Six years ago, we were in Chicago to visit our grandchildren as well as a number of relatives scattered all over Illinois. While browsing through several TV programs, a special report on CNN caught my attention. A young African-American with his wife was visiting Kenya, the birthplace of his father. All along the route to his ancestral home, he was being feted like a hero who had just returned victorious and all-conquering.
The young man, Barack Obama, was the junior Democratic senator from Illinois. He was considered one of the brightest stars of his party, mainly the result of having delivered the all-important keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that nominated John Kerry for president in 2004. He was being touted as a possible vice-presidential running mate to Sen. Hillary Clinton for the 2008 presidential elections. Other reports went so far as to mention him as possibly the first black US presidential candidate in the 21st century.
By coincidence, my son had earlier gifted me with a book “Dreams From My Father,” an autobiographical work by Obama that traced his life as the son of an African father from Kenya and a white American mother from Kansas. The couple met while both were students at the University of Hawaii.
Barack (Swahili for “one who is blessed by God”) was only two when his father left the family. His mother remarried an Indonesian and he spent four years in Jakarta. Only once was he visited by his biological father and perhaps this explains his deep attachment to his mother, whom he describes as “the single constant in my life.” After graduating from Columbia University with a political science degree, Obama enrolled at the Harvard Law School, where he finished magna cum laude. He also served as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.
Obama’s political career started in 1996 when he was elected to the Illinois State Senate. In 2000, he lost in a bid for a congressional seat, but in 2004, he was overwhelmingly elected to the US Senate becoming only the third African-American to sit in this body since the Reconstruction Period after the US Civil War.
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During our visit, Obama had just launched his second book “The Audacity of Hope,” which he dedicated “To the women who raised me—My Maternal Grandmother, Tutu, who’s been a rock of stability throughout my life, and My Mother, whose loving spirit sustains me still.” The highly publicized book tour began in Chicago with a stop scheduled at a Barnes & Noble outlet in Skokie, next door to Evanston, Illinois, where my uncle Dr. Samson Flores, a retired UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) dental professor, resides.
We decided to catch his appearance and possibly get his autograph on our copy of “Audacity.” Obama showed up promptly in the morning and proceeded to deliver a brief talk mainly to explain the title of his book. We not only got his autograph, but also a photo with the young senator. Two years later, the author, a neophyte national legislator, became the first African-American president of the United States, defeating Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate.
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After almost four years in office, Obama faces an uphill battle for re-election. With a fragile and weak economy and unemployment levels still hovering above 8 percent, his opponents smell blood and continue to pound on this issue, saying that Obama’s policies are not working. They are also offering their own ideas for recovery and growth.
If we go by some of the economic data and statistics that have been brought up in recent months, it would appear that perhaps the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, could be better qualified to bring about the needed recovery considering his managerial experience and economic background.
A Mormon by religion, Romney is the son of George Romney, chairman of American Motors Corporation (AMC), who also ran for the presidency in 1968. Mitt is best known as the savior of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games and as a former governor of Massachusetts. He is short on foreign policy experience and his first trip abroad after his nomination became official was marred by critical remarks he made during the recently concluded London Summer Olympics.
Perhaps the best case for Obama was made during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, by the man whose wife Obama defeated for the presidential nomination in 2008.
Many political analysts believe that former President Bill Clinton delivered the clincher for Obama during his much-applauded speech at the convention.
“In Tampa (where the Republicans held their own convention), the Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.
“In order to look like an acceptable alternative to President Obama, they couldn’t say much about the ideas they have offered over the last two years. You see they want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place: to cut taxes for high income Americans even more than President Bush did; to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts; to increase defense spending two trillion dollars more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they will spend the money on; to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor kids. As another President once said—there they go again.
“I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election better. He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators. Are we where we want to be? No. Is the president satisfied? No. Are we better off than we were when he took office, with an economy in free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month? The answer is yes.
“I understand the challenge we face. I know many Americans are still hungry and frustrated with the economy. Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people don’t feel it….
“President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. No President—not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you will renew the President’s contract, you will feel it.
“I believe that with all my heart.”