A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cheap shot from the New Yorker (click on image to see larger version)

What were they thinking?
That's what a lot of people are asking today about this week's New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as Muslim terrorists, with a portrait of Osama Bin Laden hanging over the mantle and an American flag burning in the fireplace.
Both the artist, Barry Blitt, and the New Yorker's editor, David Remnick, are defending the cartoon as satire. According to their press release, it "satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama's campaign."
Yeah, right. The old can't-you-take-a-joke excuse.
Let's be clear about this. If the New Yorker really meant to satirize the smear campaign against Obama, it would have lampooned the perpetrators, not the victim. Instead of mocking this capaign, the New Yorker has joined it.
Which brings us back to the question: Why did they do it?
Some people say they're racists. But although the cartoon drips with racism, I don't think that's the real reason. I think the answer is much simpler: sheer desperation.
It's no secret that print journalism is dying. Newspapers all over the country are laying off staffers by the score, and the magazines aren't far behind.
The most ominous trend is among the desirable 18-to-34 demographic, who long ago abandoned print media in favor of the Internet and TV programs like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."
So how does a magazine like the New Yorker get them back?
The obvious answer is to provide content that young people are interested in reading.
But that costs money. It would mean paying reporters to do serious investigative work. But these days, magazines and newspapers are looking for ways to cut labor costs, not increase them.
So they're opting for the cheap fix, instead. I can just picture those aging Baby Boomer editors sitting around a table, scratching their heads and asking each other helplessly, "What in the world do these kids want?"
And the answer they've come up with is to become hipper. The buzzword of the day is "edgy."
So snarky is in; sincere is out. Everything is fair game for mockery, even if it means turning Michelle Obama into a gun-toting Angela Davis.
I'm sure Remnick & Co. are congratulating themselves today for their success de scandal. Circulation will doubtless increase in the short run - say, for a week - as people snap up issues to find out what all the shouting is about.
But in the not-so-long run, it's only going to drive away those coveted younger readers even faster.
The rest of us might be back to business as usual, but the younger generation hasn't forgotten 9/11. It was the defining event of their lives, and the lesson they drew from it was that America can no longer afford the cynical culture wars of the Boomer generation.
They hunger for straight talk and sincere efforts to bridge the old divisions. They're attracted to people and ideas that unite us, not divide us.
That's why they flocked to Obama in the first place.
And that's why they're not going to read the New Yorker. To use the most damning words in their vocabulary, it's so 20th Century.

Today in history: A Paris mob stormed the Bastille prison this day in 1789, freeing a grand total of seven prisoners and kicking off the French Revolution. Brigitte Bardot married her third husband, Gunther Sachs, in 1966.
Births: Andrea del Sarto (1486), Emmeline Pankhurst (1858), Irving Stone (1903), Woodie Guthrie (1912), Gerald Ford (1923), Ingmar Bergman (1918) and John Chancellor (1927).
Deaths: King Kamehameha II of Hawaii (1823), Paul Kruger (1904) and Adlai Stevenson (1965).


Anonymous said...

Same old what?

I understand each element of this cover as pure satire in an attempt to depict all the absolutely ridiculous ways that the Obamas have been illustrated, in an absolutely ridiculous and almost routine way. Let’s go

Let's go through each element one by one.

Barack's outfit. Clearly Muslim attire (sandals and all). Satirizes the myth that Barack Obama is Muslim, and furthermore, that being Muslim is somehow a bad, scary thing (oh, the horror of a Muslim in the Oval Office!).
Barack's glance. It’s saying “Yeah, I’m in the Oval Office now. What you gonna do about it?” I think this is a nod to two attacks: a) the idea that Obama is somehow elitist/above it all and doesn’t really care about the needs/wants of the American people, 2) the idea that he’s secretive and mysterious – he has his own hidden, “terrorist” agenda.
The fist bump. It became shockingly clear the right-wing MSM had no clue about African-American culture after Barack and Michelle’s nomination dap. And, I think, this realization frightened the beejesus out of them. So again, we can see the New Yorker’s depiction here as a satire of the right-wing’s fear of the unknown, and in turn, their spinning it into something foreign, secretive and suspicious. I understand this bump as a satire of what Fox News called a “terrorist fist jab”, and also another depiction of the Obamas “taking over the good ol’ U.S.A.” in scary, “un-American” ways.
Bin-Laden portrait on the wall. I think that one’s obvious.
Burning American flag. A satire to the whisper that Obama is “unpatriotic” and “not really a true American.” We can look back to all man-on-the-street interviews from the West Virginia primary for a reference of what Blitt is satirizing.
Michelle's outfit. Camo pants, military boots and machine gun all reference that militant, Black Panther, Black Power image that many Americans seem to be terrified of. She’s the African-American who hates “whitey” and is secretly plotting to mow down every golf course and Yacht club this side of the Atlantic.
Michelle's Afro, big lips, hand on hip. Ok, here’s the one that many people are struggling with, as these characteristics come straight from the African-American stereotype playbook. But I see this depiction as a satire of Michelle Obama, the “angry Black woman” – a label that Fox News has been trying to pin on her for months. Her whole stance screams, "Don’t mess.” And clearly, Michelle Obama looks, talks, thinks, acts nothing like the “angry Black woman” stereotype, and that’s why I think this depiction works.
Perhaps each element is mundane, as we've heard all of these attacks before. But maybe 1,000% over-the-top + mundane is exactly what the American public needs to truly see the routine, casual racism that the Obamas have had to endure. In fact, I’d venture to say that if this cover were toned down at all, Then it would be offensive. Because a slight reference to all the “scary elements” that people have been trying to pin on the Obamas might go unnoticed or overlooked. One might see a toned down cover (perhaps Obama with a headwrap, Michelle with hand-on-hip and boots, perhaps) and think, “Yep, that’s the Obamas. Very true to life.”

But this depiction is patently and unashamedly satire. And I think this crazy cover will force people to a) really reflect upon all of the offensive labels and attacks that have been hurled at the Obamas, and b) keep their eyes open for other attacks that might fall into the satirized categories.

And, hopefully, the outcome will be a readiness to see through inherently racist attacks as both sickeningly silly and tediously tiresome.

Anonymous said...

New Yorker
How Chicago shaped Obama.
by Ryan Lizza
JULY 21, 2008

Barack Obama on the South Side during his first campaign, for the State Senate. An outsider in Chicago’s system, he was meticulous about constructing his own political identity and coalition. Photograph by Marc PoKempner.

ne day in 1995, Barack Obama went to see his alderman, an influential politician named Toni Preckwinkle, on Chicago’s South Side, where politics had been upended by scandal. Mel Reynolds, a local congressman, was facing charges of sexual assault of a sixteen-year-old campaign volunteer. (He eventually resigned his seat.) The looming vacancy set off a fury of ambition and hustle; several politicians, including a state senator named Alice Palmer, an education expert of modest political skills, prepared to enter the congressional race. Palmer represented Hyde Park—Obama’s neighborhood, a racially integrated, liberal sanctuary—and, if she ran for Congress, she would need a replacement in Springfield, the state capital. Obama at the time was a thirty-three-year-old lawyer, university lecturer, and aspiring office-seeker, and the Palmer seat was what he had in mind when he visited Alderman Preckwinkle.
“Barack came to me and said, ‘If Alice decides she wants to run, I want to run for her State Senate seat,’ ” Preckwinkle told me. We were in her district office, above a bank on a street of check-cashing shops and vacant lots north of Hyde Park. Preckwinkle soon became an Obama loyalist, and she stuck with him in a State Senate campaign that strained or ruptured many friendships but was ultimately successful. Four years later, in 2000, she backed Obama in a doomed congressional campaign against a local icon, the former Black Panther Bobby Rush. And in 2004 Preckwinkle supported Obama during his improbable, successful run for the United States Senate. So it was startling to learn that Toni Preckwinkle had become disenchanted with Barack Obama.
Preckwinkle is a tall, commanding woman with a clipped gray Afro. She has represented her slice of the South Side for seventeen years and expresses no interest in higher office. On Chicago’s City Council, she is often a dissenter against the wishes of Mayor Richard M. Daley. For anyone trying to understand Obama’s breathtakingly rapid political ascent, Preckwinkle is an indispensable witness—a close observer, friend, and confidante during a period of Obama’s life to which he rarely calls attention.
Although many of Obama’s recent supporters have been surprised by signs of political opportunism, Preckwinkle wasn’t. “I think he was very strategic in his choice of friends and mentors,” she told me. “I spent ten years of my adult life working to be alderman. I finally got elected. This is a job I love. And I’m perfectly happy with it. I’m not sure that’s the way that he approached his public life—that he was going to try for a job and stay there for one period of time. In retrospect, I think he saw the positions he held as stepping stones to other things and therefore approached his public life differently than other people might have.”
On issue after issue, Preckwinkle presented Obama as someone who thrived in the world of Chicago politics. She suggested that Obama joined Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ for political reasons. “It’s a church that would provide you with lots of social connections and prominent parishioners,” she said. “It’s a good place for a politician to be a member.” Preckwinkle was unsparing on the subject of the Chicago real-estate developer Antoin (Tony) Rezko, a friend of Obama’s and one of his top fund-raisers, who was recently convicted of fraud, bribery, and money laundering: “Who you take money from is a reflection of your knowledge at the time and your principles.” As we talked, it became increasingly clear that loyalty was the issue that drove Preckwinkle’s current view of her onetime protégé. “I don’t think you should forget who your friends are,” she said.
Others told me that Preckwinkle’s grievances against Obama included specific complaints, such as his refusal to endorse a former aide and longtime friend, Will Burns, in a State Senate primary—a contest that Burns won anyway. There was also a more general belief that, after Obama won the 2004 United States Senate primary, he ignored his South Side base. Preckwinkle said, “My view is you have to bring your constituency along with you. Granted, you have to make some tough decisions. Granted, sometimes you have to make decisions that people won’t understand or like. But it’s your obligation to explain yourself and try to do your supporters the courtesy of treating them with respect.” Ivory Mitchell, who for twenty years has been the chairman of the local ward organization in Obama’s neighborhood—considered the most important Democratic organization on the South Side—was one of Obama’s earliest backers. Today, he says, “All the work we did to help him get where he finally ended up, he didn’t seem too appreciative.” A year ago, Mitchell became a delegate for Hillary Clinton.
The same month Mitchell endorsed Clinton, the Obama campaign reached out to Preckwinkle, and eventually she signed on as an Obama delegate. I asked her if what she considered slights or betrayals were simply the necessary accommodations and maneuvering of a politician making a lightning transition from Hyde Park legislator to Presidential nominee. “Can you get where he is and maintain your personal integrity?” she said. “Is that the question?” She stared at me and grimaced. “I’m going to pass on that.”


bama likes to discuss his unusual childhood—his abandonment by his father and his upbringing by a sometimes single mother and his grandparents in Indonesia and Hawaii—and the three years in the nineteen-eighties when he worked as a community organizer in Chicago, periods of his life chronicled at length in his first memoir, “Dreams from My Father.” He occasionally refers to his time in the United States Senate, which he wrote about in his second memoir, “The Audacity of Hope.” But his life in Chicago from 1991 until his victorious Senate campaign is a lacuna in his autobiography. It is also the period that formed him as a politician. Some Obama supporters professed shock when, recently, he abandoned a pledge to stay within the public campaign-finance system if the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, agreed to do the same. Preckwinkle’s concern about Obama—that he is a pure political animal—suddenly became more widespread; commentators abruptly stopped using the words “callow” and “naïve.”
Chicago is not Obama’s home town, but it’s where he chose to forge his identity. Several weeks ago, he moved many of the Democratic National Committee’s operations from Washington to Chicago, making the city the unofficial capital of the Democratic Party; his campaign headquarters are in an office building in the Loop, Chicago’s downtown business district. But Chicago, with its reputation as a center of vicious and corrupt politics, may also be the place that Obama needs to leave behind.
Simply moving there, as he did after graduating from Harvard Law School, was a bold decision. Chicago, where the late mayor Richard J. Daley and his son, the current mayor, have governed for forty out of the past fifty-three years, is not hospitable to political carpetbaggers. Abner Mikva, who was a congressman from Hyde Park and later the chief judge on the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court, was one of the first Chicago politicians to successfully challenge the Daley machine, and it took him years to overcome people’s skepticism about his Wisconsin roots. Mikva, who is now eighty-two, tried to recruit Obama to work for him in Washington as a law clerk. Obama turned him down, replying that he was returning to Chicago to run for office. “I thought, Boy, does he got something to learn,” Mikva told me recently. “You just don’t come to Chicago and plant your flag.”
I met Mikva at the Cliff Dwellers, a private dining club atop a downtown office building. As we looked out over Lake Michigan, he told me a story that has often been repeated by others to capture the essence of politics in the city. “When I first came to Chicago, Adlai Stevenson and Paul Douglas were running for governor and senator,” he said. “I had heard about the closed Party, closed machine, but they sounded like such great candidates, so I stopped in to volunteer in the Eighth Ward Regular Democratic headquarters. I said, ‘I’m here for Douglas and Stevenson.’ The ward boss came in and pulled the cigar out of his mouth and said, ‘Who sent you?’ And I said, ‘Nobody sent me.’ He put the cigar back in his mouth and said, ‘We don’t want nobody nobody sent.’ ”
here was another tradition in Chicago politics, the so-called Independents, which grew up in opposition to Richard J. Daley—Boss Daley—whose reign lasted from 1955 to 1976. Anchored in Hyde Park and nurtured by the University of Chicago community, the Independents brought together African-Americans and white liberals in coalitions that became the city’s main alternative to the Democratic machine. The Independents arose after the Second World War to challenge the closed patronage system that controlled the city, and became a serious political force in the mid-nineteen-fifties. Their numbers increased with a new wave of black activists energized by Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s Chicago organizing in 1966, and with white liberals outraged when antiwar protesters were beaten and teargassed by Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention in 1968.
Mayor Daley died in office in 1976, at the age of seventy-four. He was replaced by a reliable and ineffectual machine candidate, Michael Bilandic, whose appointment marked the beginning of twelve years of chaotic, balkanized politics, sometimes called the “inter-Daley period.” David Axelrod, who has been Obama’s chief strategist since 2002 and is the foremost political consultant in Chicago, was a witness to all of it, first as a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune and later as the chief consultant to two mayors: Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor and a hero of the Independents, and the current Mayor Daley, whose last name still carries negative connotations in the precincts of Hyde Park. Axelrod, who is fifty-three, is by nature subdued. He wears a mustache that curls down the sides of his upper lip in a permanent expression of melancholy. We met in a Houlihan’s, off the lobby of the building that houses the Obama campaign headquarters.
Axelrod recalled the election, in 1979, of Jane Byrne, Chicago’s first female mayor, which he wrote about for the Tribune. Byrne’s campaign, assisted by snowstorms that shut down the city and showcased Bilandic’s incompetence, was the first successful insurgency in modern Chicago history. “It was a great reform campaign,” Axelrod said. “I then chronicled, for the next four years, her systematic abrogation of every commitment she had made to reform. She became sort of a parody of a machine mayor.” In office, Byrne aligned herself with City Council officials who were hostile to the city’s black leadership, pandered to the voters of the most racist wards of the city, and purged African-Americans from key positions. On the South Side, there was a backlash; Washington, who had run a spirited campaign for mayor in 1977, was elected to Congress in 1980. In 1983, he was essentially drafted by a Hyde Park-based coalition desperate to unseat the disappointing Byrne. Washington won a three-way primary, with thirty-six per cent of the vote, and went on in the general election to defeat a white Republican who ran, briefly, on the implicitly racist slogan “Before it’s too late.” Washington’s first term was dominated by warfare with a City Council controlled by white aldermen determined to stymie every proposal. But in 1986 he took control of the council and the following year was reëlected. Seven months after his victory, he collapsed at his desk, dead of a heart attack at the age of sixty-five. Axelrod saw much of this history from the inside, as Washington’s strategist; Obama saw it from the perspective of an organizer who occasionally had brushes with the powerful at political events or meetings at City Hall. “He saw the jagged edges of Chicago politics and urban politics pretty close up,” Axelrod said.
Obama spent three years in the city, from 1985, after he graduated from Columbia University, to the end of the Washington era. As a community organizer, he tried to turn a partnership of churches into a political force on the South Side. But the work accomplished very little.
“When I started organizing, I understood the idea of social change in a very abstract way,” Obama told me last year. “It was to some extent informed by my years in Indonesia, seeing extreme poverty and disparities of wealth and understanding sort of in a dim way that life wasn’t fair and government had something to do with it. I understood the role that issues like race played and took inspiration from the civil-rights movement and what the student sit-ins had accomplished and the freedom rides.
“But I didn’t come out of a political family, didn’t have a history of activism in my family. So I understood these things in the abstract. When I went to Chicago, it was the first time that I had the opportunity to test out my ideas. And for the most part I would say I wasn’t wildly successful. The victories that we achieved were extraordinarily modest: you know, getting a job-training site set up or getting an after-school program for young people put in place.”


n 1988, Obama left for Harvard Law School, returning to Chicago twice for summer stints at élite law firms, including, after his first year, Sidley Austin. (Sidley Austin is where he met Michelle Robinson, whom he married in 1992.) He returned to Chicago permanently when he graduated, in 1991. In a short period, he built a notable résumé and a network of connections. During the 1992 Presidential campaign, he ran a voter-registration drive that placed him at the center of the city’s politics. That year, Illinois elected the first African-American woman to the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley Braun, and Bill Clinton became the first Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Illinois since Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. Meanwhile, Obama practiced civil-rights law at a firm admired in the city’s progressive circles, and became a popular lecturer in the law school at the University of Chicago. He was on the board of two liberal foundations that spread grant money around Chicago, and he settled in Hyde Park.
It was a neighborhood in transition when Obama arrived. The Hyde Park Herald serves as a sort of time capsule. It reported that crime was rising; a series of violent robberies was another reminder that Hyde Park existed as a middle-class island in a sea of high-crime urban poverty. New data showed that white enrollment was steeply declining at one local school. During the Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrations, the newspaper noted in passing that Jeremiah Wright was scheduled to give a speech at the University of Chicago. Considerable coverage was given to two institutions: the local food co-op, where Obama shopped every Saturday, and the Independent Voters of Illinois–Independent Precinct Organization, or I.V.I.-I.P.O., one of the neighborhood’s most influential political groups. There was a new political force in Hyde Park as well. Real-estate developers were swooping in to rehabilitate low-income housing. On more than one occasion, the Hyde Park Herald reported on the rise in campaign donations from these developers to South Side politicians; in 1995, it ran a front-page article about Tony Rezko, who was then a very active new donor on the scene.
While it’s true that nobody sent Obama in the sense that Abner Mikva meant it, one of Obama’s underappreciated assets, as he looked for a political race in the early nineties, was the web of connections that he had established. “He understands how you network,” Mikva said. “I remember our first few meetings. He would say, ‘Do you know So-and-So?’ And I’d say yes. ‘How well do you know him? I’d really like to meet him.’ I would set up some lunches.”
The 1992 voter-registration drive, Project Vote, introduced him to much of the city’s black leadership. “If you want to look at the means of ascent, if you will, look at Project Vote,” Will Burns, the former Obama aide, said. In Chicago progressive circles, Burns, who is thirty-four, is described as an up-and-coming African-American legislator in the Obama tradition. Obama’s refusal to endorse Burns in his primary earlier this year infuriated and mystified a number of Chicago Democrats, though Burns himself displays no bitterness and is now an adviser to the Obama campaign.
At Project Vote, Burns said, Obama “was making connections at the grassroots level and was working with elected officials. That’s when he first got a scan of the broader black political infrastructure.” It was also the beginning of a dynamic that stood out in Obama’s early career: his uneasy relationship with an older generation of black Chicago politicians. Project Vote “is where a lot of the divisional rivalries popped up,” Burns said.
In this early foray into politics, Obama revealed the toughness and brashness that this year’s long primary season brought into view. As Burns, who has a mischievous sense of humor and a gift for mimicry, recalled, “Black activists, community folks, felt that he didn’t respect their role”—Burns imitated a self-righteous activist—“in the struggle and the movement. He didn’t engage in obeisance to them. He wanted to get the job done. And Barack’s cheap, too. If you can’t do it and do it in a cost-effective manner, you’re not going to work with him.” Ivory Mitchell, the ward chairman in Obama’s neighborhood, says of Obama that “he was typical of what most aspiring politicians are: self-centered—that ‘I can do anything and I’m willing to do it overnight.’ ”
During Project Vote, Obama also began to understand the larger world of Chicago’s liberal fund-raisers. “He met people not just in the African-American community but in the progressive white community,” David Axelrod said. “The folks who funded Project Vote were some of the key progressive leaders.” Obama met Axelrod through one of Project Vote’s supporters, Bettylu Saltzman, whose father, Philip M. Klutznick, was a Chicago shopping-mall tycoon, a part owner of the Bulls, and a former Commerce Secretary in the Carter Administration. Saltzman, a soft-spoken activist who worked for Senators Adlai E. Stevenson III and Paul Simon, took an immediate interest in Obama. “I honestly don’t remember what it was about him, but I was absolutely blown away,” Saltzman says. “I said to several people that this guy, who is now thirty years old, is someday going to be President. He will be our first black President.”
Obama’s legal career helped bring him into Chicago’s liberal reform community. In 1993, after he finished his work with Project Vote and was seeking to join a law firm, instead of returning to Sidley Austin he took a job at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a boutique civil-rights firm led by Harold Washington’s former counsel, Judson Miner. Miner had perfect anti-Daley credentials, routinely filing lawsuits against the city, and was a founding member of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, which was to Chicago’s legal élite what the Independents were to the Democratic machine.
Working at Davis, Miner enhanced Obama’s profile. “When you go work for Judd Miner’s law firm, that’s another kind of political statement,” Don Rose, a longtime Chicago political consultant, who ran Jane Byrne’s campaign, told me. Will Burns said, “I think it might have been helpful with a certain group of people that Barack may have wanted to have at his back at the outset. So you get the support of the liberals and the progressives and the reformers, and then that gives you a base to then expand to pick up other folks. And then folks would be willing to give money to the bright, shiny new candidate.” Joining Miner’s firm, like living in Hyde Park, was a way of choosing sides in the city’s long-running political battle between the machine and the Independents. Toni Preckwinkle explained Miner’s legal work this way: “They’ve shown a remarkable willingness to take on the Democratic organization and the Democratic establishment in this city and win. Which is why I like them and a lot of people hate them.”
If Project Vote and Miner’s firm introduced Obama to the city’s lakefront liberals and South Side politicians, it was his wife who helped connect him to Chicago’s black élite. One of Michelle’s best friends was Jesse Jackson’s daughter Santita, who became the godmother of the Obamas’ first child. Michelle had worked as an aide to the younger Daley—hired by Valerie Jarrett, who is now one of Obama’s closest advisers. (Jarrett, an African-American, was born in Iran, where her father, a doctor, helped run a hospital; she and Obama formed a bond over their unusual biographies.) It was also through Michelle that Obama met Marty Nesbitt, a successful young black entrepreneur who happened to play basketball with Michelle’s brother, Craig. (Nesbitt’s wife, Anita Blanchard, an obstetrician, delivered the Obamas’ two daughters.) Nesbitt became Obama’s closest friend and a bridge to the city’s African-American business class.
bama seems to have been meticulous about constructing a political identity for himself. He visited churches on the South Side, considered the politics and reputations of each one, and received advice from older pastors. Before deciding on Trinity United Church of Christ, he asked the Reverend Wright about critics who complained that the church was too “upwardly mobile,” a place for buppies. Though he admired Judson Miner, he was similarly cautious about joining his law firm. Miner once told me that it took “a series of lunches” and hours of discussion before Obama made his decision. At the time, Obama was working on “Dreams from My Father.”
Many have said that part of the appeal of “Dreams” is its honesty, pointing out that it was written at a time when Obama had no idea that he would run for office. In fact, Obama had been talking about a political career for years, musing about becoming mayor or governor. According to a recent biography of Obama by the Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, he even told his future brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, that he might run for President one day. (Robinson teased him, saying, “Yeah, yeah, okay, come over and meet my Aunt Gracie—and don’t tell anybody that!”) Obama was writing “Dreams” at the moment that he was preparing for a life in politics, and he launched his book and his first political campaign simultaneously, in the summer of 1995, when he saw his first chance of winning.
Many people who knew Obama then remember him for his cockiness. He had good reason to be self-assured. A number of his accomplishments had been accompanied by adoring press coverage. When he was named president of the Harvard Law Review, in 1990, he was profiled by, among others, the Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Vanity Fair, and the Associated Press. Even then, the essential elements of Obama-mania were present: the fascination with his early life, the adulatory quotes from friends who thought that he would be President one day, and Obama’s frank, though sometimes ostentatious, capacity for self-reflection. (“To some extent, I’m a symbolic stand-in for a lot of the changes that have been made,” he told the Boston Globe in 1990.)
His work for Project Vote was similarly applauded. In 1993, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Obama had “galvanized Chicago’s political community, as no seasoned politico had before,” and an alderman told Crain’s, “Under Barack’s leadership, we had the most successful, cost-effective and orderly voter registration drive I’ve ever been involved with.” When “Dreams from My Father” was published, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive; Booklist included the memoir in a “guide to some of the best books of 1995.”
Obama knew that Hyde Park, despite its reputation as the center of anti-machine progressives, was not exempt from other Chicago political traditions. During the first half of 1995, when he was preparing for his campaign for the State Senate, a big story in the neighborhood was a race for alderman marked by accusations of dirty tricks (endorsement flyers from a phony group of gay African-Americans were distributed the day before the election, apparently in an effort to stoke homophobia) and anti-Semitism (the campaign of one of the candidates was accused of being run by “Jewish overseers”).


bama’s campaign began without much excitement. He had ties to so many of the city’s élite factions that the local press described him as “a well-connected attorney.” In August, the Chicago Sun-Times noted that Valerie Jarrett was hosting “a private autograph party” for Obama. His memoir was turning him into a figure of some acclaim. The same month, the Hyde Park Herald, which later called the book “a local indie hit,” ran a flattering profile that highlighted a theme from “Dreams”: how Chicago helped Obama end a long journey of self-discovery, a narrative that helped defuse any notion that Obama was a carpetbagger. “I came home in Chicago,” he told the newspaper. “I began to see my identity and my individual struggles were one with the struggles that folks face in Chicago.”
A month later, on September 19th, Obama invited some two hundred supporters to a lakefront Ramada Inn to announce his candidacy for the State Senate, and some of what he said sounded very much like the Obama of recent months. “Politicians are not held to highest esteem these days,” he told the crowd. “They fall somewhere lower than lawyers. . . . I want to inspire a renewal of morality in politics. I will work as hard as I can, as long as I can, on your behalf.” Alice Palmer introduced Obama, and an account in the Hyde Park Herald quoted more from her speech than from his; it was, after all, chiefly her endorsement that certified him as a plausible candidate. “In this room, Harold Washington announced for mayor,” Palmer said. “Barack Obama carries on the tradition of independence in this district. . . . His candidacy is a passing of the torch.”
Also in attendance that day were Toni Preckwinkle and Will Burns, who was then a recent University of Chicago graduate. (He went on to get a master’s in social sciences; Obama helped persuade him to leave the university before he got a Ph.D., telling him, “You shouldn’t be too academic.”) Obama’s talk of a “renewal of morality in politics,” which previewed themes that emerged in this year’s campaign, also tapped into a desire for generational change—similarly consistent with his current rhetoric. He was able to capture the imagination of some young African-Americans frustrated by their local leadership. Burns said, “You have to understand, it’s 1995. It’s the year after the Republicans have taken over control of Congress, and in Illinois all three branches of government were also controlled by the Republicans. So it was a really dark point. I was looking to be engaged in something that would mean something, that would actually get something done and that was beyond symbols. Around the same time that I started up with Barack, volunteering on his campaign, I had gone to some of the old community groups and nationalist organizations. I respected what they had done, but I didn’t feel like that was really where I wanted to be.”
However, the campaign was no insurgency. Obama abided by the local way of doing things. He had lined up support from Preckwinkle, his alderman, and Ivory Mitchell, the local ward chairman, and Palmer’s endorsement brought with it two organizational assets: local operators and local activists. The operators helped Obama get on the ballot and handled the mechanics of his election. Two key operators were Alan Dobry and his wife, Lois Friedberg-Dobry, then in their late sixties and leaders of the Independent movement. “When you go to a political meeting, and you see a couple of guys or girls at the back of the room, and they aren’t glad-handing or anything, those are the operators,” Alan Dobry told me recently. There was a machinelike quality to the way the campaign unfolded. Palmer’s endorsement was the only signal that the Dobrys needed to start the slow, detailed organizing necessary to win a State Senate seat for Obama, whom they had never met, though they lived in his neighborhood.
Palmer’s imprimatur was also helpful with a small group of Hyde Park activists, some of whom she asked to hold fund-raising coffees for Obama. At her suggestion, Sam and Martha Ackerman, who were leaders of Independent Voters of Illinois, hosted a coffee at their home. Unlike the Dobrys, they insisted on a meeting with Obama before backing him, and their support was important enough for him to spend an hour with them in their dining room, submitting to an interview. Their reaction to him was a common one. “I don’t think he said he wanted to run for President, but he indicated that he was into public service for the long haul,” Martha Ackerman told me. “I remember very clearly I said to Sam, ‘If this guy is for real, he could be the first African-American President of the United States.’ ”
Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, another activist Hyde Park couple, also held an event for Obama. Forty years ago, Ayers and Dohrn were leaders of the Weathermen, the militant antiwar group that bombed the Pentagon and the United States Capitol. By the time Obama met Ayers, the former radical and onetime fugitive had been accepted into polite Chicago society and had been reborn as an education expert, eventually working as an informal adviser to Mayor Daley. (Those ties remain intact in the jumbled culture of Chicago politics. When Obama’s association with Ayers first became a campaign issue, Daley, whose father, in 1968, sent his police force into the streets to combat Ayers’s fellow-radicals, issued a statement praising Ayers as “a valued member of the Chicago community.”)
Obama seemed sure enough that he would win the State Senate primary, to be held in March, 1996—in Chicago, winning the primary is tantamount to winning the seat—to take time, late that summer, for a brief book tour, which started in Hyde Park and carried him as far as California. In October, he was one of the thousands of African-Americans from Chicago who travelled to Washington for the Million Man March. (Obama criticized the march, telling a local alternative newspaper that it was a waste of energy.) When he returned home, he had more immediate problems. In December, 1995, the South Side coalition that he had cobbled together began to fall apart. Palmer’s congressional campaign was eclipsed by her Democratic-primary opponents—Jesse Jackson, Jr., who had star power, and Emil Jones, a longtime leader in the State Senate. Several weeks before the primary, a group of her supporters—mostly older black activists, not unlike those Obama had tangled with when he was running Project Vote—realized that Palmer was destined for defeat and summoned him to a meeting. The Chicago Defender reported that Obama was asked “to step aside like other African Americans have done in other races for the sake of unity and to release Palmer from her commitment”—so that she could reclaim her State Senate seat. Obama left the meeting noncommittal.
Palmer was soundly defeated by Jackson—she got only ten per cent of the vote—and there were more insistent demands that Obama withdraw. He refused, which angered Palmer and her husband, Buzz. Buzz Palmer was a founder of the Afro-American Patrolman’s League, a reform group within the Chicago police department, and the couple had many ties to the city’s black leadership. Palmer, announcing that she had been drafted back into the State Senate race, went from being Obama’s most important supporter to his chief challenger; the woman who had launched his political career now threatened to end it. “That’s Chicago politics,” Obama told a reporter—with a sigh, the account said.
The South Side political community was forced to choose. The Ackermans went with Palmer, the Dobrys with Obama. Emil Jones announced his support for Palmer. Alderman Preckwinkle stayed with Obama. “I had given him my word I would support him,” she told me. “Alice didn’t forgive me, and she’s never going to forgive me.”
“These old nationalist guys start beating a drum—probably not the right metaphor—about how Barack should let this elder back in and how seniority’s important,” Burns said. “And they’re writing essays in the Defender and N’Digo”—another local paper covering Chicago’s black community. A comment in the Defender by Robert Starks, a professor of political science at Chicago’s Northeastern Illinois University and one of Palmer’s chief supporters, was typical: “If she doesn’t run, that seat will go to a Daley supporter. We have asked her to reconsider not running because we don’t think Obama can win. He hasn’t been in town long enough. . . . Nobody knows who he is . . . We need someone with experience.”
But, almost as fast as the threat to his campaign appeared, Obama stamped it out. The Dobrys were surprised that Palmer had so quickly gathered the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. They went to the Chicago board of elections and reviewed her petitions; as they suspected, they were filled with irregularities. One skill that the Independents had mastered in the years of fighting the first Mayor Daley was the machine’s tactic of challenging ballot petitions, and the Dobrys were experts at this Chicago ritual. Publicly, Obama was conciliatory about the awkward political situation, telling the Hyde Park Herald that he understood that some people were upset about the “conflict between old loyalties and new enthusiasms.” Privately, however, he unleashed his operators. With the help of the Dobrys, he was able to remove not just Palmer’s name from the ballot but the name of every other opponent as well. “He ran unopposed, which is a good way to win,” Mikva said, laughing at the recollection. And Palmer said last week, “Anyone who enters Chicago politics and can’t take the rough and tumble shouldn’t be there. Losing the seat was just that—not the end of the world.”
Instead of arriving in Springfield as the consensus candidate of his district, Obama was regarded as a troublemaker. “He had created some enemies,” Emil Jones, who in 2003 became president of the Illinois Senate, said. Burns described the fallout of the Obama-Palmer race this way: “It established a reputation that ‘you’re not going to punk me, you’re not going to roll me over, you’re not going to jam me.’ I think it established him as a threat. You have his independence with Project Vote, you have his refusal to knuckle under during the Alice Palmer thing, and so now you have a series of data points that have some established leaders in the black community feeling disrespected. And so the stage is now set for the comeuppance during the congressional race. That was their payback.”


n the political culture of 1996, two years after the ascendancy of the Gingrich Republicans, many Democrats ran as chastened and cautious politicians; among them was Bill Clinton, who turned his reëlection-campaign strategy over to Dick Morris (who had worked for Jesse Helms and Trent Lott, as well as Democrats) and the militantly centrist pollster Mark Penn (the Morris protégé who helped run Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign). By then, Bill Clinton had abandoned his effort for universal health care and was about to sign into law a welfare-reform bill that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had denounced, saying, “For the first time since it was enacted in 1935, we are about to repeal a core provision of the Social Security Act.” The bill was one of the most important factors in securing Clinton’s reëlection.
Had Obama not been running for office in one of the most liberal districts in Illinois, he would have drawn notice as a fairly bold Democrat. To judge by his public comments, he seemed both appalled and impressed by President Clinton’s political skill. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, published a few days after Clinton said that he would sign the welfare-reform bill, Obama talked about the Presidential campaign, saying that Bob Dole “seems to me to be a classic example of somebody who had no reason to run. You’re seventy-three years old, you’re already the third-most-powerful man in the country. So why? . . . And Bill Clinton? Well, his campaign’s fascinating to a student of politics. It’s disturbing to someone who cares about certain issues. But politically it seems to be working.”
Soon, Obama began writing a regular column—“Springfield Report”—for the Hyde Park Herald. In the first one, on February 19, 1997, he wrote, “Last year, President Clinton signed a bill that, for the first time in 60 years, eliminates the federal guarantee of support for poor families and their children.” The column was earnest and wonky. It betrayed no hint of liberal piety about the new law, but emphasized that there weren’t enough entry-level jobs in Chicago to absorb all the welfare recipients who would soon be leaving the system.
In effect, while President Clinton and the national Democratic Party were drifting to the right, State Senator Obama pushed in the opposite direction. The new welfare law was one of the first issues that Obama faced as a legislator. “I am not a defender of the status quo with respect to welfare,” he said, choosing his words with care during debate on the Illinois Senate floor. “Having said that, I probably would not have supported the federal legislation, because I think it had some problems. But I’m a strong believer in making lemonade out of lemons.” Perhaps the law’s most punitive aspect was that it cut off aid to poor legal immigrants, a provision that Clinton, in his 2004 memoir, called “particularly harsh” and “unjustifiable.” The law that Obama helped pass in Illinois restored benefits to this group. (In a continuing effort to produce lemonade, Obama’s first ad of the 2008 general-election campaign says that he “passed laws moving people from welfare to work.”) Obama resisted the national rightward trend of the mid-nineties in other small ways. He sponsored an amendment to the state constitution that would have made health care a universal right in Illinois and helped pass an ethics bill that reformed Illinois’s antiquated campaign-finance system.
In hindsight, little of his legislative record seems controversial. Some of the bills that he sponsored, statements that he made, and votes that he cast could be caricatured in a Presidential campaign. (In one 1997 column, he said, “I supported Governor Edgar’s plan to raise the income tax,” and in a 1999 debate, speaking of himself and his two opponents, he noted that “we’re all on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”) But 2008 is not 1988, and Republican attacks on tax hikes and calling an opponent a liberal lack much of their formerly compelling electoral power.
Obama has benefitted from impeccable timing. As the national Party entered a period of ideological timidity, he was at the vanguard of a Democratic revival in Illinois that had begun in 1992, when Clinton and Braun won the state, and grew stronger when, four years later, Democrats took over the Illinois House of Representatives. It continued through 2002, when Democrats won the State Senate and the governor’s office. By 2004, when Obama ran for the United States Senate, Illinois was a solidly blue state.
Not all of this was due to Democratic ingenuity; during this period the state Republican Party collapsed under the weight of corruption scandals. That is something of an Illinois tradition: four of the last nine governors have been indicted on charges of corruption, and three were convicted. As Saul Bellow once remarked, “Politics are politics, crime is crime, but in Chicago they occasionally overlap. The line between virtue and vice meanders madly—effective government on one side, connections on the other.”
here were further changes under way in Chicago. Obama had won his first campaign by using old-fashioned Chicago machine tactics at a time when the notion of machine politics was increasingly anachronistic. As the political consultant Don Rose and his colleague James Andrews explain in a chapter for a book about the current Mayor Daley’s first victory, the machine literally provided voters with access to food, health care, and a job. In most American cities, that model vanished after the Second World War; by then, the blue-collar base was leaving for the suburbs and reform movements were challenging machine politics. In Chicago, Rose and Andrews say, the elder Daley updated and preserved the system by creating a modern machine that combined “big labor and big capital, blue and white collars, and minorities”—a hybrid model that died with him.
Gradually, Chicago caught up with the rest of the country and media-driven politics eclipsed machine-driven politics. “It became increasingly difficult to get into homes and apartments to talk about candidates,” Rose said. “High-rises were tough if not impossible to crack, and other parts of the city had become too dangerous to walk around in for hours at a time. And people didn’t want to answer their doors. Thus the increasing dependence on TV, radio, direct mail, phone-banking, robocalls, et cetera—all things that cost a hell of a lot more money than patronage workers, who were themselves in decline, anyway, because of anti-patronage court rulings.” Instead of a large army of ward heelers dragging people to the polls, candidates needed a small army of donors to pay for commercials. Money replaced bodies as the currency of Chicago politics. This new system became known as “pinstripe patronage,” because the key to winning was not rewarding voters with jobs but rewarding donors with government contracts.
E. J. Dionne, Jr., of the Washington Post, wrote about this transition in a 1999 column after Daley was reëlected. Dionne wrote about a young Barack Obama, who artfully explained how the new pinstripe patronage worked: a politician rewards the law firms, developers, and brokerage houses with contracts, and in return they pay for the new ad campaigns necessary for reëlection. “They do well, and you get a $5 million to $10 million war chest,” Obama told Dionne. It was a classic Obamaism: superficially critical of some unseemly aspect of the political process without necessarily forswearing the practice itself. Obama was learning that one of the greatest skills a politician can possess is candor about the dirty work it takes to get and stay elected.
At the time, Obama was growing closer to Tony Rezko, who eventually turned pinstripe patronage into an extremely lucrative way of life. Rezko’s rise in Illinois was intertwined with Obama’s. Like Abner Mikva and Judson Miner, he had tried to recruit Obama to work for him. Chicago had been at the forefront of an urban policy to lure developers into low-income neighborhoods with tax credits, and Rezko was an early beneficiary of the program. Miner’s law firm was eager to do the legal work on the tax-credit deals, which seemed consistent with the firm’s over-all civil-rights mission. A residual benefit was that the new developers became major donors to aldermen, state senators, and other South Side politicians who represented the poor neighborhoods in which Rezko and others operated. “Our relationship deepened when I started my first political campaign for the State Senate,” Obama said earlier this year, in an interview with Chicago reporters.
Rezko was one of the people Obama consulted when he considered running to replace Palmer, and Rezko eventually raised about ten per cent of Obama’s funds for that first campaign. As a state senator, Obama became an advocate of the tax-credit program. “That’s an example of a smart policy,” he told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin in 1997. “The developers were thinking in market terms and operating under the rules of the marketplace; but at the same time, we had government supporting and subsidizing those efforts.” Obama and Rezko’s friendship grew stronger. They dined together regularly and even, on at least one occasion, retreated to Rezko’s vacation home, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.


bama’s subtle understanding of the way the city’s politics had changed—with fund-raising replacing organization as the key to victory—surely encouraged him in his next campaign. Almost as soon as he got to Springfield, he was planning another move. He was bored there—once, he appeared to doze off during a caucus meeting—and frustrated by the Republicans’ total control over the legislature. He seemed to believe, according to colleagues at the time, that he was destined for better things than being trapped in one of America’s more notoriously corrupt state capitals. Obama spent little time socializing with “the guys basically from Chicago,” the veteran senator Emil Jones said. “He hung around a lot of the downstaters. They became good friends.”
Obama’s relations with some of his black colleagues from Chicago were dreadful from the beginning. On March 13, 1997, Obama introduced one of his first pieces of legislation, a modest bill to make a directory of community-college graduates available to local employers. There was a response from Rickey Hendon, a state senator from the West Side of Chicago who had been close to Alice Palmer. After Obama explained his bill, Hendon, who has dabbled in film and television work, earning him the nickname Hollywood, rose to ask a question, and the following exchange occurred:

HENDON: Senator, could you correctly pronounce your name for me? I’m having a little trouble with it.
OBAMA: Obama.
HENDON: Is that Irish?
OBAMA: It will be when I run countywide.
HENDON: That was a good joke, but this bill’s still going to die. This directory, would that have those 1-800 sex line numbers in this directory?
OBAMA: I apologize. I wasn’t paying Senator Hendon any attention.
HENDON: Well, clearly, as poorly as this legislation is drafted, you didn’t pay it much attention either. My question was: Are the 1-800 sex line numbers going to be in this directory?
OBAMA: Not—not—basically this idea comes out of the South Side community colleges. I don’t know what you’re doing on the West Side community colleges. But we probably won’t be including that in our directory for the students.
HENDON: . . . Let me just say this, and to the bill: I seem to remember a very lovely Senator by the name of Palmer—much easier to pronounce than Obama—and she always had cookies and nice things to say, and you don’t have anything to give us around your desk. How do you expect to get votes? And—and you don’t even wear nice perfume like Senator Palmer did. . . . I’m missing Senator Palmer because of these weak replacements with these tired bills that makes absolutely no sense. I . . . I definitely urge a No vote. Whatever your name is.

Although the exchange was part of a longstanding tradition of hazing new legislators, the tensions between Hendon and Obama were real. On another occasion, Obama voted—a parliamentary error, Obama says—to block funding for a child-welfare facility in Hendon’s district. Hendon rose and criticized Obama for the vote. The two men became embroiled in a yelling match on the Senate floor that looked as if it might become physical; they were separated by Courtney Nottage, then the chief of staff for Emil Jones. Nottage led Obama off the floor to a room that legislators used to make telephone calls. “It looked like two men that were having a serious disagreement and they had walked up to one another really close,” Nottage told me. “I didn’t think anything good could come of that.”
Hendon told me, “He’s the one that got mad, because he said I embarrassed him on the Senate floor. That’s when he came over to my desk.” Before Nottage broke them up, Obama, who had learned to box from his Indonesian stepfather, supposedly told Hendon, “I’m going to kick your ass!” Hendon said, “He said something like that.” He added that more details will appear in a book that he’s written, entitled “Black Enough, White Enough: The Obama Dilemma.”
bama’s friends were not surprised when, in 1999, he decided to challenge Bobby Rush, who has represented the South Side in Congress since 1992. Rush had run against Daley in the 1999 mayoral primary, and Obama interpreted Rush’s defeat in that citywide race as a harbinger of his declining popularity in his congressional district.
The race against Rush was the turning point in Obama’s political career. It started with a brilliant bit of oratory that alluded to Abner Mikva’s story about the insularity of Chicago politics and sought to turn Obama’s disadvantages into strengths. “Nobody sent me,” Obama said at his campaign kickoff, on September 26, 1999. “I’m not part of some long-standing political organization. I have no fancy sponsors. I’m not even from Chicago. My name is Obama. Despite that fact, somebody sent me. . . . The men on the corner in Woodlawn drowning their sorrows in alcohol . . . the women working two jobs. . . . They’re all telling me we can’t wait.” It was the best moment of his campaign.
Obama was financially outmatched. Although he raised about six hundred thousand dollars, sustained television advertising in Chicago cost between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand dollars a week, according to Dan Shomon, Obama’s campaign manager at the time. A series of unusual events defined the race. A few months before the election, Rush’s twenty-nine-year-old son, Huey Rich, was shot and killed, which made the incumbent a figure of sympathy, and in the final weeks of the campaign Rush’s father died. Obama made a serious misstep when, visiting his grandmother in Hawaii, he missed a crucial vote on gun-control legislation in Springfield. Even worse, on the day of the vote a column by Obama about how the gun bill was “sorely needed” appeared in the Hyde Park Herald, under the headline “IDEOLOGUES FRUSTRATE GUN LAW.” Obama protested that his daughter was ill and unable to travel, and that he saw his grandmother, who lived alone, only once a year, but the press treated the trip as a tropical vacation.
Obama lost by thirty-one points—a humiliating defeat. On Election Night, at the Ramada Inn where he had begun his political career, he sounded dejected, hinting that he might leave politics. “I’ve got to make assessments about where we go from here,” he said. “We need a new style of politics to deal with the issues that are important to the people. What’s not clear to me is whether I should do that as an elected official or by influencing government in ways that actually improve people’s lives.” The defeat marked not so much the beginning of a new style of politics for Obama as the beginning of Obama’s mastery of the old style of politics.
Obama had misread the political dynamics of Rush’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign. “He thought he would get some help from Daley because Rush had run against Daley for mayor,” Mikva said. “He thought that Daley might use the opportunity to get even. That’s not the way the Daleys work. It’s not the way the machine works. When Barack went in to see the Mayor, whom he knew slightly, Daley said what his old man used to say: ‘Good luck!’ ”
Mayor Daley concurred. “Bobby Rush was very strong,” he said. “When you lose a race, you can be strong in another avenue, and he was always strong in his congressional district. It was a learning experience when I lost to Harold Washington. The next day, I endorsed him.” He added, “You learn from defeat. If you don’t learn from defeat, then you go away as a sour politician—you think that people turned on you. Barack Obama understood that. The lesson from that campaign is you can’t just run for any office saying you thought someone lost an election and you thought they were weak. He realized that and he rededicated himself.”


bama learned the exact nature of his appeal, as well as his handicaps. Unlike Obama’s State Senate district, where the University of Chicago and the multicultural Hyde Park produced most of the votes, Rush’s congressional district extended deep into black neighborhoods where Obama was unknown. His academic background was a burden, too. Will Burns explained, “Even though the University of Chicago is one of the largest employers on the South Side of Chicago, it is seen by some, particularly black nationalists, as a bastion of white political power, as a huge entity that doesn’t take into account the interests of the community, that doesn’t have a full democratic partnership with the community, and does what it wants to the community in maintaining clear boundaries about where black people are. It’s seen as an expansive force, trying to expand into Bronzeville and into Woodlawn”—historically black neighborhoods adjacent to Hyde Park—“and put poor blacks out of the area. The University of Chicago is not a brand that helps you if you’re trying to get votes on the South Side of Chicago.”
Obama’s fund-raising success and his professional networks were also viewed with suspicion. Chicago is still a city of villages, and Obama was adept at gliding back and forth between the South Side, where he campaigned for votes, and the wealthy Gold Coast, the lakefront neighborhood of high-rise condominiums and deluxe shopping, where he raised money. One day in Hyde Park, I mentioned the name Bettylu Saltzman (the Project Vote supporter and daughter of a Bulls owner) to Lois Friedberg-Dobry (the South Side operator). “I don’t run in those circles,” she said. Later, over lunch with Saltzman at a café in a gourmet supermarket on the Gold Coast, I mentioned the Dobrys and Obama’s Independent Voters of Illinois friends, and she said, “You know, the North Side and the South Side of Chicago—it’s like two different worlds.”
A South Side operator named Al Kindle, a large man with a booming voice, was a field operator for Obama’s race against Rush. He had helped elect Harold Washington, and he saw Obama’s congressional campaign from the street level. We met one evening at Calypso Café, a Caribbean restaurant that Obama has said is his favorite place to eat in Hyde Park, and Kindle described some of the worst moments in the campaign. “The accusations were that Obama was sent here and owned by the Jews,” Kindle said. “That he was here to steal the black vote and steal black land and that he was represented by the—as they were called—‘the white man.’ And that Obama wasn’t black enough and didn’t know the black experience, the black community. It was quite deafening in terms of how they went after Alderman Preckwinkle and myself. People would say, ‘Oh, Kindle, man, we trust you, you being fooled. Obama’s got you fooled.’ And some people called me a traitor.”
The loss taught Obama a great deal about the components of his natural coalition. According to Dan Shomon, the first poll that Obama conducted revealed that the demographic he could win over most easily was white voters. Obama, who hadn’t shown any particular gift for oratory in the race, now learned to shed his stiff approach to campaigning—described by Preckwinkle as that of an “arrogant academic.” Mikva told me, “The first time I heard him talk to a black church, he was very professorial, more so even than he was in the white community. There was no joking, no self-deprecation, no style. It didn’t go over well at all.”
But, as he had in his 1996 campaign, Obama had attracted a young and zealous corps of campaign workers. “I remember one of the candidates in the race used to talk about how crazed our volunteers were, because they were passionate, energized,” Will Burns said. “You’d come by the office on Eighty-seventh Street and there’d be a bunch of guys with no teeth waiting to get their next Old Grand-dad and then these Shiraz-drinking, Nation-reading, T.N.R.-quoting young black folk. It was a random-ass mix. It was beautiful, though. When I see the crowds now, they’re very reminiscent of what was happening then.”
Emil Jones told me that, after 2000, Obama moved decisively away from being pigeonholed as an inner-city pol. During one debate with Rush, he noted that he and the other candidates were all “progressive, urban Democrats.” Even though he lost, that primary taught him that he might be something more than that. “He learned that for Barack Obama it was not the type of district that he was well suited for,” Jones said. “The type of campaign that he had to run to win that district is not Barack Obama. It was a predominantly African-American district. It was a district where you had to campaign solely on those issues. And Barack did not campaign that way, and so as a result he lost. Which was good.” Meaning, it was good for Barack Obama.
ne day in the spring of 2001, about a year after the loss to Rush, Obama walked into the Stratton Office Building, in Springfield, a shabby nineteen-fifties government workspace for state officials next to the regal state capitol. He went upstairs to a room that Democrats in Springfield called “the inner sanctum.” Only about ten Democratic staffers had access; entry required an elaborate ritual—fingerprint scanners and codes punched into a keypad. The room was large, and unremarkable except for an enormous printer and an array of computers with big double monitors. On the screens that spring day were detailed maps of Chicago, and Obama and a Democratic consultant named John Corrigan sat in front of a terminal to draw Obama a new district. Corrigan was the Democrat in charge of drawing all Chicago districts, and he also happened to have volunteered for Obama in the campaign against Rush.
Obama’s former district had been drawn by Republicans after the 1990 census. But, after 2000, Illinois Democrats won the right to redistrict the state. Partisan redistricting remains common in American politics, and, while it outrages a losing party, it has so far survived every legal challenge. In the new century, mapping technology has become so precise and the available demographic data so rich that politicians are able to choose the kinds of voter they want to represent, right down to individual homes. A close look at the post-2000 congressional map of Bobby Rush’s district reveals that it tears through Hyde Park in a curious series of irregular turns. One of those lines bypasses Obama’s address by two blocks. Rush, or someone looking out for his interests, had carved the upstart Obama out of Rush’s congressional district.
In truth, Rush had little to worry about; Obama was already on a different political path. Like every other Democratic legislator who entered the inner sanctum, Obama began working on his “ideal map.” Corrigan remembers two things about the district that he and Obama drew. First, it retained Obama’s Hyde Park base—he had managed to beat Rush in Hyde Park—then swooped upward along the lakefront and toward downtown. By the end of the final redistricting process, his new district bore little resemblance to his old one. Rather than jutting far to the west, like a long thin dagger, into a swath of poor black neighborhoods of bungalow homes, Obama’s map now shot north, encompassing about half of the Loop, whose southern portion was beginning to be transformed by developers like Tony Rezko, and stretched far up Michigan Avenue and into the Gold Coast, covering much of the city’s economic heart, its main retail thoroughfares, and its finest museums, parks, skyscrapers, and lakefront apartment buildings. African-Americans still were a majority, and the map contained some of the poorest sections of Chicago, but Obama’s new district was wealthier, whiter, more Jewish, less blue-collar, and better educated. It also included one of the highest concentrations of Republicans in Chicago.
“It was a radical change,” Corrigan said. The new district was a natural fit for the candidate that Obama was in the process of becoming. “He saw that when we were doing fund-raisers in the Rush campaign his appeal to, quite frankly, young white professionals was dramatic.”
Obama’s personal political concerns were not the only factor driving the process. During the previous round of remapping, in 1991, Republicans had created Chicago districts where African-Americans were the overwhelming majority, packing the greatest number of loyal Democrats into the fewest districts. A decade later, Democrats tried to spread the African-American vote among more districts. The idea was to create enough Democratic-leaning districts so that the Party could take control of the state legislature. That goal was fine with Obama; his new district offered promising, untapped constituencies for him as he considered his next political move. “The exposure he would get to some of the folks that were on boards of the museums and C.E.O.s of some of the companies that he would represent would certainly help him in the long run,” Corrigan said.
In the end, Obama’s North Side fund-raising base and his South Side political base were united in one district. He now represented Hyde Park operators like Lois Friedberg-Dobry as well as Gold Coast doyennes like Bettylu Saltzman, and his old South Side street operative Al Kindle as well as his future consultant David Axelrod. In an article in the Hyde Park Herald about how “partisan” and “undemocratic” Illinois redistricting had become, Obama was asked for his views. As usual, he was candid. “There is a conflict of interest built into the process,” he said. “Incumbents drawing their own maps will inevitably try to advantage themselves.”
he partisan redistricting of Illinois may have been the most important event in Obama’s early political life. It immediately gave him the two things he needed to run for the Senate in 2004: money and power. He needed to have several times as much cash as he’d raised for his losing congressional race in 2000, and many of the state’s top donors now lived or worked in his district. More important, the statewide gerrymandering made it likely that Obama’s party would take over the State Senate in 2002, an event that would provide him with a platform from which to craft a legislative record in time for the campaign.
Obama’s political activity from 2001 to 2004 reveals a man transformed. The loss to Rush drained him of much of the naïveté he once exuded. For instance, when Obama arrived in Springfield, in 1996, he was still enamored of the spirit of community organizing and determined to apply its principles as a legislator. In an interview with the Chicago Reader in 1995, he laid out this vision:

People are hungry for community; they miss it. They are hungry for change. What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them? As an elected public official, for instance, I could bring church and community leaders together easier than I could as a community organizer or lawyer. We would come together to form concrete economic development strategies, take advantage of existing laws and structures, and create bridges and bonds within all sectors of the community. We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions.

Obama took at least one concrete step to turn this notion of the legislator as community organizer into a reality. In his first column in the Hyde Park Herald, the same one in which he addressed welfare, he announced that he was “organizing citizens’ committees” to help him shape legislation. He asked his constituents to call his office if they wanted to participate. That kind of airy talk about changing politics gave way almost immediately to the realities of the job. I asked a longtime Obama friend what ever became of the committees. “They never really got off the ground,” he said. By 2001, if there was any maxim from community organizing that Obama lived by, it was the Realpolitik commandment of Saul Alinsky, the founding practitioner of community organizing, to operate in “the world as it is and not as we would like it to be.”
In electoral politics, operating in the world as it is means raising money. Obama expanded the reach of his fund-raising. Every network that he penetrated brought him access to another. Christie Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s daughter, who runs Playboy Enterprises from the fifteenth floor of a lakefront building, explained how it worked. Hefner is a member of a group called Ladies Who Lunch—nineteen Chicago women, most of them wealthy, who see themselves as talent scouts and angel investors for up-and-coming liberal candidates and activists. They interview prospects over a meal, often in a private dining room at the Arts Club of Chicago. Obama’s friend Bettylu Saltzman, a Ladies Who Lunch member, introduced Obama to the group when he was preparing his Senate run. Hefner, who declined to support Obama in 2000, was ready to help him when he came calling in 2002.
Not long ago, Hefner and I talked in her office; we were seated at a granite table strewn with copies of Playboy. “I was very proud to be able to introduce him during the Senate race to a lot of people who have turned out to be important and valuable to him, not just here but in New York and L.A.,” Hefner explained. She mentioned Thomas Friedman, the Times columnist, and Norman Lear, the television producer. “I try and think about people who I think should know him.”


ne insight into the transition that Obama was making during the short period between his painful loss to Bobby Rush and his Senate victory can be gained by comparing his reactions to the two major national-security crises of the time: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Iraq war. For many Illinois state legislators, September 11th was not an event that required much response. The attacks occurred just before an important deadline in the redistricting process. John Corrigan, the Democratic consultant in charge of redistricting, told me that he spent September 12th talking to many legislators, Obama not among them. “It was like nothing had happened,” he said. “Everybody came in and all they cared about was their districts. It wasn’t any one particular legislator from any one particular community. I learned a lot about state government. Their job was not to respond to September 11th. They were more worried about making sure that they had a district that they could run in for reëlection.”
Obama’s response to the event was published on September 19th in the Hyde Park Herald:

Even as I hope for some measure of peace and comfort to the bereaved families, I must also hope that we as a nation draw some measure of wisdom from this tragedy. Certain immediate lessons are clear, and we must act upon those lessons decisively. We need to step up security at our airports. We must reexamine the effectiveness of our intelligence networks. And we must be resolute in identifying the perpetrators of these heinous acts and dismantling their organizations of destruction.
We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.
We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and within our own shores.

A year later, Obama agreed to speak at an antiwar rally in downtown Chicago, organized by Bettylu Saltzman and some friends, who, over Chinese food, had decided to stage the protest. Saltzman asked John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago—and, later, the co-author of the controversial book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”—to speak, but he couldn’t make it. “He was one of the main people we wanted, but he was speaking at the University of Wisconsin that day,” Saltzman said. Then she called her rabbi and then Barack Obama. Michelle answered the phone and passed the message on to her husband, who was out of town.
Saltzman also called Marilyn Katz, who runs a Chicago public-relations firm and is close to Mayor Daley. Katz managed to get Jesse Jackson as a speaker, and handled many of the organizing details. Katz, a petite woman who was, improbably, the head of security for S.D.S. at the 1968 Democratic Convention, described what she felt the political mood was at the time of the rally. “Professors are being turned in on college campuses, Bush’s ratings are eighty-seven per cent,” she said. “Among my friends, there hasn’t been an antiwar demonstration in twenty years. There’s huge repression, Bush has got all this legislation. They’re talking about lists, they’re denying people entry into the country. . . . Bush’s numbers were tremendously high, but we had no choice. Unless we wanted to live in a country that was fascist.”
Despite the politics of Saltzman and Katz, Obama’s now famous speech was notable for the absence of the traditional tropes of the antiwar left. In his biography of Obama, David Mendell, noting that Obama’s speech occurred a few months before the official declaration of his U.S. Senate candidacy, suggests that the decision to publicly oppose the war in Iraq was a calculated political move intended to win favor with Saltzman. The suggestion seems dubious; the politics were more in the framing of his opposition, not the decision itself. As Saltzman told me, “He was a Hyde Park state senator. He had to oppose the war!”
The sensitive language of his September 11th statement was gone. Instead, Obama distanced himself from the pacifist activists who were surely present. “Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an antiwar rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances,” he told the crowd. He then went further, defending justifiable wars in almost glorious terms. “The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars. My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s Army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow-troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain. I don’t oppose all wars.” It took some nerve to tweak the crowd in this way. After all, it was unlikely that many of the protesters knew who Obama was, and in a lengthy write-up of the event in the Chicago Tribune the following day he was not mentioned. Yet the speech reads as if it had been written for a much bigger audience.
During this period, Obama also became more of a strategist, someone increasingly comfortable discussing the finer points of polls, message, and fund-raising. According to his friends, Obama does not delegate campaign planning. Marty Nesbitt, his best friend, who became a familiar presence on the campaign trail this spring, flying in to play basketball with Obama on primary days, described the first meeting in which Obama pitched the idea of running for the U.S. Senate to his closest advisers and fund-raisers. This was in 2002, and things seemed to be going his way. The incumbent Republican, Peter Fitzgerald, was unpopular, and the race was attracting a large field of Democrats.
“He didn’t start telling people he was interested in running for Senate until he figured out what the road map was,” Nesbitt said. “He had a good sense of the odds, and he knew there were certain things that had to happen. . . . The first thing he said was, ‘O.K., nobody with approval ratings like this has ever been reëlected, so it’s not gonna be him, right?’ And then he said there’s a bunch of candidates who can potentially run, one of whom was Carol Moseley Braun. And he said, ‘If she runs, I probably don’t have a chance, because there’s gonna be certain loyalty within the African-American community to her, even though she had some mistakes, and I’m probably not gonna get those African-American votes, which I need as my base if I’m gonna win. So if she runs, I don’t run.’
“Then he just laid out an economic analysis. It becomes about money, because he knew that if people knew his story they would view him as a better candidate than anybody else he thought might be in the field. And so he said, ‘Therefore, if you raise five million dollars, I have a fifty-per-cent chance of winning. If you raise seven million dollars, I have a seventy-per-cent chance of winning. If you raise ten million dollars, I guarantee victory.”
That year, he gained his first high-level experience in a statewide campaign when he advised the victorious gubernatorial candidate Rod Blagojevich, another politician with a funny name and a message of reform. Rahm Emanuel, a congressman from Chicago and a friend of Obama’s, told me that he, Obama, David Wilhelm, who was Blagojevich’s campaign co-chair, and another Blagojevich aide were the top strategists of Blagojevich’s victory. He and Obama “participated in a small group that met weekly when Rod was running for governor,” Emanuel said. “We basically laid out the general election, Barack and I and these two.” A spokesman for Blagojevich confirmed Emanuel’s account, although David Wilhelm, who now works for Obama, said that Emanuel had overstated Obama’s role. “There was an advisory council that was inclusive of Rahm and Barack but not limited to them,” Wilhelm said, and he disputed the notion that Obama was “an architect or one of the principal strategists.”
David Axelrod, the preëminent strategist in the state, declined to work for Blagojevich. “He had been my client and I had a very good relationship with him, but I didn’t sign on to the governor’s race,” Axelrod said. “Obviously he won, but I had concerns about it. . . . I was concerned about whether he was ready for that. Not so much for the race but for governing. I was concerned about some of the folks—I was concerned about how the race was being approached.” Axelrod’s unease was warranted. Blagojevich and people close to him have been tied to a seemingly endless series of scandals. The trial of Tony Rezko revealed that Rezko used his influence in the Blagojevich administration to profit from companies seeking business with the state. There is speculation that Blagojevich will be the next governor to be indicted, and the Democratic Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan, has raised the issue of impeachment.
Part of Obama’s political success is that he has been able to exploit relationships with important yet ethically dubious figures in Illinois while still maintaining his independence. In some ways, this is an Illinois tradition. When the liberal reformer Adlai Stevenson ran for governor, in 1948, one Democratic boss reportedly noted that he would “perfume the ticket.” The earnest Lincoln scholar Paul Simon stood out in the Senate for his moral rectitude and his commitment to good government even as his state wallowed in scandal. “The political bosses knew they had to have what they used to call in business a loss leader—the showcasing,” Don Rose, the Chicago political consultant, said. “The car that you sold for under its value for advertising purposes. While you had at the top of your ticket a shining star, under that it was like turning over a rock.”
Obama has said little about the scandals in his home state. Besides the Rezko and Blagojevich cases, there have been indictments and convictions against the Daley administration concerning hiring and contracting practices. Getting close to the sullied political leadership in Illinois was probably an unavoidable cost of winning the U.S. Senate seat. Emil Jones told me that another of the lessons Obama learned after his 2000 loss was the importance of political sponsorship.
Jones and Obama have had a complicated history. As a community organizer, Obama led a protest against Jones, and in his memoir he unflatteringly describes him as an “old ward heeler.” (“I guess he figured I was part of the establishment,” Jones told me, objecting to the description. “He didn’t know too much about politics and he was very idealistic.”) Years later, Jones backed Palmer over Obama in the State Senate race. But their relationship changed dramatically after 2000. When Obama praised Jones as “my political godfather,” Jones began using the theme music from “The Godfather” as his cell-phone ringtone.
I spoke to Jones in his office minutes after he left a meeting with the Governor, a close ally whom he has defended during the recent difficulties. Jones, who is seventy-two, is a former sewer inspector and insurance salesman; he speaks in a soft rumble and practices politics in a characteristically Chicago manner. He recently explained his support for a proposal to increase the salaries of legislators by saying, “I need a pay raise.” In May, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Jones “provided himself with tens of thousands of dollars in interest-free loans from his campaign fund,” which, the report noted, is not illegal in Illinois but is “highly unusual.” A spokesman for Jones said that Jones “has always made it a practice to pay back the loans and continues to do so.”
Being in the majority has proved hard for the Democrats. They were having trouble agreeing on a budget deal, and the newspapers were filled with those murmurs of impeachment. For Jones, discussing his long history with the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee—from target of the youthful Obama’s anti-establishment organizing to political patron in Springfield—seemed a welcome relief, a reminder of happier times for Democrats in Illinois.
“When he ran that race against Bobby Rush, he had no one supporting him who had political influence over others and whom people respected, so he was out there as a lone wolf in that race,” Jones said. That’s why, in 2002, as Obama planned his next campaign, he sought out Jones. “We never discussed it, but he had to analyze that race and recognize he had no other powerful elected officials supporting him,” Jones said. “And so he felt I could be very, very key if he was going to make the run for the U.S. Senate.
“In politics, you must know who is connected to whom,” Jones continued. “The Mayor of Chicago and the father of Dan Hynes”—one of Obama’s primary opponents—“when they were both state senators they shared an apartment together in Springfield, so there’s a relationship between those two. And the Governor? One of his chief financial supporters in his first run was also in the race. I work with both the Mayor and the Governor, so, by my jumping in strong behind Barack Obama, they didn’t want to alienate me and have me upset with them, so they stayed out of the race.”
In the State Senate, Jones did something even more important for Obama. He pushed him forward as the key sponsor of some of the Party’s most important legislation, even though the move did not sit well with some colleagues who had plugged away in the minority on bills that Obama now championed as part of the majority. “Because he had been in the minority, Barack didn’t have a legislative record to run on, and there was a buildup of all these great ideas that the Republicans kept in the rules committee when they were in the majority,” Burns said. “Jones basically gave Obama the space to do what Obama wanted to do. Emil made it clear to people that it would be good for them.” Burns, who at that point was working for Jones, was assigned to keep an eye on Obama’s floor votes, which, because he was a Senate candidate, would be under closer scrutiny. The Obama-Jones alliance worked. In one year, 2003, Obama passed much of the legislation, including bills on racial profiling, death-penalty reform, and expanded health insurance for children, that he highlighted in his Senate campaign.


erhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. When he was a community organizer, he channelled his work through Chicago’s churches, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side. He was an agnostic when he started, and the work led him to become a practicing Christian. At Harvard, he won the presidency of the Law Review by appealing to the conservatives on the selection panel. In Springfield, rather than challenge the Old Guard Democratic leaders, Obama built a mutually beneficial relationship with them. “You have the power to make a United States senator,” he told Emil Jones in 2003. In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers. In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war.
Like many politicians, Obama is paradoxical. He is by nature an incrementalist, yet he has laid out an ambitious first-term agenda (energy independence, universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq). He campaigns on reforming a broken political process, yet he has always played politics by the rules as they exist, not as he would like them to exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game. He is ideologically a man of the left, but at times he has been genuinely deferential to core philosophical insights of the right.
Obama’s establishment inclinations have alienated some old friends. During the 2004 Senate primary, Obama sometimes reminded voters of his anti-machine credentials, but at the same time he shrewdly wrote to Mayor Daley’s brother, William, who had backed one of Obama’s primary opponents, asking for his support if he won the primary. As he outgrew the provincial politics of Hyde Park, he became closer to the Mayor, and this accommodation, as well as his unwillingness to condemn the corruption scandals ensnaring Daley and Blagojevich, both of whom he supported for reëlection, have some of his original supporters feeling alienated and angry. “I am not thrilled with Barack, simply because we elected him as an Independent, and he switched over to Daley,” Alan Dobry said. Ivory Mitchell, speaking of Obama’s Senate race, said, “When he won the primary out here and he went downtown, it appears as though Daley took over the campaign for him. . . . We were excluded.” David Axelrod told me, in response, that some of the Independents on the South Side blame Daley for just about anything. “I think there’s kind of this Wizard of Oz mystique,” he said. “Daley had virtually no role in the Senate campaign.”
Another transition from primary to general election is now under way for Obama, and it is causing him a similar set of problems, all of which stem from a realization among his supporters that superheroes don’t become President; politicians do. Judging by the reaction to Obama’s most recent decisions—his willingness to support legislation to modify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, his rightward shift on interpreting the Second Amendment, his decision to “refine” his Iraq policies—some voters will be crushed by this realization and others will be relieved. In another episode that has Obama’s old friends feeling frustrated, Obama recently blamed his first campaign manager, Carol Anne Harwell, for reporting on a 1996 questionnaire that Obama favored a ban on handguns. According to her friends, Harwell was furious that the campaign made her Obama’s scapegoat. “She got, as the saying goes, run over by a bus,” Lois Friedberg-Dobry said.
Obama’s rise has often appeared effortless. His offstage tactics—when he is engaged in the sometimes combative work of a politician—are rarely glimpsed by outsiders. Penny Pritzker, a friend and fund-raiser for Obama, remembers meeting with him at her office in 2006 to discuss his Presidential campaign. Pritzker, whose family, one of the wealthiest in Chicago, owns the Hyatt hotel chain, was as crucial to Obama’s next campaign as Toni Preckwinkle’s was to his first. “We were talking about whether he was ready to do this or not,” Pritzker told me. She was blunt, telling Obama, “As I see it, the two things that you’re going to need to address are your executive leadership skills, because your résumé doesn’t have that in it, and the second would be your credentials in national security.” Obama returned with an organizational chart indicating how the campaign would be structured—one of his great tactical advantages over the disorganized Clinton campaign—along with a list of advisers. Pritzker agreed to become his finance chair. Obama has frequently been one step ahead of his friends and the public in anticipating his own rise. Perhaps it is all those people he has met over the years who told him that he would be President one day. The Reverend Alvin Love, a South Side Baptist minister and a longtime Obama friend, said that Obama called him in December, 2006, seeking advice about whether to run for President. “My dad told me that you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” Love recalls saying, and Obama replied, “The iron can’t get any hotter.”
Obama has always had a healthy understanding of the reaction he elicits in others, and he learned to use it to his advantage a very long time ago. Marty Nesbitt remembers Obama’s utter calm the day he gave his celebrated speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, in Boston, which made him an international celebrity and a potential 2008 Presidential candidate. “We were walking down the street late in the afternoon,” Nesbitt told me. “And this crowd was building behind us, like it was Tiger Woods at the Masters.”
“Barack, man, you’re like a rock star,” Nesbitt said.
“Yeah, if you think it’s bad today, wait until tomorrow,” Obama replied.
“What do you mean?”
“My speech,” Obama said, “is pretty good.” ♦

Anonymous said...

In the July 21, 2008, issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza publishes “Making It,” about how the city shaped Barack Obama as a politician. Lizza also joins Hendrik Hertzberg, Jeffrey Toobin, and Dorothy Wickenden on the Campaign Trail podcast.

As a long time Hyde Park resident and businessman (I used to own the other supermarket in Hyde Park) who had been very involved in the community, I am amazed that you got so many Hyde Parkers to talk on the record. Good piece. Hyde Park is a very interesting and complex place.
Bill Gerstein
Chicago, Ill.

Bill, I actually found most people in Hyde Park very eager to talk about Obama—both his friends and his critics. Some sources seemed surprised that more reporters weren’t coming around to explore Obama’s old neighborhood. I also found that many Hyde Parkers have a mixture of pride and sadness about Obama. It’s obvious why they’re proud, but the sadness comes from knowing that he’s no longer their guy. He’s like an indie-rock band that’s outgrown its old fan base.

The supermarket wars of Hyde Park deserve their own New Yorker piece! I was amazed by the volume of coverage that The Hyde Park Herald devoted to the old Co-op, which is now a chain supermarket called Treasure Island, much to the dismay of many longtime residents.

You are very right about Hyde Park’s complexity. In many ways it’s a fairly typical liberal academic neighborhood. I went to U.C. Berkeley, and the nights I spent in Hyde Park recently, rummaging through old newspapers at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, or having dinners at restaurants like Calypso Café, reminded me of my undergraduate years in the Bay Area. But at the same time Hyde Park is filled with people like Judge Richard Posner and many free marketeers who have given the university its conservative reputation. David Axelrod put it to me this way: “The thing about Hyde Park is you can live on a street with a conservative economist and a left-wing philosopher.”

Mr. Lizza, your article is one of the best researched pieces I have ever read. Am I wrong to think that Obama is the most calculating candidate to ever run for a prominent political office? Does this man have any core principles? I guess I don’t really need to ask the latter question after reading your article….
Allison Elias
Peoria, Ill.

Allison, the truth is that the word “calculating” could probably be used to describe almost anybody who has ever made a serious run for President. I don’t think it necessarily takes anything away from Obama to know that he is a skilled politician. There’s one quote from Abner Mikva that I wish I had included in the piece. He was telling me how Obama struck him as very ambitious when they first met in the 1990s, though Mikva noted that “it was clear that he has the right kind of ambition a good politician should have.”

Then Mikva said:

In this country, you don’t stand for office. If there’s any office in the country that’s worth having, whether it’s appointed or elected, you campaign for it. You run. You run as hard as you can. Jack Kennedy once said that it takes a lot of gall to run for office, but what you do is you look around one day and decide you can do it better than anybody else, and then you run like a gangbuster, and that’s Barack.

Obama represents the ascending “global citizen” in life-experience and scope. His background has forged in him a sense of purpose, passion, and tactical flexibility that is different from Presidential candidates of the past. But Obama, like any successful leader, has to master the politics of how to get elected. Americans may be uneasy about Obama because of his exotic background, but do you think voters see in Obama (almost instinctively) the type of nuanced, practical politician that can navigate global uncertainties on behalf of the American people in the twenty-first century better than earlier establishment candidates?
Carlyn Meyer

I hate to give you a short answer to such a long and astute question, but the truth is I really don’t know. Last year, while reporting a story for GQ, Michelle Obama told me that the Democratic primaries were going to come down to “the devil you know” (Hillary Clinton) versus “a leap of faith” (Obama). You could probably describe the general election in the same terms, with McCain replacing Clinton as the devil. Obama’s record is thin enough that, given the complexities of the world, he is always going to be a leap of faith. We simply don’t have enough examples of him making the kinds of decisions he will need to make as President for us to know for sure whether he’s ready for the job. I doubt this will change by Election Day. I do think that we are in a political environment in which traditional experience has less value than at any time since 1976. And that means that there are probably a lot of people out there willing to make that leap that Michelle was talking about.

Because Senator Obama appears to be an acutely self-aware individual, and because you make it evident that he has been “paradoxical” for some time now, I’d like to know if he sees himself in a similar fashion—equal parts traditional and unorthodox—or if his self-image is more in line with the evocative rhetoric he uses to describe his candidacy.
Albert Luo
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Of all the politicians I’ve covered, Obama is the most likely to recognize paradoxes about himself. As you say, he is incredibly self-aware and introspective, as anyone who has read his books will attest to. Obama once told me in an interview, “What I am constantly trying to do is balance a hard head with a big heart.” That balance is apparent throughout his career. I think we see the “big heart” side of him present in his speeches and campaign themes. What I was trying to do with my piece was uncover the “hard head” narrative of his political biography.

How do you feel about the inflammatory cartoon on the cover? Does it seem funny to you? Or misleading?
Rob Conrad
Chicago, Ill.

This is the only thing I have to say about the cover.

Obama refers to Hillary as Hillary Rodham Clinton, but absolutely no one is allowed to say his full name. Barrack Hussein Obama. Why is that?
June Pulliam
Elsberry, Mo.

The reason people don’t use Obama’s middle name is because Obama never uses it. He has never used Hussein in any of his campaigns or in his books or in any other public way, and journalists tend to call candidates what they prefer to be called. My middle name is Christopher, though I never use it in my byline and never refer to myself with my middle name. I would find it bizarre if people suddenly started adding my middle name when they cited me. The Hillary example you cite is complicated because at different phases of her public career she has favored different variations of her name. Many journalists began using her middle name a long time ago at her encouragement.

I don’t think it needs to be said that most of the people who emphasize Obama’s middle name are not doing so for the sake of clarity but to make an association with a certain former Middle Eastern dictator.

It is quite obvious from your magnificently researched article on Obama’s rise to power that he is the quintessential politician. Do you think that he is or is capable of being a dangerous demagogue?
Cecily Greenhut
Brooklyn, N.Y.

I have never seen any evidence of Obama being a dangerous demagogue. His style and approach to politics are the exact opposite. The fact that Obama is, in your words, “the quintessential politician” should not surprise us. I can’t say this any better than Hendrik Hertzberg, so let me just quote from his Comment this week:

Obama, it turns out, is a politician. In this respect, he resembles the forty-three Presidents he hopes to succeed, from the Father of His Country to the wayward son, Alpha George to Omega George. Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways. They’re all politicians, yes—very much including Obama…. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

Are you from Chicago?
Emilie Junge
Chicago, Ill.

No, I was born and raised in Dix Hills, New York, though I love Chicago and its political culture.

Anonymous said...

Obama's domestic policy stump speech draft #1.
Comments, please?

Ladies and gentlemen, as I’ve campaigned across this great country of ours, one of my greatest pleasures has been meeting all the wonderful Americans whose voices are so rarely heard—and whose stories are so rarely told.
I’m thinking of the young woman I met in Texahoma, Texas: a single mother who has three full-time jobs—but no health insurance. Or the young man I met in Oklatexa, Oklahoma, who has tons and tons of health insurance—but no job. I’ll never forget the look in that young man’s eye when he said to me, “Also, I’m single, and I’d like to meet a woman who already has children and who preferably lives in an adjoining state.”
These are the moments when you realize that the current system has failed us, and that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to help.
I’m thinking of married couples like Jim and Sheila R., of Fort Injun, Wyoming. Jim has spent most of his fifty years laboring manually in a pebble mine. And Sheila—without any government aid—has started a foundation to enlighten Americans about the putative value of hand-mined pebbles. But despite a banner sales year, during which they sold almost six sacks of their artisanal-quality hand-mined pebbles, they still haven’t been able to scrape together enough money to buy a last name.
I’m talking about people like the wonderful Mexican gentleman I met in Hilltop Hollow, Arizona, who, when I told him of my great affection for the country of Mexico, looked me in the eye and said, “Yo soy de Nicaragua.” Which reminded me how I’ve always thought that one of the most beautiful languages in the whole world is Mexican.
Or the young man who walked up to me after a speech in Townville, South Dakota. He handed me a 1923 silver dollar and said, “This coin used to belong to my father. It was his prize possession. But I want you to have it now. And I want you to carry it with you on your travels from state to state.” And, as I was thanking him, this young man looked me right in the eye and said, “Actually, I stole it from my father five minutes ago. He’s standing right over there. No—don’t look, don’t look. Be cool. Maintain. Just put it in your pocket. I’ll be in touch.” And with that he walked away.
I’m talking about the young man—a boy, really; he couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve years old—whom I met in an online game of Halo, who said to me, “Headshot! Suck it! Pwned! Be less gay!,” after he had killed me by camping a respawn point, which really should be illegal.
I’m talking about the mother of five in Badhampton, New York, who told me, “Between getting the kids up at 5 A.M. for gymnastics practice, then driving them to school, then taking the dogs to the vet, then picking up the kids after school and taking them to gymnastics meets, then feeding the dogs, then putting the kids to bed, then walking the dogs, then waking the kids and the dogs up for midnight gymnastics practice, I still worry that I’ll never realize my dream of assembling the world’s most awesome dogs-plus-humans gymnastics troupe.”
I’m talking about the middle-aged man from Monterey, California—a Mr. Sammy Hagar—who told me, “I can’t drive fifty-five.” To tell the truth, I never had the good fortune to meet Sammy face to face, but we did have a long and fruitful one-way conversation through my car stereo one night during a Classic Rock Block.
I’m thinking and talking about a man I met in New Carsmell, Vermont, before my campaign even began. He had inherited from his step-uncle, after much legal wrangling, the family diner. I remember as if it were yesterday asking this man for a ham-and-cheese sandwich. And he made me one. But, before he served it to me, he smooshed it down in this hot-presser thing that sort of looked like a copy machine. So, when it was done, the sandwich was like a flattened-out grilled cheese with ham, which the man claimed was an Italian delicacy. That thing was delicious. I can’t remember right now what it’s called, but more and more places are starting to serve them, so, if you ever get the chance to have one, definitely try it. I think it might have been called a “pannioli” or something. Something Italian-sounding.
But I digress.
What I’m really trying to talk about on this great occasion is women like your mother, whose decades-long struggle with morbid obesity has earned her much renown in the urban folklore of our great land. That’s right—your mother: a woman who is said to be so fat that, when she sat down on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday got bounced into the middle of next week. If I could, I would give her a medal, even though she would probably eat it, thinking there’s chocolate inside.
As I conclude my remarks here tonight, I can’t help but think of whichever one of you it was in the audience who sarcastically applauded when I said “As I conclude my remarks” a few seconds ago. It’s easier to tear down than to build up, Ma’am. And I call you “Ma’am” with the full knowledge that you’re probably actually a guy, because I just got you back.
You know, when I began this campaign, people said I was crazy. They said it couldn’t be done. They said that no one, in the entire history of American politics, had ever mounted and run and, God willing, won a national campaign to be elected King of Prussia. They said that King of Prussia is not really an elected office. They said that King of Prussia is just the funny name of a town in Pennsylvania. They said that when most people hear the phrase “King of Prussia” they think of the famous mall there, and not of the governmental position that apparently does not exist.
Well, maybe they’re right.
O.K., that’s the part where you’re all supposed to yell, “No!”
Nothing? No one?
Whatever. Fine. I’ll be in the food court if anyone wants to sign my petition or have a photo op or buy me a Burrito Supreme.

Anonymous said...

Can John McCain reinvent Republicanism?
by Ryan Lizza
New Yorker, FEBRUARY 25, 2008

McCain has, in effect, stumbled to the head of a party brimming with ferment.

ohn McCain’s campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, has had many incarnations. In 2000, when McCain competed against George W. Bush for the Republican Presidential nomination, the bus was a stage for his around-the-clock monologues with the press corps. For the 2008 campaign, the Straight Talk (as the McCain staff calls it) began as a state-of-the-art behemoth, as big as a tractor-trailer. Then, as McCain’s fortunes fell—the campaign essentially went bankrupt over the summer—the sleek Straight Talk, which reportedly cost nine thousand dollars a day, was replaced by something that looked more like an actual bus. It is sixteen years old, not exactly shabby but definitely worn. It is usually trailed by a coach carrying McCain’s travelling press, and, during most legs of the campaign trips, individual reporters are summoned to join the candidate on the Straight Talk. On a recent Sunday morning, two days before the January 29th Florida primary, the bus started up outside a television studio in Tampa, where McCain had just recorded his fifty-second appearance on “Meet the Press.”
In the front of the bus are eight captain’s chairs, where McCain’s senior advisers and an assortment of family members sit. These include McCain’s wife, Cindy; one of his senior strategists, Charlie Black, a quiet North Carolinian who heads one of Washington’s biggest lobbying firms; Mark Salter, McCain’s writing collaborator and longtime Senate chief of staff. Absent that Sunday morning were the Blogettes—McCain’s daughter Meghan and two of her friends, who together write a lively online chronicle of their adventures on the campaign trail.
Past the captain’s chairs, the center passageway narrows. On one side is a bathroom and on the other a galley stocked with Dunkin’ Donuts and Coke, the staples of the McCain diet. McCain sits in the rear of the bus, at the center of a horseshoe-shaped gray leather couch—what is called the “circle lounge.” In one corner, a television is tuned to MSNBC—never Fox News. As many as ten reporters squeeze around the horseshoe, until they are wedged thigh to thigh on either side of the Senator.
McCain, who is seventy-one, looks both older and more vigorous than he does on television, which tends to conceal the scars from a skin cancer. In person, he is all energy and motion. At one moment, bursting into laughter, he exuberantly explains why, after “a short period of waterboarding to find out what they did in their absence,” he would take back some of the staffers who fled his campaign at its low point. At another, he cracks up over one of his own familiar jokes. That morning, he was talking on his cell phone to Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., of Utah, who made a surprise endorsement of McCain back in 2006, passing over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a fellow-Mormon. Huntsman has a warm relationship with McCain and has been mentioned as a possible running mate. Somewhat improbably, he was stumping for the Senator in Miami. “Thank you, my friend,” McCain bellowed. “I just had my interrogation on Russert”—Tim Russert, the moderator of “Meet the Press.” “It’s a good thing I had all that preparation in North Vietnam!”
In fact, the candidate was eager to talk about his television interview. He reached into a breast pocket, pulled out an index card, and, referring to Russert, said, “You know how he always gives quotes? I had to give the Romney quote to him.” He held the card tightly with two hands and read, “ ‘No question we’ll have to have a series of timetables and milestones. But those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds till you’re going to be gone.’ ” The quotation, referring to a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, is from an interview that Romney gave last April to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and, in the days leading up to the Florida vote, McCain read it to anyone who would listen. He treated it as the Aha! moment of the campaign. As Democrats were calling for what McCain referred to as “surrender,” Mitt Romney legitimatized their argument by uttering the word “timetables.” McCain said, “There’s no other way you can interpret that, except that he was saying ‘timetables.’ That’s all there is to it.”
There was more to it. Romney was not proposing a specific date for withdrawal. He was suggesting that President Bush privately discuss timetables of some sort with the Iraqi government, though it was unclear exactly what he meant. McCain thought that he was on the verge of winning the Republican nomination because, while his Republican opponents hedged their bets, he had risked everything to support increasing the number of troops in Iraq—the “surge”—when the idea was at its most unpopular. The attack on Romney was unfair, even false, in its particulars, but McCain believed that Romney had shown the least backbone of all the candidates.
Somebody said to McCain that Romney had said he should apologize for twisting the intent of the words, and McCain became indignant: “He ought to apologize to the men and women who are serving, because they deserve steady and steadfast leadership, particularly when times are tough. And his statement obviously was looking for the blinking exit sign.” He continued, “I remind you again, it’s just a fact, that at that point, in April, 2007, it was at the worst point. Harry Reid”—the Senate Majority Leader—“is giving speeches on the floor of the Senate saying the war is lost. He didn’t say, ‘The surge isn’t going to work,’ he didn’t say, ‘We are going to fail.’ He said it was lost. All the Democrats were outdoing each other: ‘I’ll get them out in six months,’ ‘No, I’ll get them out in three months,’ ‘No, I’ll get them out tomorrow,’ ‘I’ll get ’em out. We’re losing.’ ”
McCain showed a flash of anger. “And those same people were saying McCain’s political ambitions are at an end. The fact is you also know that John Edwards was calling it ‘the McCain strategy’ and ‘the McCain surge,’ and not because he was trying to flatter me. That was a genuine seminal time as to whether we were going to go forward with the additional troops, which was, I admit, highly unpopular—highly unpopular.” McCain picked up his index card. “Quote: ‘You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone.’ That’s not helpful! That’s not helpful!” He tapped the index card on the table as he pronounced each syllable. Another reporter gently tried to point out that Romney didn’t support withdrawing the troops. McCain wouldn’t yield: “If he didn’t think that they were going to be gone, then he wouldn’t have said that. It’s just a statement of fact.”
This episode, the final important volley of the Republican primaries, nicely captured two sides of McCain. There is the principled McCain, who, more than any other candidate running for President this year, has a record of sticking to a position even when it puts his political future at risk. In this campaign, his positions on the surge and on immigration (he supported a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegals) almost sank him. But there is also the political McCain, who knows that a reputation for standing on principle is a valuable commodity, though only if it’s well advertised. If it takes flogging a dodgy quote to emphasize a larger truth about your own character, then so be it.
t is bracing to drop in on the McCain campaign after covering the overly managed productions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Democratic candidates rarely speak to the travelling press. McCain not only packs his bus with reporters (whom he often greets with an affectionate “Hello, jerks!”) but talks until the room is filled with the awkward silence of journalists with no more questions. The Obama campaign, like the Bush White House, prides itself on message discipline and tracks down leakers with a frightening intensity. McCain and his aides openly discuss strategy, whether it’s Brooke Buchanan, McCain’s travelling press secretary, prepping him for a press conference (“ABC might ask about that”) or McCain discussing his targeting strategy for Tampa (“I thought we did a robo-call to tell people about Schwarzkopf”—referring to the endorsement by General Norman Schwarzkopf).
The intimacy of the bus means that McCain’s family life is an open book. (Cindy is dismayed that their son Jack recently split up with his girlfriend; John has turned his daughter Meghan’s status as an unemployed art-history grad into a punch line.) The chumminess with the press usually spills into the evenings, and McCain’s senior advisers dine almost nightly with the people covering the candidate.
McCain’s open-access policy is partly strategic. After all, he is able to hammer talking points like any politician. (It’s not just his jokes that he repeats.) But, by engaging reporters in long, even substantive conversations, he also disarms them. The incentive to ask “gotcha” questions that feed the latest news cycle is greatly reduced, and the hours of exposure to McCain breed a relationship that inclines journalists to be more careful about describing the context of his statements. Mark Salter believes that McCain’s back-of-the-bus rambles rarely produce gaffes. “Ten per cent of the time, something like that is going to happen,” he said. “But ninety per cent of the time it works out fine. If you just make your case, and reporters are familiar with you and know how you talk and know what you mean when you’re bouncing around on a bus and you truncate your sentences or something, then they know what you’re driving at, and you’re going to be fine.”
All this access isn’t just a calculated risk; McCain has a near-clinical need to be around people. And his extended soliloquies are also a way for him to mock his reputation, well deserved, according to accounts of some of his Senate colleagues over the years, for having an explosive temper. “I do enjoy the company of some people that I’ve gotten to know who are professional journalists,” he says. “They’ll write things or report things that I don’t want to see, and I get mad as hell about it and enraged and lose my temper and want to punch them out. But the fact is, I think you can enjoy life.”
n the months before Super Tuesday, on February 5th, the essential elements of the McCain campaign were the Straight Talk and the town-hall meeting. In these forums, he won two crucial constituencies—the press and the voters. He succeeded not because of his ideology but, to some extent, in spite of it. He won over reporters because they took pleasure in his company as well as in his rebellious persona, and he won over a plurality of primary and caucus voters because the conservative majority in most key states was divided between two of his opponents, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, and Mitt Romney. “McCain is a minority nominee who was fortunate to have the conservative vote consistently split,” Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, told me. “And he probably would have lost the nomination had there been a conservative able to unify the conservative movement.”
McCain was lucky in other ways, too. A series of unlikely events, beyond his control, had to unfold in order for him to win. “He did it by drawing an inside straight,” Mark McKinnon, McCain’s media adviser, told me two days after Super Tuesday. “A hundred things had to happen, most of them improbable, and ninety-nine have so far. The key things had to be the success of the surge, reduction of the heat on immigration, somebody having to take out Romney in Iowa”—the January 3rd Iowa caucus, which Huckabee won. “Rudy”—Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor—“had to pull out of New Hampshire. If Rudy hadn’t pulled out of New Hampshire, Romney would have won, because we would have split the votes with Giuliani.” And it didn’t hurt that Huckabee, McCain’s principal adversary in the January 20th South Carolina primary, made a tactical mistake on the eve of the vote. “Huckabee should have stayed in South Carolina, instead of going to Michigan and spending two, three days and a million bucks,” McKinnon said.
McCain has, in effect, stumbled to the head of his party. As he was reminded when conservative talk-radio hosts led a last-minute insurrection against his candidacy in the run-up to Super Tuesday, it is a party brimming with ideological ferment. Conservative journals are full of debates about the meaning of McCainism, and publishing houses are releasing tracts by conservatives trying to point the Party in a new direction. Two voices from the nineties and two from the Bush era offer a glimpse of the landscape that McCain faces as he tries to put the Party back together.
Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist were architects of the conservative ascendancy in the Clinton years, but the two men now offer visions for the future that are at odds. Gingrich’s prescription is most notable for what he explicitly rejects. The leader of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, Gingrich now argues that the era of running against the government has ended. “The Republican Party cannot win over time as the permanently angry anti-government party because neither appeals to most voters,” he writes in his recent book, “Real Change.” Rather, he argues, Republicans must learn to be competent managers of the bureaucracy and “pro-good government.” Furthermore, he advises them to reject the Party’s guiding strategy of the past eight years: making increasingly urgent appeals to its most conservative supporters for maximum turnout. In what sounds like the advice that New Democrats gave liberals in the nineteen-eighties, Gingrich points out that “Republicans allow their campaigns to be dominated more and more by pandering to small, specific segments of the activist wing of the party”—a trend that he believes has contributed to the drop in Republican numbers on the two coasts. Gingrich’s advice amounts to a sharp rebuke of the dominant political and governing philosophy of the Bush years—in particular, the strategies formulated and advocated by Bush’s former political adviser Karl Rove—and he suggests that if McCain attempts a dramatic refashioning of his party he may find support in surprising places.
Norquist, a longtime conservative organizer, has a different view. In a forthcoming book, “Leave Us Alone,” he describes the Republican Party as little more than a collection of interest groups—such as anti-tax activists, gun-rights advocates, and homeschoolers—that, if they are carefully tended, will grow into a “supermajority.” The merits of his argument aside, Norquist’s description of the conservative coalition is notable for what it leaves out—voters whose overriding concern is national security. That exclusion seems to be a trend on the small-government right. Not long ago, I spoke with Mallory Factor, a Republican fund-raiser and the co-organizer of a monthly meeting for conservative thinkers and activists in New York. When I mentioned that McCain’s aides plan to use the Iraq war to unite the right, he said, “That’s not the glue that keeps conservatives together. There is an enormous amount of frustration over the war on a number of grounds, from the cost, to the way the war has been fought, to what the outcome is. One of the things that I’ve talked about in our group is that we’re using the finest military in the world as an N.G.O. I mean, we’re talking about nation-building, not fighting a war. Is that the proper use of our military?”
Factor has reason to be concerned. In a recent Foreign Affairs article, McCain called for the kind of costly nation-building capacity that makes libertarians shudder, arguing that the United States should “energize and expand our postconflict reconstruction capabilities” and create a “deployable police force” that would prop up collapsing states. Echoing Norquist’s book, Factor insisted that the war in Iraq is not a unifying issue for the right. He told me, “The bottom line is that to the base of the Party the war isn’t Communism—to the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan, Communism was a rallying point. This is not like that.”
avid Frum and Michael Gerson are former Bush-era colleagues who, like Gingrich and Norquist, now see the world very differently. Both were White House speechwriters—best known as two of the three authors who claim to have given birth to the phrase “axis of evil.” Last fall, Gerson, now a Washington Post columnist, published a book called “Heroic Conservatism,” which reads like a defense of a Bush legacy that Gerson wanted to create while he worked in the White House but which bears no resemblance to Bush’s actual Presidency.
Gerson’s book, though, is a reminder that Bush’s original campaign slogan, “compassionate conservatism,” was meant to signal a rejection of the anti-government conservatism of the nineteen-nineties. One of Gerson’s early speeches for Bush attacked any governing philosophy with “no higher goal, no nobler purpose than ‘leave us alone’ ”—a Norquist battle cry even then. As a Presidential candidate in 1999, Bush criticized House Republicans for balancing the budget “on the backs of the poor,” and Gerson slipped into one of Bush’s speeches a veiled shot at Robert Bork, the Supreme Court nominee rejected by the Reagan-era Senate. (“Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching towards Gomorrah,” Bush said. Bork, whose 1996 book “Slouching Towards Gomorrah” was a sour indictment of an America in decline, responded, “Mr. Bush evidently thinks conservatives are another species altogether.”) But, once in the White House, Gerson proved far more influential in injecting compassionate conservatism into Bush’s speeches than into his policies. These days, Gerson is trying to resurrect the case for the role of government in addressing problems of poverty, disease, and education.
Frum, in his new book, “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again,” warns conservatives about social trends that may overwhelm the Republican Party. He notes that Republicans have lost a generation of young voters during the Bush years. “The people who turned twenty between 1985 and 1990 were eight points more Republican than Democratic,” he told me. “People who turned twenty between 1970 and 1975 were eight points more Democratic than Republican. People who turned twenty between 2000 and 2005 are twelve points more Democratic.” He sees a country moving slightly to the left as Republicans are “left stranded on the right.” He told me, “If what you are is a pragmatic, business-oriented, moderate-minded person who wants things to work in a fairly competent and ethical way, and you’re under thirty—the kind of person who would have been an Eisenhower Republican and a Republican in the Nixon years and in the George H. W. Bush years—you are a Democrat today.” Frum added, “As the country becomes more single, more childless, more secular, more non-white, more immigrant, it becomes more Democratic. And all of those groups are growing.” Frum has ideas on how conservatives can reverse this trend, but his most radical thought is that, given the realities of the federal budget and the public’s unwillingness to curb entitlement spending, Republicans need to rethink their approach to tax cuts. He proposes making a deal with Democrats in which some of the Bush tax cuts become permanent in exchange for a carbon tax to deal with the global-warming crisis.
McCain has modified his rhetoric on immigration and made peace with Jerry Falwell, whom he described in 2000 as an agent of “intolerance.” But his promise to make permanent the Bush tax cuts, which he twice voted against—once calling them an affront to his “conscience”—is probably his most brazen pandering. “There is this terrible gravitational pull when candidates need to reconnect with the Party base,” Frum said. “When you have a Giuliani or a McCain who has been innovative and moved to issues where there’s a lot of potential appeal, the issue where they keep on being yanked back—the test of orthodoxy—is on the tax issue. That’s the thing that the Party demands from its leader. And it’s just lethal.”
McCain’s tax-cutting pledge points to a dilemma of his campaign. Having become the presumptive nominee on the strength of support from moderates and independents, he is being forced to start the general election by trying to attract conservatives. McCain regularly boasts that he was a “foot soldier in the Reagan revolution”; on the night of February 12th, after his victories in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, he used some of the most generic Republican language of the campaign, ticking off a string of small-government platitudes. (“We don’t believe that government has all the answers,” “We don’t believe in growing the size of government,” and so on.) Oddly, McCain is attempting to portray himself as a doctrinaire conservative just when the intellectual class of the movement seems eager for something new.
Gingrich, Gerson, and Frum all reject the anti-government ethos that has come to define conservatism. Gingrich calls for managerial competence in government. Gerson asks for expanded programs to fight poverty at home and to combat AIDS abroad. Frum recommends making peace with the realities of the welfare state. Other conservatives have attacked these views, and perhaps the Frums and Gingriches are simply out of touch with the grass roots of their party. However, these disputes also suggest that McCain, if he can tame his right-wing critics—and Mitt Romney’s endorsement last week will only help—may have a rare opportunity to reinvent what it means to be a Republican.
onversations on the Straight Talk are not always about McCain’s views on Iraq or tax reform or, really, substantive issues of any kind. Rather, the scene consists of long stretches of banter punctuated by short, intense discussions of politics and policy. A rotating cast of characters—the loyalists who have stuck with him, some without pay—provide comic relief and distraction when McCain becomes bored or wants to change the subject. Steve Schmidt, one of the campaign’s chief strategists, is usually perched on a ledge in a corner of the lounge. He is thirty-seven, has a shaved head, and often wears a Bluetooth earpiece, which gives him a menacing and futuristic look. Schmidt worked for the unflinchingly conservative Dick Cheney in 2005, and for California’s pragmatic, moderate governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 2006. On the bus, his role is to play a sort of Ed McMahon to McCain’s Johnny Carson. McCain refers to him as Sergeant Schmidt and usually greets him in a gravelly voice through a clenched jaw—“Fall in!”—that mimics a hard-nosed military commander. One of McCain’s running gags is that Schmidt was temporarily demoted to corporal after McCain lost the Michigan primary to Mitt Romney, on January 15th, and, because Schmidt has been working without a salary, McCain makes the obvious joke: “You get what you pay for.” McCain’s entire conversational style is built on anecdotes, and he often turns to Schmidt to dispense wisdom when the conversation moves into the political tall grass. “Maybe we can get a word of analysis from Sergeant Schmidt?” McCain will say after a question about exit polls or Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy. Schmidt replies with some banal talking points or an extended soliloquy, depending on his interest in the question. Once, in Florida, McCain asked if the enthusiasm of the final rally of the day, in Lady Lake, was a sign of the campaign’s momentum. Schmidt looked up from his BlackBerry and nodded: “It is.”
At other times, Schmidt comes alive as a sort of political Rain Man. During one back-of-the-bus conversation, he explained that in 2004, when he was working for Bush’s reëlection, “we targeted voters not where they lived but how they lived their lives, in the same way that credit-card companies do.” He went on, “And so we know, for instance, that among independent voters there are life styles and behaviors that identify them as Republicans or Democrats. For example, the GMC Yukon is a Republican vehicle, and Volvos and Subarus are the most Democratic vehicles. Republicans have Fiji water preferences, versus Democrats, who have Evian water preferences. You have a huge grouping of consumer data, so you can micro-target messages to common groups, finding pleasure points and anger points on issues.”
South Carolina’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham, plays a similar role in the McCain campaign, though he is treated more like Sideshow Bob, from “The Simpsons.” “We went into South Carolina with a millstone around my neck called Lindsey Graham,” McCain told reporters one day, reminiscing about that primary. (Graham, like McCain, has championed immigration reform—“Lindsey Graham-nesty,” Rush Limbaugh calls him—and opposed some of the Bush Administration’s terrorist-detention policies.) McCain is superstitious. He carries a penny that the publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader gave him for good luck. Graham served a similar purpose—as a lucky charm. The night of McCain’s Florida victory, Graham, sipping a Baileys on ice, noted that McCain’s superstitiousness was forcing him to remain on the campaign trail. “I have to get home,” he complained, half joking that McCain was keeping him hostage.
McCain can be combative and irritable in his town-hall meetings. At one Florida event, when a woman revealed that she was a lawyer, McCain interrupted to tell one of his favorite, not entirely fresh jokes: “What’s the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?” Answer: “One is a scum-sucking bottom dweller, and the other is a fish!” McCain smiled, seeming pleased with himself. At the same event, two women held anti-McCain placards. One said, “Senator McCain, tell Florida why you don’t support us!!” The other asked, “Senator McCain, why do you hate Florida?” The signs were apparently references to McCain’s opposition to a national catastrophe fund that would help reduce the cost of insurance in hurricane-prone areas. During a rambling question about hospitals, a voter mentioned that even evangelicals and atheists could agree. McCain responded, “What about the Trotskyites? There’s a couple of them over there. They have signs.”
ne day on the Straight Talk, McCain discussed what he was reading. It is safe to say that Gingrich, Norquist, Gerson, and Frum were not on his nightstand; McCain is almost always looking at military histories or political biographies. In the 2000 campaign, he seemed to be reading a lot about Theodore Roosevelt, and he frequently worked T.R. anecdotes into his conversations. These days, he often cites William Manchester, a former marine and a Second World War veteran, who has written biographies of Winston Churchill and General Douglas MacArthur. When a reporter asked McCain what would happen if he lost the Florida primary, he went off on a Manchester tangent. “The first thing is that Schmidt would be court-martialled,” he said. “And although we abandoned flogging as a tradition in the British Navy we would reinstate flogging, and he would be tied to the yardarm and flogged.” Schmidt did not look up from his BlackBerry. McCain continued, “Did you ever hear the story about Winston Churchill when he became the first Lord of the Admiralty and did away with all the old British naval regulations which had been in effect since Lord Nelson, including flogging, which was still in the naval regulations of the British Royal Navy? He was at a reception—like all Churchill stories, this may or may not be true—and a retired British admiral came up to him and said, ‘Sir Winston, you have destroyed British naval traditions.’ And Churchill said, ‘Sir, the British Royal Navy only has three traditions: rum, sodomy, and the lash.’ I think it’s in Manchester’s book, ‘The Last Lion.’ ”
Recently, McCain said, he had read “The Coldest Winter,” David Halberstam’s account of the Korean War and its era. “I strongly recommend it,” he told the reporters. “It’s beautifully done. It’s not just about the war, but it’s a very good description, whether you agree with it or not, of the political climate at that time—the split in the Republican Party between the Taft wing”—Senator Robert Taft, of Ohio—“and the Eisenhower wing, and Harry Truman’s incredible relationship with MacArthur.” He added, “At least half the book is about the political situation in the United States during that period—the isolationism, who lost China, the whole political dynamic. That’s what I think makes it well worth reading.”
It was a telling reference and points to McCain’s transformation between 2000 and 2008—from a Teddy Roosevelt Republican to an Eisenhower Republican. In 2000, McCain railed against corporate power and the influence of lobbyists and money in politics. Today, the only mention of corporations in his stump speech is a demand that the corporate-tax rate be lowered. After 2000, McCain seemed briefly to be considering leaving the Republican Party, just as Roosevelt had. But, once terrorism and the war in Iraq became the preëminent issues, he decided instead to take over the Party, just as Eisenhower and the Republican moderates did when, in 1952, they vanquished the Old Guard isolationists who supported Taft. Instead of battling the corporate wing of his party, McCain has decided that it’s the isolationists—a group that he defines broadly, and which includes the left and the right—who are the real threat.
One afternoon, McCain talked about his surprise at the resurrection of this element in his party, which has been particularly visible in the candidacy of the libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul. “We had a debate in Iowa. I mean, it was, like, last summer, one of the first debates we had. It was raining, and I’m standing there in the afternoon, it was a couple of hours before the debate,” McCain said. “And I happen to look out the window. Here’s a group of fifty people in the rain, shouting ‘Ron Paul! Ron Paul!’ ” McCain banged on the table with both fists and chanted as he imitated the Paul enthusiasts. “I thought, Holy shit, what’s going on here? I mean, go to one of these debates. Drive up. Whose signs do you see? I’m very grateful—they’ve been very polite. I recognize them and say thanks for being here. They haven’t disrupted the events. But he has tapped a vein. And it’s a combination of isolationism, the old part of our party, and the conspiracy. You know”—McCain lowered his head and spoke in a mock-confiding voice—“ ‘We have made an important discovery: the headquarters for the organization that’s going to merge three countries into one—Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.—is in Kansas City!’ ”
McCain is careful not to mock the broader libertarian right, which makes up a far larger share of his party than Paul’s followers do. Nonetheless, his victory is a repudiation of small-government conservatism, a development not seen in the years of Barry Goldwater, Reagan, and the two Bushes. “For the first time since Eisenhower,” Newt Gingrich told me, “you have someone who has clearly not accommodated the conservative wing winning the nomination. That is a remarkable achievement.”
ey, Brooke!” McCain yelled into the galley, as we made our way from St. Petersburg to Tampa. “Have we got any coffee?” Although Brooke Buchanan is technically the travelling press secretary, in a campaign that has been forced to do more with less, she also serves as his “body woman,” taking care of everything from spraying down stray strands of hair before he faces the cameras to making sure that he’s well caffeinated. As McCain bantered with reporters, his paragraphs were often interrupted mid-thought with a loud request for Buchanan, usually concerning the temperature. “It’s a little warm, Brooke!” he shouted during one trip. It was still too hot a while later, when McCain went on to discuss Hillary Clinton’s progress in the Democratic race: “A lot of people, after Iowa, said she’s not going to win New Hampshire, and she was able to really out-campaign Senator Obama, I think, is my observation. It’s still hot in here, Brooke, and you’re fired! Don’t get on the bus at the next stop! Remember when Senator Dole left his staff on the tarmac in Iowa or wherever it was?”
The surest sign of affection from McCain is this kind of steady, sarcastic abuse, and Buchanan is clearly well liked. “She’s probably still trying to repair her cell phone, which she dropped because she’s shaky from last night’s consumption,” McCain chided her. “You know, she’s been out to Betty Ford’s place twice, and we’re just sort of hoping for the best. One day at a time. We had a little slip last night.”
This crack set eyes rolling among the assembled reporters. McCain has been doing a version of the Straight Talk show for so long that the veterans know all the lines. “I haven’t heard that Betty Ford thing in a while,” Jill Zuckman, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said. McCain laughed mischievously, like someone who knows he has just been figured out. “Nothing is new! Nothing is new! Nothing is new!” he said, throwing his hands up. “One thing we know on this bus is nothing is new.”
Later in the day, on the way to Orlando, a new reporter entered the circle lounge and wedged herself into the horseshoe next to McCain.
“And you are?” McCain asked.
“Katie Connolly, with Newsweek.”
“Newsweek? Are you on a work release or drug rehab?”
“Both, actually.”
“Well, we hope you get better.” After shouting at Brooke for some coffee—“in contravention to every one of my instructions and orders, we’ll let you back in on a provisional basis”—McCain then earnestly thanked the reporters for joining him. “The nice thing about this campaign is when you’re with your friends,” he said. “That makes it so much better and so much more enjoyable.”
“It’s nice that you say that about me, seeing as we only just met,” Connolly said.
“Ha! I see we’ve got another smart-ass on the bus.”
“I heard that was a condition of entry.”
“That is a condition of entry—sarcasm, lack of sincerity,” McCain assented. Schmidt chimed in from his spot in the corner: “And willingness to laugh at the same jokes.”
any conservatives are anguished about the prospect of a McCain Presidency. Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, has summarized the right’s case against McCain. “He has opposed pro-growth tax cuts and supported limits on political speech,” Santorum wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “He has pushed amnesty when it came to illegal immigration and half-measures when it came to interrogating terrorists. He wants to close Guantánamo and allow the reimportation of prescription drugs into the United States. Not only does he part company with conservatives on these and other issues—climate change, drilling for oil in the Alaskan hinterland, federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, international criminal courts, gun-show background checks—he invariably adopts the rhetoric of the left and stridently leads the opposition.” Working with a Democratic Congress, a President McCain could well pass half the agenda that Republicans have been fighting against for the past decade.
McCain has also surrounded himself with the sort of Republicans who make conservatives nervous. In the weeks before Super Tuesday, a Who’s Who of moderate—or at least maverick—Republicans joined McCain on his bus. In Florida, McCain was aligned with Governor Charlie Crist, who won the primary in 2006 as a moderate opposed by a right-wing opponent. Crist made his name in state politics by championing civil rights, opposing federal meddling in the Terri Schiavo case, and, as governor, making the environment a signature issue. In Florida political circles, Crist’s endorsement of McCain was also seen as snubbing the conservative political machine of Jeb Bush, which was behind Romney. On the eve of Crist’s election, in 2006, George W. Bush went to Florida to campaign, but Crist conspicuously found himself in another part of the state.
The day after Crist’s endorsement of McCain, the Straight Talk picked up two senators—Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Independent, and Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican. Aside from the war and national-security issues, Lieberman, who is also a close friend of McCain’s, still votes with the Democrats on most questions. Martinez’s recent political views (like McCain’s) have been shaped by his battles with the right. He was nominated by President Bush to be General Chairman of the Republican National Committee, which set off a fierce internal battle over Martinez’s views on immigration. The Republican Party of Texas even passed a resolution rejecting the Martinez nomination. Last year, the Senator abruptly resigned from the post, with little explanation; a few months later, he endorsed McCain. During the bus ride, there wasn’t much policy discussion among the three senators. “The best chick flick of the season is ‘Atonement,’ ” Martinez observed, during one typical conversation. “Keira Knightley. She’s not hard to look at for a while!” But when he got to discussing the abuse of earmarks—one of McCain’s defining issues—Martinez defended the federal government’s role, as opposed to the prerogatives of individual members of Congress, in deciding how money should be spent. “Some would say if I didn’t earmark it then the bureaucrat would get to decide where the money went,” he said. “Well, I’m sorry, but it isn’t a bureaucrat but an authorized program that otherwise gets the funding.”
When the McCain entourage arrived in California after the Florida primary, Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed him. So did Rudy Giuliani, who dropped out after the Florida primary. Most of these politicians have figured out how to thrive as Republicans at a time when the President’s approval ratings are in the low thirties. McCain’s advisers sometimes point to Schwarzenegger as a model, and it was, after all, the McCain strategist Steve Schmidt who helped guide Schwarzenegger to the political center—and sustained popularity.
As McCain approached Super Tuesday, he sometimes ticked off a list of Republican elders who are backing him: former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman, former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, former Missouri Senator Jack Danforth, Senator Pete Domenici, of New Mexico. Between the South Carolina and Florida primaries, when Rush Limbaugh devoted his radio show to attacking McCain, saying that he would “destroy the Republican Party,” Bob Dole, the former Senate Majority Leader, came to McCain’s defense, by writing Limbaugh a letter in which he described McCain as a mainstream conservative. This elder generation of McCainiacs governed during the era of conservative ascendancy, but they were not the champions of the movement’s rise.
Referring to the people with whom McCain has surrounded himself, Gingrich noted, “I think they consistently represent a more moderate wing. And I think this is the victory of the moderate wing for the moment. But I think that’s partially due to a collapse of the DeLay wing of the Party”—former Texas Representative Tom DeLay—“and secondarily a collapse of the Rove-Bush wing of the Party.”
n February 3rd, two days before Super Tuesday, McCain watched the Super Bowl in the lobby bar of a Boston Hyatt, together with reporters and Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. (Graham to Lieberman at one point in the evening: “What kind of kosher food do you eat during football?”) The next morning, the campaign flew down to Hamilton, New Jersey, and went from there to Grand Central Terminal, where McCain was to pick up the endorsement of former New York Governor George Pataki, a onetime pillar of the moderate wing of the G.O.P. Rudy Giuliani, who boarded the bus in Hamilton, sat in the circle lounge, hunched over the table across from McCain. Giuliani usually travels with a Secret Service-like security detail, but he had shed this entourage and awkwardly crammed himself between a couple of reporters. Whatever else one says about Giuliani’s unhappy run for the Presidency—he spent at least forty-eight million dollars and won one delegate—he was fairly steadfast in his views on many issues important to conservatives, especially abortion. He seemed relieved that McCain, rather than Romney, appears destined to win the nomination, and made the argument that McCain was the only candidate who could broaden the Republican Party.
“When I endorsed John, I pointed out that, as far as I can see, he’s the only candidate we have that can put virtually fifty states in play,” Giuliani said, pouring out some carefully worded frustrations about how his party has shrivelled in the Northeast. “That doesn’t mean he can win fifty states. Nobody ever wins fifty states. It means he can compete in fifty states. When he’s nominated, there’ll be an active campaign in New York, there’ll be an active campaign in New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, California, Washington, Oregon. If somebody else is nominated, they’ll go back to the thirty-five-state strategy. This is very frustrating for Republicans in this part of the world. They haven’t had a Presidential campaign since probably ’84, maybe ’88 in some places. It’s also helped to deteriorate the Party.” Left unsaid were the actual issues that McCain would have to run on to win in places like New York and California, where Schwarzenegger has been successful by adopting a liberal environmental agenda and shunning the national G.O.P.
McCain chimed in. “California, basically, has been written off by the Republican Party,” he said. “We go there for their money, and then we don’t come back at election time. And nobody’s been more eloquent about that than Governor Schwarzenegger. He said, ‘We’re sick and tired of it,’ several times. One of the reasons the Governor endorsed me is he knows I’ll compete in California.”
Two days later, McCain travelled to Washington to speak to conservatives at the annual convention of the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he blandly reassured them that he was one of them—that the conservative base had nothing to fear from his ascendancy. (To judge from the boos McCain received when he spoke, some of that dread remains.) On the ride to New York with Giuliani, as McCain talked about his plan for the general-election campaign, he seemed to be saying something different. In effect, he was arguing, along with Gingrich and others, that the era of Karl Rove was over. “The old strategy of just going to certain states and solidifying the base—I don’t think that works anymore,” he said, adding, “Not only that, but I think it would be boring.”

Anonymous said...

Time Obama piece this week attacks The New Yorker for outrageously meticullous investigative reporting.
"What were they thinking?"
"No news publication has dared to barely scratch the surface like this before," columnist and campaign reporter Michael King wrote in The Washington Post Tuesday. "This profile sets a benchmark for mindless filler by which all other features about Sen. Obama will now be judged. Just impressive puff-journalism all around."

The 24-page profile, entitled "Boogyin' With Barack," hit newsstands Monday and contains photos of the candidate as a baby, graduating from Columbia University, standing and laughing, holding hands with his wife and best friend, Michelle, greeting a crowd of blue-collar autoworkers, eating breakfast with diner patrons, and staring pensively out of an airplane window while a pen and legal pad rest comfortably on his lowered tray table.

According to political analysts, the Time piece features the most lack-of-depth reporting on Obama ever published, and for the first time reveals a number of inconsequential truths about the candidate, including how he keeps in shape on the campaign trail, and which historical figures the presidential hopeful would choose to have dinner with.

"The sheer breadth of fluff in this story is something to be marveled at," New York Times Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet said. "It's all here. Favorite books, movies, meals, and seasons of the year ranked one through four. Sure, we asked Obama what his favorite ice cream was, but Time did us one better and asked, 'What's your favorite ice cream, really?'"

Time managing editor Rich Stengel said he was proud of the Obama puff piece, and that he hoped it would help to redefine the boundaries of journalistic drivel.

"When the American people cast their vote this November, this is the piece of fluff they're going to remember," Stengel said. "Not the ones by Newsweek, Harper's, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Economist, Nightline, The Wall Street Journal, or even that story about lessons Obama learned from his first-grade teacher we ran a month ago."

The article, which follows Obama for 12 days during his campaign, was written by reporter Chris Sherwood, and is relentless in its attempt to capture the candidate at his most poised and polished. Sherwood said the profile easily trumps all other fluff pieces in its effort to expose the presidential candidate for who he really is: "an awesome guy."

"My editors told me that if I wanted to uncover the most frivolous, trivial information on Obama, I had to be prepared to follow the puff," Sherwood said. "That meant that not only did I have to stay and watch Sen. Obama play endless games of basketball with city firemen to show readers how athletic and youthful he is, but I also had to go to NBA shooting experts to learn what aspects of his jump shot are good and what parts are great."

Sherwood said he was granted full access to the candidate, and was permitted by chief strategist David Axelrod to ask any question he desired—an opportunity the reporter used to lob the easiest softballs at Obama yet, ranging from how happy he felt when he met his wife to what songs are currently on his iPod playlist. Sherwood was also fearless in his effort to paint the candidate as someone who is "surprisingly down to earth," a phrase that is used a total of 26 times throughout the feature.

"If we were going to get the story we wanted, it was my responsibility as a journalist to ask the really tough questions to his two young daughters," said Sherwood, who grilled Malia and Sasha Obama, 9 and 7, about whether they were "proud of [their] daddy." "I also had to capitalize on every opportunity to compare the story of Obama's upbringing and rise to power to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s and John F. Kennedy's, no matter how suspect those parallels really are."

According to the Time reporter, work on the profile was often harder than he had anticipated, with Obama at times dodging questions about whether or not he played a musical instrument, and about what Monopoly piece he thought best represented his candidacy and why.

"Situations like these are when you have to get on the phone and talk, not only to his mother, but to his aunt, his uncle, a Boy Scout leader, or maybe even one of his camp counselors growing up," Sherwood said. "And if they don't return your call, you turn to Sunday school teachers and former babysitters—anyone who is willing to go on record and say that Barack Obama was a really good kid who was destined for great things."

Added Sherwood, "It's all about getting the factoids out in the open."

Readers have so far responded favorably to the piece, with sales of the latest issue of Time nearly tripling that of an issue last month featuring a 36-page exposé that tore apart and vilified former candidate Hillary Clinton's health-care plan.

"I'm not quite sure how he intends to turn around the economy or get us out of Iraq," said California resident Geoff Mills, an ardent Obama supporter who read the Time story. "But any man who prefers his steak cooked medium-rare has my vote."