr. Wolfson said.

Mr. Obama, not waiting for a formal concession from Mrs. Clinton, announced a three-member vice-presidential selection committee that will include Caroline Kennedy, who has become a close personal adviser since endorsing him four months ago.

With some Democrats promoting Mrs. Clinton as Mr. Obama’s No. 2, his aides said they would move slowly in the search, allowing passions from the bruising primary battles to cool.

“Now that the interfamily squabble is done,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday evening at a Manhattan fund-raiser, “all of us can focus on what needs to be done in November.” Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton crossed paths briefly in Washington. As he left the Capitol, Mr. Obama told reporters, “We’re going to have a conversation in the coming weeks.”

Mr. Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where, tacking to the right, he described a far tougher series of sanctions he would be willing to impose on Iran than he had outlined heretofore.

Mrs. Clinton, in a later appearance before the group, moved to reassure an audience clearly nervous about Mr. Obama’s views on Israeli security. “I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel,” she said.

Turning to the general election, Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s likely opponent, and Mr. Obama both said they were interested in holding a series of debates this summer.

Aides to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton said that at least some of Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raisers would move to join the Obama campaign. Still, with the realization of defeat still settling in, it appeared that most of her major financial backers were holding back until they got a clearer signal from Mrs. Clinton of her intentions.

“I’m being aggressively courted by folks in the Obama campaign,” said Mark Aronchick, a Philadelphia lawyer, who is a national finance co-chairman. “I’ve told them all, ‘Everybody relax. Take a deep breath. There’s time enough here.’ ”

On Thursday, Mr. Obama planned to head to the southwestern tip of Virginia, in Appalachia, to begin courting voters in a state that traditionally goes Republican but could be a battleground in the fall. Then, he intends to take a few days to strategize privately about the general-election campaign.

Mrs. Clinton’s decision to suspend her campaign, which was first reported by ABC News, was a bow to the emerging political reality. No one in her campaign — including by all reports Mrs. Clinton herself — saw a viable road to the nomination. A suspension of the campaign allows her to continue raising money and pay off millions of dollars in debt.

The party’s desire for Mrs. Clinton to leave the race was signaled, politely, as four top Democratic leaders issued an early morning statement asking all uncommitted delegates to make their decisions by Friday. The statement from the Democratic chairman, Howard Dean, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Harry Reid and Gov. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, stopped short of endorsing Mr. Obama, but aides said they were likely to move in that direction if Mrs. Clinton lingered in the race.

“The voters have spoken,” they said in a joint statement released before 7 a.m., timed to set the tone for the day after the last primaries. “Democrats must now turn our full attention to the general election.”

Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat with close ties to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, and who had kept studiously neutral throughout the fight, said in an interview that he was “coming out from hiding under my desk” to endorse Mr. Obama. “The fact is that he is the nominee,” Mr. Emanuel said

He seemed quizzical at the slowness of Mrs. Clinton’s decision not to acknowledge this.

“You don’t answer about whether you want to be about vice president unless there’s no doubt in your mind that he is the nominee,” he said, referring to Mrs. Clinton’s initial reluctance to congratulate Mr. Obama, noting that she told supporters she would be open to be his running mate if he wanted her.

As Mrs. Clinton began tying up the loose ends of her campaign, Mr. Obama turned to his future — including the choice of a running mate. Some of Mrs. Clinton’s top supporters have been urging Mr. Obama to choose her, saying an Obama-Clinton slate would be a ticket to victory in November.

Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and a leading contributor to Mrs. Clinton, urged members of the Congressional Black Caucus to lobby Mr. Obama to pick Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Johnson said he had spoken to Mrs. Clinton and was speaking with her permission.

“We need to have the certainty of winning,” Mr. Johnson wrote in the letter on Wednesday. “And I believe, without question, that Barack Obama as president and Hillary Clinton as vice president bring that certainty to the ticket.”

David Plouffe, campaign manager for Mr. Obama, said the senator felt no pressure to swiftly name a vice presidential candidate either to tamp down the speculation about Mrs. Clinton’s future or allay her dejected supporters. The passage of time, Mr. Plouffe said, would close the fissures and soothe the hard feelings that developed during the primary fight.

Mr. Obama’s decision to announce his vice-presidential search committee on Wednesday was intended to mute the speculation about Mrs. Clinton’s interest in the position. In addition to Ms. Kennedy, Mr. Obama also tapped Eric Holder, a deputy attorney general from the Clinton administration, and James A. Johnson, who has overseen similar committees in 1984 and 2004 presidential campaigns.

At the same time, Mr. Mondale — who in his career has served as a vice president, and picked one — suggested that Mrs. Clinton and her supporters pull back from even appearance of campaigning for the No. 2 spot, suggesting it could complicate a critical decision by Mr. Obama.

“I think it’s best he just be left alone,” Mr. Mondale said.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting from Washington, and Michael Luo from New York City.

    Clinton Ready to End Bid and Endorse Obama, NYT, 5.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/05/us/politics/05dems.html?hp






Man in the News

Barack Obama: Calm in the Swirl of History


June 4, 2008
The New York Times


Correction Appended

He gives the appearance of a strikingly laid-back victor, this presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

On the day before the night he made history, Barack Obama shot hoops at the East Bank Club in Chicago, and called the odd superdelegate or two. Then he and his wife, Michelle, kissed their daughters goodnight and, with a half dozen of their best friends, rode to Midway Airport to catch a flight to St. Paul to claim his prize. He sat on the plane, legs crossed, chuckling, chatting, giving little hint of what roiled within.

Mr. Obama has written of his “spooky good fortune” in politics, and vaulting ambition and self-possession define his rise.

He turned down a prestigious federal appellate court clerkship while at Harvard to work as a community organizer. He wrote an autobiography at the age of 33, and another 11 years later. He brushed aside a liberal mentor who stood in his way in Illinois. After just two years in the United States Senate, he announced that he would run for the presidency and then upended a Democratic Party powerhouse.

On the cusp of becoming the first African-American to capture a major party nomination, Mr. Obama remains a protean political figure, inspiring devotion in supporters who see him as a transformative leader even as he remains inscrutable to critics.

He has the gift of making people see themselves in him and offers an enigmatic smile when asked about his multiracial appeal.

“I am like a Rorschach test,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “Even if people find me disappointing ultimately, they might gain something.”

He is a liberal who favors regulating Wall Street and stanching housing foreclosures, negotiating with foreign enemies and disengaging from the war in Iraq. He speaks eloquently about America’s divisions of race and class, and says the old rhetoric of racial grievance has exhausted itself.

But his insistence that he can bridge the nation’s ideological chasms without resorting to partisan warfare leaves some with the nagging sense that he makes it sound too easy, and that his full measure as a politician has yet to be taken.

He has stumbled and fumbled more than once. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton confounded him, pushing him back on his heels, his irritation too apparent. He falls in love with his words and perhaps his celebrity, acknowledging after Texas that he had become too dependent on arena politics and too aloof in smaller settings.

He is a deliberative fellow in a manic game. When his now-retired pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., offered incendiary views on race and politics, Mr. Obama was slow to recognize how quickly Mr. Wright’s words inflamed voters’ doubts about him.

Michelle Obama, who is also a Harvard-trained lawyer and whose fires often burn hotter than those of her husband, pointedly advises Mr. Obama to forswear the cerebral and embrace the visceral. As Republicans attack him as unknown and untested, Mr. Obama could recall her advice in the months to come.

He was raised literally and metaphorically offshore, in Indonesia by his white mother and in Hawaii by his white grandparents. He is very much an American but tends to view the incongruities of politics with the distancing eye of an outsider.


A Life Examined

One of the curiosities about Mr. Obama is his professed lack of interest in the writers who pore over that life, trying to deconstruct his fractured family and geography. He claims not to read profiles that pile high in his plane.

“It just encourages the narcissism that is already a congenital defect for a politician,” he says. “I find these essays more revealing about the author than about me.”

The same might be said of Mr. Obama’s autobiography, which is less a straightforward chronicle than a carefully framed coming-of-age narrative. He describes himself as a young man adrift, although few friends recall thinking him so lost. And he just might have overstated his youthful experimentation with marijuana.

(Last November, an Iowa voter asked if he, unlike Bill Clinton, had inhaled. Mr. Obama looked puzzled. “I never understood that line,” he said. “The point was to inhale.”)

He carries a reputation as a Natural, and insists on calm. He did not interview each prospective campaign aide, but he laid down a rule: No drama kings or queens welcome. He confides in only a handful of advisers, particularly David Axelrod, the campaign guru with the appreciation for Chicago-style politics, and rarely displays public agitation about the measuring stick of his profession, electoral wins and losses. Told in February that he had won the caucuses in Maine, an overwhelmingly white state that he had expected to lose, he nodded, mumbled “That’s great,” and turned back to a phone call.

He jokes with his Secret Service agents and carries his own bags off planes and buses. (In this fishbowl world, a candidate knows he is being studied; carrying your own bags can be good manners, good politics, or both.) He jogs to the stage with the cocky ease of a jock.

He favors moderate tastes, preferring organic tea to a tumbler of gin, salmon to steak, a fruit plate to fries. He jokes about tossing back a beer, but his tippling amounts to a swig or two, most often to try to prove to television cameras that he is a “regular guy.”

But his greenness as a candidate also shows. His debate performances tend toward the erratic, authoritative one moment, defensive and diffident the next. He waxes incandescent at rallies, but in the 18-hour days leading up to primaries, he can sound aloof and querulous before smaller audiences. Condescension can creep in. He suggested, for example, that his youthful travels to Asia and Europe had left him more knowledgeable than Mrs. Clinton or Mr. McCain about foreign affairs.

“When I speak about having lived in Indonesia, having family that is impoverished in Africa, knowing the leaders is not important,” he told a crowd. “What I know is the people.”

At a fund-raiser in San Francisco, he speculated unhelpfully about the psychic hold that guns and religion had on the white working class.

His ache for time lost with his daughters feels palpable. On his plane recently, he described the nightly calls home. Malia, 9, is loquacious, rattling off every detail of her day. Six-year-old Sasha, whom he has nicknamed Cool Breeze, goes monosyllabic.

How was your day? “Fiiiine,” Mr. Obama mimics her uninterested voice.

But the campaign has allowed this ambitious man just 10 days home last year.

So the contradictions pile up. He is a watcher and a wanderer who found a home in Chicago where he fashioned his adult identity, not least as a black man. He is an idealist who pursues the national spotlight with the intensity of a bloodhound and finds the top prize almost within grasp. Yet he holds tight to the belief that he can draw a curtain of normalcy about his family.

For months, he tried to keep his old e-mail address and cellphone number until friends convinced him he was nuts. “We were like, ‘Barack! Give it up!’ ” said Cassandra Q. Butts, a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress and a former Harvard classmate. “He asks: ‘Why don’t you call?’

“I tell him, ‘Hey, Barack, you’ve got a few things going on, right?’ ”


Making His Way

Friends talk of his sixth sense for career timing as if there were a Barack-the-immaculate-pol quality to his rise. But he is no accidental political tourist.

He studies his chosen world like a Talmudist, charting trends and noting which rivals are strong and which weak. His politics are liberal but his instincts are accommodationist; he cultivates older, powerful mentors, Democratic and Republican, and he made his peace with the Chicago Democratic machine.

“You don’t go from being a community organizer to running for president in 15 years unless you have a lot of ambition,” said Paula Wolff, a Chicago Republican and a mentor. “He likes to listen carefully, and naturally you assume that’s very smart of him.”

If there is an art to seeking advice, Mr. Obama holds a master’s degree. He favors a hand on the shoulder, a whisper in the ear. In 1996, when he pondered a race for the Illinois Legislature, Jean Rudd, a mentor in the foundation world, took him to lunch with a prominent lobbyist. The appetizers had no sooner arrived than the lobbyist framed the question: Why would a Harvard-educated lawyer want to step into a hellhole like that? You’ll leave your wife behind, you’ll be in the minority party, you’ll be treated like dirt. Mr. Obama chuckled and asked questions. The lobbyist later became an adviser.

Abner J. Mikva, the former judge, asked Mr. Obama, fresh out of Harvard, to apply as his clerk. Mr. Obama declined, preferring to labor as a community organizer. But, characteristically, he later befriended the older man.

The judge recognized his talents, but oh that speaking style. Too many ers and uhs, too Harvard and not enough South Side. Mr. Obama did not argue the point; he began paying attention in church.

“He listened to patterns of speech, how to take people up the ladders,” recalls Mr. Mikva, now 81. “It’s almost a Baptist tradition to make someone faint, and, by God, he’s doing it now.”

When he gained election to the Springfield statehouse, Mr. Obama taught himself poker; politics happened around card tables. Then he took up golf. He hit one shank after another. “He was no Tiger Woods,” said State Senator Terry Link, an older white Democrat. Eventually Mr. Obama learned to drive and putt — and found a new place to conduct politics.

All of which sounds disarming, but there is a glint of steel. With his eyes on the State Senate in 1996, Mr. Obama told a former mentor that he would not stand down and let her reclaim her seat. And he used technicalities to bump rivals off the ballot until he ran unopposed. His operatives slapped down attempts to rerun primaries in Michigan and Florida; a recent party compromise on counting delegates from those states worked to his advantage.

An old Chicago hand notes that Mr. Obama seems to have read his Niccolò Machiavelli.


An 11-Year Path

Once, months ago, Mr. Obama preferred novels, meaty chews by John le Carré, E. L. Doctorow and Philip Roth that transported him far from the cacophonous here and now.

“Fiction kind of took me out of myself and what we were doing every day,” he noted as he sat in his campaign plane, waiting to fly to another rally at a far-too-early hour.

And lately?

He motions at the platoons of Secret Service agents and staff members taking their seats. “I’m lucky if I get through a chapter of anything,” he says. “I have come to realize the secret to sleeping on the road is to get very, very, tired.”

He returns to Chicago and his Hyde Park home as a celebrity. Neighbors cross the street to shake his hand and point from afar. Mr. Obama rolls his eyes.

“Look, I don’t want to sound too noble: The first time you’re on the cover of Time magazine and the crowds are cheering, that’s not bad, right?” he says on the airplane. “But one thing I’ve learned about myself is that the surface glitter, the vanity element of this campaign, becomes less satisfying as I go along.”

That sounds too easy. He does not evince Bill Clinton’s animal need to work a rope line until every sweaty hand is shaken. But he has taken just 11 years to run the course from state senator to the first black presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, and holds thousands spellbound, and that suggests an ambition that runs swift and powerful. As a banker who plays basketball with Mr. Obama notes, he starts off quietly but he is known for talking a little smack if his shots are falling in.

It is not easy to sort out. The Obamas’ friends are black and white, upper-middle class to wealthy, University of Chicago law professors and historians and lawyers and foundation types. When the news media calls, they put the shovel only so deep in the ground of revelation.

You return to that question again: You really don’t read profiles of yourself?

Mr. Obama was sitting on his campaign plane a few months ago as it began the rumble down yet another runway to yet another campaign stop. He shakes his head but it sounds hard to believe; this introspective candidate ignores all those words? A reporter reads aloud from the novelist Darryl Pinckney’s essay in The New York Review of Books. Mr. Obama, the novelist writes, “comes across as someone who stored away for future consideration practically everything that was ever said to him, and who had a talent for watchfulness, part of the extraordinary armor he developed at an early age.”

Mr. Obama nods. That’s intriguing. But he prefers his own riff, which not incidentally trains the eye not on him but on his crowds. “I love when I’m shaking hands on a rope line and”— he mimes the motion, hand over hand — “I see little old white ladies and big burly black guys and Latino girls and all their hands are entwining. They’re feeding on each other as much as on me."

He shrugs; it’s that distancing eye of the author.

“It’s like I’m just the excuse.”

Correction: June 5, 2008
A Man in the News article on Wednesday about Senator Barack Obama misstated the name of a club in Chicago where he played basketball on Tuesday. It is the East Bank Club, not the Back Bay Club.

    Barack Obama: Calm in the Swirl of History, NYT, 4.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/politics/04obama.html?ref=opinion






Winning Again, Clinton Weighs Her Options


June 2, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won another overwhelming victory over Senator Barack Obama on Sunday — this time in Puerto Rico — even as many Democrats, including some of her supporters, suggested it would be best if she dropped her threat to battle on past the end of the primary voting on Tuesday.

“There’s nobody taking Hillary’s side but Hillary people,” said Donald Fowler of South Carolina, a former national party chairman and one of Mrs. Clinton’s most prominent supporters, referring to her campaign’s suggestions that she might seek to challenge the way the party resolved the fight this weekend over seating the Michigan and Florida delegations. “It’s too bad. She deserves better than this.”

In a telephone interview Sunday from San Juan, P.R., Mrs. Clinton still raised the possibility that she would challenge the party’s decision on seating those delegates. “Well, we are going to look at that and make a determination at some point,” she said. “But I haven’t made any decision at this time.”

Heading toward what is shaping up as something less than a triumphant moment of victory as the voting draws to a close, Mr. Obama spent Sunday in South Dakota for a last-minute schedule of campaigning. He was in the state, which will vote along with Montana on Tuesday to complete the primary season, trying to thwart a last-minute effort by Mrs. Clinton to pull out a victory there and build her case that she would be the stronger candidate in the general election.

Still, Mr. Obama showed little doubt that he considered the primary phase of his march to the White House over. His stop in Mitchell, a town of 15,500 where he drew more than 2,200, was to be his last campaign stop in a primary state. From there, he headed to Michigan and Minnesota.

Mr. Obama himself remarked on the moment, calling the rally in Mitchell “a good way to end my campaign in the primary phase,” and dusting off an old campaign story that had been part of his repertory in New Hampshire and Iowa and was the genesis of his “Fired Up: Ready to Go” campaign call-and-response. And Mr. Obama told voters that he had called Mrs. Clinton to congratulate her on her victory in Puerto Rico and said that she would be a “great asset” in the fall. The dimensions of Mrs. Clinton’s challenge were underlined as two more superdelegates signed on to Mr. Obama.

Mrs. Clinton won by 2 to 1 in Puerto Rico, where she seemed to revel in a weekend of campaigning even as her surrogates fought in Washington to keep her campaign alive.

The victory — coming among Hispanic voters, who are a key constituency in the fall election — underscored a constant source of frustration among Mrs. Clinton and her supporters: that her strong finish over the past months, with big victories among blue-collar voters, have shown no signs of pushing uncommitted superdelegates into her camp.

“Most Clinton supporters are filled with bewilderment that this is happening,” said Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania. “We are willing to go on, and we understand the inevitability of this, but we are filled with disappointment and amazement: Why haven’t these results caused the superdelegates to come around?”

Mrs. Clinton, in the interview, in a new television advertisement and in her victory speech in San Juan, laid out why superdelegates should rally around her. She argued that by the time the final vote is counted, she will have more popular votes than Mr. Obama, an assertion that has been disputed.

“I think it will be most likely the case in a few days,” Mrs. Clinton said from San Juan. “I will have won the most votes — more than anyone in the history of the primary process.”

She added: “Senator Obama has a narrow lead in delegates. And we’re going to have to make our case to the automatic so-called superdelegates. And I think my case is clear — more than 17 million people voted for me.

“In recent primary history, we have never nominated someone who has not won the popular vote.”

Mrs. Clinton’s count includes Michigan, where Mr. Obama’s name was not on the ballot, and it does not include some caucus states won by Mr. Obama and where the popular vote was not reported. Mr. Obama’s campaign gently pushed back at her assertions that she had won the popular vote.

“Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have gotten more votes than any presidential campaign in primary history,” said Bill Burton, Mr. Obama’s spokesman. “We are, however, ahead in the popular vote now and suspect will be ahead when all of the votes are counted Tuesday. That’s not taking anything away from what she’s accomplished. It’s just a fact.”

In the interview, Mrs. Clinton resisted the push of some Democratic leaders — among them, Howard Dean, the party chairman, and Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker — for superdelegates to quickly chose sides as soon as the voting is over Tuesday. “I know that people are hopeful that we get a nominee, and we will,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s as important to do it fast as it is to do it well.”

Mrs. Clinton stopped short of going as far as one of her chief lieutenants, Harold Ickes, did on Saturday night when he threatened to appeal the party’s decision over the seating of the Florida and Michigan delegates to the party’s credentials committee, which will meet before the convention in August. The two states held their primaries early, in defiance of party rules; after initially unseating the delegations, the party on Saturday agreed to seat the delegates but cut their voting power in half.

In the process, it awarded Mr. Obama a share of the Michigan vote, based on the number of uncommitted votes counted, even though his name did not appear on the ballot, and it took four Michigan delegates away from Mrs. Clinton.

Yet in a sign of the difficulties she would face if she chooses to appeal, some of her strongest supporters said in interviews that they thought it would be a mistake to keep the fight going, noting, for example, that the battle was really over the four delegates her campaign argued were improperly taken from her in Michigan.

“Unless something happens that I don’t expect to happen in the next, say, by the end of June, my answer to that is not only no but, hell no,” Mr. Fowler, the former party chairman, said. “What good does it do? What good does it do anybody?” Mr. Rendell said that if the nominating contest were closer, it might make sense to take the fight to the convention. “I think it’s outrageous they took four delegates away from her,” he said. “But I think with 170 delegates separating them, it’s not worth making the case.”

And there were signs that continuing the fight, should Mr. Obama collect enough superdelegates to declare victory this week, could alienate many Democratic leaders who have stepped back as the fight went on.

Art Torres, the California Democratic chairman who has not endorsed a candidate in the race, said it was urgent for the party to avoid divisive battles. “Everyone is paying respects to her — as we would for Obama if he were in a similar situation,” Mr. Torres said. “But it now becomes a matter of commitment to the nation and the party. We cannot allow this election to slip through our fingers.”

A practical effect of the rules committee decision was that Mr. Obama had to win over about 30 new superdelegates to meet the revised political calculation. With the tally of uncommitted superdelegates dwindling to fewer than 150, Mr. Obama and his supporters reached out Sunday to those party officials.

“Now is a natural time for them to make decisions,” David Plouffe, the manager of the Obama campaign, said. “We’d like them to come out publicly as soon as we can get them.”

It remained unclear, Mr. Plouffe said, if Mr. Obama could secure enough of the endorsements before Tuesday evening. If not, Mr. Obama’s advisers — as well as Mrs. Clinton’s — still think it is likely that he will pass the threshold and be able to claim the nomination this week.

Mrs. Clinton demurred when asked what she would do if that happened. “I just don’t think about it,” she said. “I’m just committed to making my case.”

“I’ve been closing very strongly since Feb. 20,” she said, referring to the day after Mr. Obama won Hawaii and Wisconsin. “I have won more votes and won more states than Senator Obama. All the independent analyses break in my direction. A lot of the key states that we have to win, I win those states.”

Mark Leibovich contributed reporting from San Juan, P.R., and Jeff Zeleny from Washington.

    Winning Again, Clinton Weighs Her Options, NYT, 2.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/02/us/politics/02dems.html?hp






Obama Leaves Church That Drew Wide Criticism


June 1, 2008
The New York Times


ABERDEEN, S.D. — Senator Barack Obama has resigned his membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, which he attended for nearly two decades, following months of controversy about pastors and their political views.

Mr. Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, wrote a letter on Friday to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss, explaining that their estrangement from Trinity took root in controversial remarks by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who once was Mr. Obama’s spiritual guide.

“Our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views,” they wrote. “These controversies have served as an unfortunate distraction for other Trinity members who seek to worship in peace, and have placed you in an untenable position.”

But at a news conference after a town-hall-style meeting here on Saturday, Mr. Obama sounded pained as he confirmed his decision to leave the place he had considered his spiritual home. A sermon by Mr. Wright, a longtime pastor at the church, even provided the phrase — “the audacity of hope” — that became Mr. Obama’s campaign theme and the title of his latest book.

“I make this decision with sadness,” said Mr. Obama, speaking in subdued tones as he stood before a bland background. “This is where I found Jesus Christ, where we were married, where our children were baptized. We are proud of the extraordinary works of that church.”

Mr. Obama rejected suggestions that he denounce the church, which is one of Chicago’s largest and most socially active black churches, with a wide array of respected social programs. Several of the most prominent black theologians in Chicago attend the church.

“I’m not denouncing the church, and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church,” he said in response to a question. “It’s not a church worthy of denouncing.”

Mr. Obama said that his resignation was not a matter of political convenience, but rather that he had reached the point where neither he nor Trinity’s pastors and congregants could worship in peace. He noted that reporters now pored over sermons and that some had called sick members at home to ask about the church.

“I suspect if you were in my shoes, it seems plausible at least that you wouldn’t want your church experience to be a political circus,” Mr. Obama said. “I think most Americans will understand that.”

The church has proven to be a political albatross for Mr. Obama for many months. Earlier this year, television stations began playing an endless video loop of Mr. Wright damning the United States for its sins of slavery and genocide against American Indians.

Conservative critics lashed him for attending the church, and his membership fed into a line of criticism by some voters that he is unpatriotic and aligned with radicals.

The storm flared anew last Sunday when the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest, gave a guest sermon mocking Mr. Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, for crying in New Hampshire. The priest, known as a radical gadfly, accused Mrs. Clinton of feeling she was entitled to the nomination because she is white.

“While Hillary was crying and people said that was a put-on, I really don’t believe it was put on,” said Father Pfleger, who is white. “I really believe that she just always thought this is mine. I’m Bill’s wife, I’m white and this is mine.”

Mr. Obama distanced himself from these remarks, expressing his deep disappointment at “Father Pfleger’s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric.”

Father Pfleger, who is a friend of Mr. Obama’s, later apologized.

Mr. Obama said he and his wife would search for a new church but probably would not make a decision until after the election in November.

He acknowledged that the search would be a tricky business, not least because African-American pastors often pride themselves on speaking with a clear “prophetic voice” about social and racial injustices. Their aim is not to force parishioners to agree with every word, they say, but to spark thought.

“There is a cultural, a stylistic gap,” Mr. Obama said, between the tradition of some black churches and some white churches.

The ministers’ words, torn from their context, can detonate politically, he said.

“There is certainly a tradition in the African-American church to speak against injustice, against racism, against sexism, against economic inequality,” Mr. Obama said. “My hope would be that any presidential candidate can go to a church and hear a sermon and even hear some controversial statements without those views being imputed to them.”

Trinity’s pastors preach an often fiery philosophy known as Black Liberation Theology. It is not a separatist philosophy, but it argues that the poor and oppressed occupy a special place in God’s eye. Ministers are expected to provoke and push.

Mr. Obama had distanced himself slowly, a hesitant step here and there, from his church. When Mr. Wright’s most explosive remarks became public, Mr. Obama said he was not in church for those sermons, which was borne out by the records. But he began to edge farther and father away.

In a much-heralded speech on race in March, Mr. Obama denounced Mr. Wright’s more controversial views, even as he made the case for understanding how the minister’s experience with race in America had shaped his views.

Mr. Wright, however, emerged from retirement in April and spoke at the National Press Club, offering deeper and broader criticism of the United States and using mocking language. Among other things, he opined that the United States government may have had a hand in creating the AIDS epidemic.

This time, Mr. Obama eschewed subtle shadings and denounced his former pastor’s comments as unacceptable and repugnant to him.

Mr. Obama first encountered Trinity as a community organizer and nonbeliever. But upon hearing a 1988 sermon of Mr. Wright’s entitled “The Audacity to Hope,” he declared himself a Christian. He listened to Mr. Wright’s sermons at Harvard Law School and joined Trinity upon returning to Chicago.

Mr. Wright married the Obamas, baptized their children and dedicated their house. When Mr. Obama won his Senate seat in 2004, Mr. Wright was the first person he thanked by name in his acceptance speech.

Just over two years later, he invited Mr. Wright to speak at his presidential announcement but withdrew the invitation at the last moment for fear of controversy over statements Mr. Wright had made in sermons, according to an interview last year with Mr. Wright.

From that moment, Mr. Obama’s membership in the church created headaches for the candidate.

Now that Mr. Obama has addressed his ties to the church and pastor in a long speech and fully broken with both, it is not clear what else he can say or do to ameliorate the continued concerns of some voters about those associations.

Jodi Kantor contributed reporting.

    Obama Leaves Church That Drew Wide Criticism, NYT, 1.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/us/politics/01obama.html



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