Barack Hussein Obama II (i /bəˈrɑːk huːˈseɪn oʊˈbɑːmə/; born August 4, 1961) is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned after his election to the presidency in November 2008.
A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the president of theHarvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.
Obama served three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. Following an unsuccessful bid against a Democratic incumbent for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, he ran for United States Senate in 2004.  Several events brought him to national attention during the campaign, including his victory in the March 2004 Democratic primary and his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. He won election to the U.S. Senate in November 2004. His presidential campaign began in February 2007, and after a close campaign in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries against Hillary Rodham Clinton, he won his party’s nomination. In the 2008 general election, he defeated Republican nominee John McCain and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009.
As president, Obama signed economic stimulus legislation in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009. Other domestic policy initiatives include the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a major piece of health care reform legislation which he signed into law in March 2010, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which forms part of his financial regulatory reform efforts, which he signed in July 2010. In foreign policy, Obama began a gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq, increased troop levels in Afghanistan, and signed an arms control treaty with Russia. On October 8, 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Early life and career
Obama was born August 4, 1961, at Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita, Kansas, of mostly English, but also some German, descent. His father, Barack Obama, Sr., was aLuo from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya. Obama is the first President to have been born in Hawaii. Obama’s parents met in 1960 in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, where his father was a foreign student on scholarship.The couple married on February 2, 1961, but separated when Obama Sr. went to Harvard University on scholarship, and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. remarried and returned to Kenya, visiting Barack in Hawaii only once, in 1971. He died in an automobile accident in 1982.
After her divorce, Dunham married Indonesian student Lolo Soetoro, who was attending college in Hawaii. When Suharto, a military leader in Soetoro’s home country, came to power in 1967, all Indonesian students studying abroad were recalled, and the family moved to theMenteng neighborhood of Jakarta. From ages six to ten, Obama attended local schools in Jakarta, including Besuki Public Schooland St. Francis of Assisi School.
In 1971, Obama returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Armour Dunham, and attended Punahou School, a private college preparatory school, from the fifth grade until his graduation from high school in 1979. Obama’s mother returned to Hawaii in 1972, remaining there until 1977 when she went back to Indonesia to work as an anthropological field worker. She finally returned to Hawaii in 1994 and lived there for one year, before dying of ovarian cancer
Of his early childhood, Obama recalled, “That my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind.” He described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracialheritage. Reflecting later on his formative years in Honolulu, Obama wrote: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered—to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect—became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.” Obama has also written and talked about using alcohol,marijuana and cocaine during his teenage years to “push questions of who I was out of my mind.” At the 2008 Civil Forum on the Presidency, Obama identified his high-school drug use as his “greatest moral failure.”
Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to attend Occidental College. In February 1981, he made his first public speech, calling for Occidental’s divestment from South Africa. In mid-1981, Obama traveled to Indonesia to visit his mother and sister Maya, and visited the families of college friends in India and Pakistan for three weeks.
Later in 1981 he transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialty in international relations and graduated with a B.A. in 1983. He worked for a year at the Business International Corporation, then at the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Chicago community organizer and Harvard Law School
After four years in New York City, Obama was hired in Chicago as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Greater Roseland (Roseland, West Pullman and Riverdale) on Chicago’s far South Side. He worked there as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988. During his three years as the DCP’s director, its staff grew from one to thirteen and its annual budget grew from US$70,000 ($141,564 in 2010) to US$400,000 ($735,648 in 2010). He helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time in Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his paternal relatives for the first time. He returned in August 2006 in a visit to his father’s birthplace, a village near Kisumu in rural western Kenya.
In late 1988, Obama entered Harvard Law School. He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, and president of the journal in his second year. During his summers, he returned to Chicago, where he worked as a summer associate at the law firms of Sidley Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990. After graduating with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, he returned to Chicago. Obama’s election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review gained national media attention and led to a publishing contract and advance for a book about race relations, which evolved into a personal memoir. The manuscript was published in mid-1995 as Dreams from My Father.
University of Chicago Law School and civil rights attorney
In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book. He then served as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years—as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004—teaching constitutional law.
From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois’s Project Vote, a voter registration drive with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, and led to Crain’s Chicago Business naming Obama to its 1993 list of “40 under Forty” powers to be. In 1993 he joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a 13-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004, with his law license becoming inactive in 2002.
From 1994 to 2002, Obama served on the boards of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which in 1985 had been the first foundation to fund the Developing Communities Project, and of the Joyce Foundation. He served on the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge from 1995 to 2002, as founding president and chairman of the board of directors from 1995 to 1999.
Political career: 1996–2008
State Senator: 1997–2004
Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, succeeding State Senator Alice Palmer as Senator from Illinois’s 13th District, which at that time spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park – Kenwood south to South Shore and west to Chicago Lawn. Once elected, Obama gained bipartisan support for legislation reforming ethics and health care laws. He sponsored a law increasing tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for childcare. In 2001, as co-chairman of the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Obama supported Republican Governor Ryan’s payday loan regulations and predatory mortgage lending regulations aimed at averting home foreclosures.
Obama was reelected to the Illinois Senate in 1998, defeating Republican Yesse Yehudah in the general election, and was reelected again in 2002. In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush by a margin of two to one.
In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee when Democrats, after a decade in the minority, regained a majority. He sponsored and led unanimous, bipartisan passage of legislation to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they detained, and legislation making Illinois the first state to mandate videotaping of homicide interrogations. During his 2004 general election campaign for U.S. Senate, police representatives credited Obama for his active engagement with police organizations in enacting death penalty reforms. Obama resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004 following his election to the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Senate campaign
In May 2002, Obama commissioned a poll to assess his prospects in a 2004 U.S. Senate race; he created a campaign committee, began raising funds and lined up political media consultant David Axelrod by August 2002, and formally announced his candidacy in January 2003. Decisions by Republican incumbent Peter Fitzgerald and his Democratic predecessor Carol Moseley Braun not to contest the race launched wide-open Democratic and Republican primary contests involving fifteen candidates. In the March 2004 primary election, Obama won in an unexpected landslide—which overnight made him a rising star within the national Democratic Party, started speculation about a presidential future, and led to the reissue of his memoir, Dreams from My Father.
In July 2004, Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, and it was seen by 9.1 million viewers. His speech was well received and elevated his status within the Democratic Party.
Obama’s expected opponent in the general election, Republican primary winner Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race in June 2004. Six weeks later, Alan Keyes accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination to replace Ryan. In the November 2004 general election, Obama won with 70% of the vote.
U.S. Senator: 2005–2008
Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 4, 2005, at which time he became the only Senate member of the Congressional Black Caucus. CQ Weekly characterized him as a “loyal Democrat” based on analysis of all Senate votes in 2005–2007. The National Journal ranked him among the “most liberal” senators during 2005 through 2007 (the ranking has been criticized by liberal groups such as Media Matters for America). He enjoyed high popularity as senator with a 72% approval in Illinois. Obama announced on November 13, 2008 that he would resign his Senate seat on November 16, 2008, before the start of the lame-duck session, to focus on his transition period for the presidency.
Obama cosponsored the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. He introduced two initiatives bearing his name: Lugar–Obama, which expanded the Nunn–Lugar cooperative threat reduction concept to conventional weapons, and the Coburn–Obama Transparency Act, which authorized the establishment of USAspending.gov, a web search engine on federal spending. On June 3, 2008, Senator Obama, along with Senators Thomas R. Carper, Tom Coburn, and John McCain, introduced follow-up legislation: Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008.
Obama sponsored legislation that would have required nuclear plant owners to notify state and local authorities of radioactive leaks, but the bill failed to pass in the full Senate after being heavily modified in committee. On the issue of tort reform, Obama voted for the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which grants immunity from civil liability to telecommunications companies complicit with NSA warrantless wiretapping operations.
In December 2006, President Bush signed into law the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act, marking the first federal legislation to be enacted with Obama as its primary sponsor. In January 2007, Obama and Senator Feingold introduced a corporate jet provision to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which was signed into law in September 2007. Obama also introduced Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, a bill to criminalize deceptive practices in federal elections and the Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007, neither of which has been signed into law.
Later in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act adding safeguards for personality disorder military discharges. This amendment passed the full Senate in the spring of 2008. He sponsored the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act supporting divestment of state pension funds from Iran’s oil and gas industry, which has not passed committee, and co-sponsored legislation to reduce risks of nuclear terrorism. Obama also sponsored a Senate amendment to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program providing one year of job protection for family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries.
Obama held assignments on the Senate Committees for Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and Veterans’ Affairs through December 2006. In January 2007, he left the Environment and Public Works committee and took additional assignments with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He also became Chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on European Affairs. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. He met with Mahmoud Abbas before Abbas became President of the Palestinian Authority, and gave a speech at the University of Nairobicondemning corruption within the Kenyan government.
2008 Presidential campaign
On February 10, 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for president of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol building inSpringfield, Illinois. The choice of the announcement site was viewed as symbolic because it was also where Abraham Lincolndelivered his historic “House Divided” speech in 1858. Throughout the campaign, Obama emphasized the issues of rapidly ending the Iraq War, increasing energy independence and providing universal health care.
A large number of candidates entered the Democratic Party presidential primaries. The field narrowed to a duel between Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton after early contests, with the race remaining close throughout the primary process but with Obama gaining a steady lead in pledged delegates due to better long-range planning, superior fundraising, dominant organizing in caucus states, and better exploitation of delegate allocation rules. On June 3, with all states counted, Obama was named the presumptive nominee and delivered a victory speech in St. Paul, Minnesota. Clinton ended her campaign and endorsed him on June 7, 2008.
Obama proceeded to focus on the general election campaign against Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, in the lead up to theDemocratic National Convention. He announced on August 23, 2008, that he had selected Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate. At the convention, held August 25 to August 28 in Denver, Colorado, Hillary Clinton called for her delegates and supporters to endorse Obama, and she and Bill Clinton gave convention speeches in support of Obama. Obama delivered his acceptance speech to a crowd of over 75,000 at Invesco Field at Mile High and presented his policy goals; the speech was viewed by over 38 million people worldwide.
During both the primary process and the general election, Obama’s campaign set numerous fundraising records, particularly in the quantity of small donations. On June 19, 2008, Obama became the first major-party presidential candidate to turn down public financing in the general election since the system was created in 1976.
After McCain was nominated as the Republican candidate, three presidential debates were held between the contenders spanning September and October 2008. On November 4, Obama won the presidency by winning 365 electoral votes to 173 that McCain received, in the process capturing 52.9% of the popular vote to McCain’s 45.7%, to become the first African American to be elected president. Obama delivered his victory speech before hundreds of thousands of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park.
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President, and Joe Biden as Vice President, took place on January 20, 2009. In his first few days in office Obama issued executive orders and presidential memoranda directing the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops fromIraq, and ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp “as soon as practicable and no later than” January 2010.Obama also reduced the secrecy given to presidential records and changed procedures to promote disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The president also reversed George W. Bush’s ban on federal funding to foreign establishments that allow abortions.
The first bill signed into law by Obama was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, relaxing the statute of limitations for equal-pay lawsuits. Five days later, he signed the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover an additional 4 million children currently uninsured.
In March 2009, Obama reversed a Bush-era policy which had limited funding of embryonic stem cell research. Obama stated that he believed “sound science and moral values…are not inconsistent” and pledged to develop “strict guidelines” on the research.
Sonia Sotomayor, nominated by Obama on May 26, 2009, to replace retiring Associate Justice David Souter, was confirmed on August 6, 2009, becoming the first Hispanic to be a Supreme Court Justice.
On September 30, 2009, the Obama administration proposed new regulations on power plants, factories and oil refineries in an attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to curb global warming.
Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a measure that expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, on October 8, 2009.
On March 30, 2010, Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, a reconciliation bill which ends the process of the federal government giving subsidies to private banks to give out federally insured loans, increases the Pell Grant scholarship award, and makes changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Obama changed direction at U.S. space agency NASA. He ended plans for a return of manned spaceflight to the moon and ended development of the Ares I rocket, Ares V rocket andConstellation program. He is focusing funding (which is expected to rise modestly) on Earth science projects and a new rocket type. Missions to the International Space Station are expected to continue until 2020.
On February 17, 2009, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion economic stimulus package aimed at helping the economy recover from thedeepening worldwide recession. The act includes increased federal spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals, which is being distributed over the course of several years.
In March, Obama’s Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, took further steps to manage the financial crisis, including introducing the Public-Private Investment Program for Legacy Assets, which contains provisions for buying up to $2 trillion in depreciated real estate assets.
Obama intervened in the troubled automotive industry in March 2009, renewing loans for General Motors and Chrysler to continue operations while reorganizing. Over the following months the White House set terms for both firms’ bankruptcies, including the sale of Chryslerto Italian automaker Fiat and a reorganization of GM giving the U.S. government a temporary 60% equity stake in the company, with the Canadian government shouldering a 12% stake. In June 2009, dissatisfied with the pace of economic stimulus, Obama called on his cabinet to accelerate the investment. He signed into law the successful Car Allowance Rebate System, known colloquially as “Cash for Clunkers”, running from July to August 2009, which not only reduced inventories but set off increased production runs at GM, Ford and Toyota, resulting in the rehiring of laid-off workers.
Although total spending and loan guarantees from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department authorized by the Bush and Obama administrations was about $11.5 trillion, only $3 trillion had actually been spent by the end of November 2009. However, Obama and theCongressional Budget Office predict that the 2010 budget deficit will be $1.5 trillion or 10.6% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion or 9.9% of GDP. In 2011, the administration also predicted the 2011 deficit will slightly shrink to $1.34 while the 10-year deficit will increase to $8.53 trillion or 80% of GDP.
Unemployment numbers rose briefly to as high as 10.1% in October 2009 (the highest since 1983) before decreasing to 9.5% in June 2010. In the first quarter of 2010, the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.7% pace after growing at its fastest rate in six years in the fourth quarter, 5.7%. In July 2010, the Federal Reserve expressed that although economic activity continued to increase, its pace had slowed and its Chairman, Ben Bernanke stated that the economic outlook was “unusually uncertain.”
The Congressional Budget Office and a broad range of economists credit Obama’s stimulus plan for economic growth. The CBO released a report stating that the stimulus bill increased employment by 1–2.1 million, while conceding that “It is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package.” Although an April 2010 survey of members of the National Association for Business Economics showed an increase in job creation (over a similar January survey) for the first time in two years, 73% of the 68 respondents believed that the stimulus bill has had no impact on employment.
Health care reform
Obama called for Congress to pass legislation reforming health care in the United States, a key campaign promise and a top legislative goal. He proposed an expansion of health insurance coverage to cover the uninsured, to cap premium increases, and to allow people to retain their coverage when they leave or change jobs. His proposal was to spend $900 billion over 10 years and include a government insurance plan, also known as the public option, to compete with the corporate insurance sector as a main component to lowering costs and improving quality of health care. It would also make it illegal for insurers to drop sick people or deny them coverage for pre-existing conditions, and require every American carry health coverage. The plan also includes medical spending cuts and taxes on insurance companies that offer expensive plans.
On July 14, 2009, House Democratic leaders introduced a 1,017-page plan for overhauling the U.S. health care system, which Obama wanted Congress to approve by the end of 2009. After much public debate during the Congressional summer recess of 2009, Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9 where he addressed concerns over his administration’s proposals.
On November 7, 2009, a health care bill featuring the public option was passed in the House. On December 24, 2009, the Senate passed its own bill—without a public option—on a party-line vote of 60–39. On March 21, 2010, the health care bill passed by the Senate in December was passed in the House by a vote of 219 to 212. Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.
Gulf of Mexico oil spill
On April 20, 2010, an explosion destroyed an offshore drilling rig at the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a major sustained oil leak. The well’s operator, BP, initiated a containment and cleanup plan, and began drilling two relief wells intended to stop the flow. Obama visited the Gulf on May 2 among visits by members of his cabinet, and again on May 28 and June 4. He began a federal investigation and formed a bipartisan commission to recommend new safety standards, after a review by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and concurrent Congressional hearings. On May 27, he announced a 6-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling permits and leases, pending regulatory review. As multiple efforts by BP failed, some in the media and public expressed confusion and criticism over various aspects of the incident, and stated a desire for more involvement by Obama and the federal government.
In February and March, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made separate overseas trips to announce a “new era” in U.S. foreign relations with Russia and Europe, using the terms “break” and “reset” to signal major changes from the policies of the preceding administration. Obama’s granting of his first television interview as president to an Arabic cable network, Al Arabiya, was seen as an attempt to reach out to Arab leaders.
On March 19, Obama continued his outreach to the Muslim world, releasing a New Year’s video message to the people and government of Iran. This attempt at outreach was rebuffed by the Iranian leadership. In April, Obama gave a speech in Ankara, Turkey, which was well received by many Arab governments. On June 4, 2009, Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in Egypt calling for “a new beginning” in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and promoting Middle East peace.
On June 26, 2009, in response to the Iranian government’s actions towards protesters following Iran’s 2009 presidential election, Obama said: “The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. We see it and we condemn it.” On July 7, while in Moscow, he responded to a Vice President Biden comment on a possible Israeli military strike on Iran by saying: “We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East.”
In March 2010, Obama took a public stance against plans by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue building Jewish housing projects in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. During the same month, an agreement was reached with the administration of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new pact reducing the number of long-range nuclear weapons in the arsenals of both countries by about one-third.
On February 27, 2009, Obama declared that combat operations would end in Iraq within 18 months. His remarks were made to a group of Marines preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. Obama said, “Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” The Obama administration scheduled the withdrawal of combat troops to be completed by August 2010, decreasing troops levels from 142,000 while leaving a transitional force of 35,000 to 50,000 in Iraq until the end of 2011. On August 19, 2010 the last US combat brigade exited Iraq. The plan is to transition the mission of the remaining troops from combat operations to counter-terrorism and the training, equipping, and advising of Iraqi security forces.
War in Afghanistan
Early in his presidency, Obama moved to bolster U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. He announced an increase to U.S. troop levels of 17,000 in February 2009 to “stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan”, an area he said had not received the “strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires”. He replaced the military commander in Afghanistan, General David D. McKiernan, with former Special Forces commander Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal in May 2009, indicating that McChrystal’s Special Forces experience would facilitate the use of counterinsurgency tactics in the war. On December 1, 2009, Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 military personnel to Afghanistan. He also proposed to begin troop withdrawals 18 months from that date. McChrystal was replaced by David Petraeus in June of 2010 after McChrystal’s staff criticized White House personnel
Cultural and political image
Obama’s family history, early life and upbringing, and Ivy League education differ markedly from those of African-American politicians who launched their careers in the 1960s through participation in the civil rights movement. Obama is also not a descendent of American slaves. Expressing puzzlement over questions about whether he is “black enough”, Obama told an August 2007 meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists that “we’re still locked in this notion that if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong.”Obama acknowledged his youthful image in an October 2007 campaign speech, saying: “I wouldn’t be here if, time and again, the torch had not been passed to a new generation.”
Obama is frequently referred to as an exceptional orator. During his pre-inauguration transition period and continuing into his presidency, Obama has delivered a series of weekly Internet video addresses.
Obama’s international appeal has been described as a defining factor for his public image. Polls show strong support for Obama in other countries, and he has met with prominent foreign figures including then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italy’s Democratic Party leader and then Mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
According to a May 2009 poll conducted by Harris Interactive for France 24 and the International Herald Tribune, Obama was rated as the most popular world leader, as well as the one figure most people would pin their hopes on for pulling the world out of the economic downturn.
Obama won Best Spoken Word Album Grammy Awards for abridged audiobook versions of Dreams from My Father in February 2006 and forThe Audacity of Hope in February 2008. His concession speech after the New Hampshire primary was set to music by independent artists as the music video “Yes We Can“, which was viewed by 10 million people on YouTube in its first month and received a Daytime Emmy Award. In December 2008, Time magazine named Barack Obama as its Person of the Year for his historic candidacy and election, which it described as “the steady march of seemingly impossible accomplishments”.
On October 9, 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. Obama accepted this award in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2009, with “deep gratitude and great humility.” The award drew a mixture of praise and criticism from world leaders and media figures. Obama is the fourth U.S. president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the third to become a Nobel laureate while in office.
A 2010 Siena College poll of 238 Presidential scholars found that Obama was ranked 15th out of 43, with high ratings for imagination, communication ability and intelligence and a low rating for background (family, education and experience).
During his Senate service, Obama had a lifetime average conservative rating of 7.67% from the American Conservative Union and a lifetime average liberal rating of 90% from theAmericans for Democratic Action.
In April 2005, Obama defended the New Deal social welfare policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and opposed Republican proposals to establish private accounts for Social Security. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Obama spoke out against government indifference to growing economic class divisions, calling on both political parties to take action to restore thesocial safety net for the poor. Obama said in 2007 that he supported universal health care in the United States. He has proposed rewarding teachers for performance from traditional merit pay systems, assuring unions that changes would be pursued through the collective bargaining process.
Obama has supported eliminating taxes for senior citizens with incomes of under $50,000, and raising taxes on income over $250,000, on capital gains, and on dividends. He has also supported simplifying tax filings and removing loopholes.
As an environmental initiative, Obama proposed a cap and trade auction system with no grandfathering to restrict carbon emissions and a ten year program of investments in new energy sources to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.
In foreign affairs, Obama was an early opponent of the George W. Bush administration’s policies on Iraq. On October 2, 2002, the day President Bush and Congress agreed on thejoint resolution authorizing the Iraq War, Obama addressed the first high-profile Chicago anti-Iraq War rally, and spoke out against the war. He addressed another anti-war rally in March 2003 and told the crowd that “it’s not too late” to stop the war.
In a March 2007 speech, Obama said that the primary way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is through talks and diplomacy, without preconditions, but not ruling out military action. In August 2007, Obama remarked that “it was a terrible mistake to fail to act” against a 2005 meeting of al-Qaeda leaders that U.S. intelligence had confirmed to be taking place in Pakistan.
Obama stated in 2007 that he would enact budget cuts in the range of tens of billions of dollars, stop investing in “unproven” missile defense systems, not weaponize space, “slow development of Future Combat Systems“, and work towards eliminating all nuclear weapons. Obama favors ending development of new nuclear weapons, reducing the current U.S. nuclear stockpile, enacting a global ban on production of fissile material, and seeking negotiations with Russia to reduce the pressure on both sides for intercontinental ballistic missilesto be on high-alert status.
Obama has called for more assertive action to oppose genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. He has divested $180,000 in personal holdings of Sudan-related stock, and has urged divestment from companies doing business in Iran.
Family and personal life
In a 2006 interview, Obama highlighted the diversity of his extended family: “It’s like a little mini-United Nations”, he said. “I’ve got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I’ve got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher.” Obama has seven half-siblings from his Kenyan father’s family, six of them living, and a half-sister with whom he was raised, Maya Soetoro-Ng, the daughter of his mother and her Indonesian second husband. Obama’s mother was survived by her Kansas-born mother, Madelyn Dunham until her death on November 2, 2008, two days before his election to the Presidency. In Dreams from My Father, Obama ties his mother’s family history to possible Native Americanancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. Obama’s great-uncle served in the 89th Division that overran Ohrdruf, the first of the Nazi concentration camps to be liberated by U.S. troops during World War II.
Obama was known as “Barry” in his youth, but asked to be addressed with his given name during his college years. Besides his native English, Obama speaks Indonesian at the conversational level, which he learned during his four childhood years in Jakarta. He plays basketball, a sport he participated in as a member of his high school’s varsity team.
Obama is a well known supporter of the Chicago White Sox, and threw out the first pitch at the 2005 ALCSwhen he was still a Senator. In 2009, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the all star game while wearing a White Sox jacket. He is also primarily a Chicago Bears fan in the NFL, but is known to alsosupport the Pittsburgh Steelers, and openly rooted for them in their victory in Super Bowl XLIII 12 days after Obama took office as President.
In June 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson when he was employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin. Assigned for three months as Obama’s adviser at the firm, Robinson joined him at group social functions, but declined his initial requests to date. They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married on October 3, 1992. The couple’s first daughter, Malia Ann, was born on July 4, 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha (“Sasha”), on June 10, 2001. The Obama daughters attended the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. When they moved to Washington, D.C., in January 2009, the girls started at the private Sidwell Friends School. The Obamas have a Portuguese Water Dog named Bo.
Applying the proceeds of a book deal, the family moved in 2005 from a Hyde Park, Chicago condominium to a $1.6 million house in neighboringKenwood, Chicago. The purchase of an adjacent lot and sale of part of it to Obama by the wife of developer, campaign donor and friend Tony Rezkoattracted media attention because of Rezko’s subsequent indictment and conviction on political corruption charges that were unrelated to Obama.
In December 2007, Money magazine estimated the Obama family’s net worth at $1.3 million. Their 2007 tax return showed a household income of $4.2 million—up from about $1 million in 2006 and $1.6 million in 2005—mostly from sales of his books.
Obama is a Christian whose religious views developed in his adult life. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes that he “was not raised in a religious household”. He describes his mother, raised by non-religious parents (whom Obama has specified elsewhere as “non-practicing Methodists and Baptists”) to be detached from religion, yet “in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known”. He describes his father as “raised a Muslim“, but a “confirmed atheist” by the time his parents met, and his stepfather as “a man who saw religion as not particularly useful”. Obama explained how, through working with black churches as a community organizer while in his twenties, he came to understand “the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change”. He was baptized at the Trinity United Church of Christ in 1988 and was an active member there for two decades.Obama resigned from Trinity during the Presidential campaign after controversial statements made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright became public. After a prolonged effort to find a church to attend regularly in Washington, Obama announced in June 2009 that his primary place of worship would be the Evergreen Chapel at Camp David.
Obama tried to quit smoking several times over the years and has used nicotine replacement therapy. However in June 2010, during a congratulatory phone call to president-elect Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, Obama told Aquino that he had quit and would offer advice on how to stop smoking when Aquino was himself ready for that step.