Barack Obama

From Academic Kids

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Introducing himself as a "skinny kid with a funny name", Obama delivers the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Barack Hussein Obama (born August 4, 1961) is a U.S. Senator from Illinois. He is a member of the Democratic Party. He received international media coverage for his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, delivered while he was still an Illinois state senator.

A senior lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago law school, Obama won the open Senate seat by defeating former ambassador Alan Keyes. He is the only African-American currently serving in the U.S. Senate, the fifth in U.S. history and the third since Reconstruction. Obama won the election in a landslide, with 70% of the vote to Keyes' 27%. He is junior senator to Richard Durbin.

Obama is married to Michelle Obama, a Chicago native. They have two daughters: Malia Ann (born 1999) and Natasha (born 2001).


Early life

Barack Obama was born at the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii to Harvard University-educated economist Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a native of Kenya, and S. Ann Dunham, of Wichita, Kansas. Ms. Dunham is a distant descendant of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America; she is also part Cherokee Indian [1] (

At the time of Obama's birth, both his parents were students at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Barack" means "blessed" in Swahili. It is derived from the Arabic verb baraka, "to bless." In Islam, "Barakah" is a common masculine name of the same origin. [2] ([3] (

Of his years in Hawaii, Obama has written, "The irony is that my decision to work in politics, and to pursue such a career in a big Mainland city, in some sense grows out of my Hawaiian upbringing, and the ideal that Hawaii still represents in my mind."

When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father eventually returned to Kenya, and he saw his son only once more before his death in 1982. Ann Obama married another East-West Center student from Indonesia. The family then moved to Jakarta, where Obama's half-sister Maya was born (Obama has other half-siblings from his father's later marriages). When Obama was ten he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandparents, and later his mother, for the better educational opportunities. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School, a prestigious academy that once taught the Hawaiian royal family. He graduated with honors.

College and career

Upon finishing high school, Obama studied for two years at Occidental College in California, before transferring to Columbia University. There he majored in political science, with a specialization in international relations. Upon graduation, he moved to Chicago, where he took up community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the city's South Side. It was during his time spent here that Obama officially converted to Christianity (from being formerly secular) and joined the United Church of Christ.

He left Chicago for three years to study law at Harvard University, where he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated Magna Cum Laude. While working one summer at a corporate law firm in 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson, whom he married in 1992. Robinson is also a graduate of Harvard Law.

While in Chicago as a community organizer once again, Obama organized an aggressive voter registration effort that aided in the election of President Bill Clinton and Senator Carol Moseley Braun. The campaign registered over 100,000 voters. Soon after, his talents earned him a position at a local civil rights law firm, and he became a lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, where he served as a professor until his election to the U.S. Senate.


Illinois General Assembly

In 1996, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate from the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park, in Chicago. He served as chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee when the Democrats regained control of the chamber. The Chicago Tribune called him "one of the General Assembly's most impressive members."

Regarded as a staunch liberal during his tenure in the legislature, he helped to author a state Earned Income Tax Credit which provided benefits to the working poor. He also worked for legislation that would cover residents who could not afford health insurance. Speaking up for leading gay and lesbian advocacy groups, he successfully helped pass bills to increase funding for AIDS prevention and care programs.

In 2000, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Illinois' 1st Congressional district against incumbent Representative Bobby Rush. Rush received 61% of the vote, while Obama received 30%. [4] (

After the loss, Obama rededicated his efforts to the state Senate. He authored one of the most progressive death penalty reform laws in the nation, under the guidance of former U.S. Senator Paul Simon. He also pushed through legislation that would force insurance companies to cover routine mammograms.

United States Senate campaign

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Barack Obama joins his wife Michelle and U.S. Senator Richard Durbin for a parade on July 4, 2004 in Wheaton, Illinois.

In 2004, Obama decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who chose not to run for re-election. In the Democratic primary, he trailed business tycoon Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes. However, Hull was soon embroiled by allegations of domestic abuse. As Obama's name recognition rose, voters took a liking to the bright, charismatic senator. He won decisively in the March primary, dispatching the other six candidates easily, and winning more than 50 percent of the vote. His primary political consultant and message strategist was David Alexrod, whose firm, AKP Message and Media, produced the campaign's television ads.

Entering the U.S. Senate campaign, Obama had become a national Democratic star. He squared off against former Goldman Sachs partner and teacher Jack Ryan, the winner of the Republican primary. Ryan trailed Obama in the polls, and Obama opened up a twenty point lead after the media reported that Ryan had assigned an aide to stalk Obama. However, during the campaign, a California court ruling opened custody files from Ryan's divorce from actress Jeri Ryan, in which she alleged that he had brought her without her knowledge to sex clubs, intending for her to have sex with him in public. The files, which were part of the custody proceedings regarding the Ryans' young son, were opened as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV, a local ABC affiliate. Ryan had insisted that there was nothing damaging in the files, and many Republican leaders openly questioned Ryan's integrity following the release. Ryan was forced to leave the race on June 25, 2004, leaving Obama without an opponent.

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A campaign banner used by Obama supporters during his 2004 bid for the Senate.

Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka had considered running as a Republican to replace Ryan, but opted not to because of family and business considerations. After many more candidates turned down the Illinois GOP, Republican state Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka announced two possible replacements: Alan Keyes, a former ambassador residing in Maryland, and Andrea Barthwell, a DEA official. After much deliberation, Keyes was chosen, and he officially accepted the nomination on August 8. He had gained much attention as a conservative firebrand in his unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000. This was widely viewed as a victory for the more conservative wing of the party, and a loss for the more moderate Topinka.

Keyes, a black conservative Republican, had an uphill battle, as Obama had high popularity across the state and Keyes had no ties to Illinois politics. During the time when he had no opponent, Obama campaigned across more conservative downstate areas that ordinarily served as the base for the Republican nominee. A Marylander, Keyes had established legal residency in Illinois with the nomination, the only requirement to run for office. The Chicago Tribune sarcastically greeted Keyes by editorializing: "Mr. Keyes may have noticed a large body of water as he flew into O'Hare. That is called Lake Michigan." [5] (,1,4590778.story)

Keyes's previous comments about U.S. Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton's run for Senate in New York, ("I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness to go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there, so I certainly wouldn't imitate it.") led many to call Keyes hypocritical. Keyes often rebutted this by pointing out that he was invited to run for the position in Illinois, whereas he claimed Clinton was not.

After a campaign in which Keyes called Obama's position on abortion "the slave-holder's position", accused gays and lesbians of being "selfish hedonists", and also claimed that Jesus would not vote for Obama, Obama won handily in the general election. Obama received 70% of the popular vote, to Keyes' 27%.

Keynote address

Obama was chosen to deliver a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, and became the third African American to do so. (The first was Barbara Jordan, at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, and the second was Harold Ford, Jr. at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.)

His speech outlined his own family's pursuit of the American Dream, and his belief in a 'generous America'. His maternal grandfather, after serving in World War II, was the beneficiary of the New Deal's FHA and GI Bill and had high hopes for their daughter, because, as Obama said, "in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential". But he charged that "we have more work to do" for people who are not able to realize the American Dream, maintaining that self responsibility is an important component and people "don't expect government to solve all their problems".

He criticized the Bush administration for not supporting troops in Iraq. He spoke of an enlisted Marine, Cpl. Seamus Ahern from East Moline, asking, "Are we serving Seamus as well as he was serving us?" He continued:

When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

Finally he spoke for national unity: "Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." Perhaps the most often quoted sound bite followed: "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq."

The address was generally regarded as a great success, thrusting Obama into the national spotlight (similar to New York Governor Mario Cuomo's address at the 1984 DNC).

Other projects

In December 2004, Obama landed a $1.9 million deal ( for 3 books. The first is to be released in 2006, and will discuss his political convictions. The second is a children's book to be co-written with his wife Michelle and their two young daughters (profits will go to charity). The content of the third book has not been determined yet.

His 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father was re-released in 2004 with a few new features. The book spent over 14 weeks on The New York Times non-fiction best seller list.

Senate career

Obama was sworn in as a Senator on January 5, 2005. He ranked 99th out of 100 Senators in terms of official seniority (greater seniority brings greater privileges in the Senate), ranking ahead of only new Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. In his first few months in office, Obama drew praise by his perceived attempts to avoid the limelight and devote large amounts of effort to being a Senator; a Washington Post article spread an anecdote of Obama refusing an upgrade to first-class on a flight home. In March of 2005, Obama announced that he was forming his own PAC, a move not usually undertaken until several years into a politician's career.

In late March 2005, Obama announced his first proposed Senate bill, the Higher Education Opportunity through Pell Grant Expansion Act of 2005 (HOPE Act), which aims to raise the maximum amount of Pell Grant awards to help assist American college students with paying for their tuition. Obama announced the bill at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and said, "Everywhere I go, I hear the same story: 'We work hard, we pay our bills, we put away savings, but we just don't know if it's going to be enough when that tuition bill comes.'" [6] (

The April 18, 2005 issue of TIME Magazine listed the 100 most influential people in the world. Obama was included on the list under the section of 'Leaders and Revolutionaries' for his high-profile entrance to federal politics [7] ( and his popularity within the Democratic Party.

In the early days of the debate in Washington over establishing private accounts for Social Security, Obama stood by his party when he delivered a speech on April 26, 2005 to the National Press Club, entitled "A Hope To Fulfill." In this speech, he pointed to the original ideas of social welfare that Franklin D. Roosevelt had in mind when crafting the Social Security program as part of the New Deal.


See also

External links


Preceded by:
Peter Fitzgerald
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
Succeeded by:

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Template:Current U.S. Senatorsda:Barack Obama de:Barack Obama fr:Barack Obama nl:Barack Obama


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