Austin Weekly News
December 4, 2003
VIEWpoints: Back Barack, the best of the bunch for U.S. Senate
Illinois State Senator Barack Obama?s candidacy is likely to ignite a progressive firestorm before Christmas (similar to the late Mayor Washington). Obama has emerged out of Chicago?s ferocious mix of black and progressive politics as a serious candidate who can make history as our country?s third elected black Unites State Senator. He?s an attractive political candidate, well-educated and articulate, with a history of commitment. Obama is also an exotic candidate (for my ?left behind readers? of ?foreign origin?).
Throughout his life, his name and hybrid identity provide a convenient target for detractors. First his name ? a recent website, constructed by a Republican foot-in-mouth club member, compared Obama to Osama. The site was correct shut down.
Secondly, his identity. The 41-year-old Obama is the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansas mother. Obama was born in Hawaii, where he was raised by his mother and her family, and spent his formative years in many non-anticipated locations. He also live for a time in Indonesia.
Barack Obama is well qualified and intelligent. He?s a graduate of Columbia University and Harvward Law School, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude and became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Reivew. From there, he settled in Chicago, where he directed a voter registration and education project in Cook County instead of joining one of the many corporate law firms that were trying to lure him. Obama also began reconciling his hybrid heritage with America?s realities and founda sense of belonging within Chicago?s black urban centers.
Folks can learn a lot about Obama?s ?inner-struggles? if they read his 1995 book about them, titled, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. The book is a lyrical meditation on race, culture and issues of hybridity. He served as general counsel to community health clinics and social services agencies throughout Chicago. Obama also lectures on constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Lastly, since his announcement that he is running in the March, 2004 primary for the vacated senate seat of Republican Peter Fitzgerald, letters to conservative publications in Illinois regularly refer to Obama as a radical Muslim, although he has been an active member of a large South Side protestant congregation for many years (Trinity).
But it?s not just conservative whites who fear Obama. The Chicago black nationalist community also has problems with him. This discomfort stems from a perpetual dynaicm within progressive Chicago politics that finds the city?s black nationalist activists and theorists often in opposition to integrated activities.
The late Harold Washington was such a pivotal figure because he was able to fuse the interests of Chicago?s influential nationals with the city?s progressives. The inability to forge such a coalition as well as low voter turnout since Washington?s death are the primary reasons Mayor Daley has remained on the fifth floor of City Hall since 1989.
Although some nationalists distrust Obama for his close links to progressive political operatives, he still has one of the best opportunities, after Harold, to cultivate and strengthen those nationalist-progressive links.
Today, within the black nationalist community, some are now urging all out support for Obama. In addition to praising his legislative record during his seven years as state senator, they argue that it?s perverse for black nationalists to reject the son of a Kenyan for not being black enough.
Obama?s legislative victories in the Illinois senate include a racial profiling law that requires police departments to record the race of stopped motorists. He also sponsored a law requiring that interrogations and confessions in capital crime cases be videotaped. In addition, the state senator co-sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage, and he was instrumental in expanding kid care and family care, the children and family health insurance program in Illinois. Finally, Obama was the first Senate candidate to forcefully oppose the Bush War-Hawks? Iraq invasion and has been in the forefront of continuing opposition.
Steve Neal, dean of Chicago?s political columnists, wrote, ?Obama would be a senator worthy of the land of Lincoln.? Most serious political observers of Illinois politics share Neal?s assessment. ?The general reaction to Obama is that he would probably be a great U.S. senator, but that his foreign sounding name and his race hurt his chances,? chimed in Rich Miller, a columnist for the Daily SouthTown, a suburban publication. So what?s new?
The best candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois also happens to be the most progressive. To ignite a progressive firestorm, I?m in the affirmative for this fire.
And in Chicago, O?Leary?s cow can?t be blamed for this ?firestorm.? Blame it on Johnnie Mae, as blacks folks ?storm? to the polls in March of 2004 to vote in large numbers, not for a ?terminator? who can barely speak English, but for someone who speak several languages and is articulate and smart.