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The “Making” of a Politician

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2008
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist


      The "Making" of a Politician
      By LisaB
      July 13, 2008
      Alice Palmer, Barack Obama, Chicago politics, David Axelrod,
      Democratic party

      Got your attention? While the cover of this issue of the New Yorker
      will likely be the topic of countless blogs and tv spots tomorrow,
      don't miss the article.

      It is a fascinating piece on Obama's early years in Illinois
      politics. Seems like some of his early supporters have buyer's
      remorse. Many people have questioned how Obama could rise so quickly
      in Chicago politics. This article attempts to trace his rise and
      finds some interesting parallels to this year's presidential race.

      In a particularly interesting bit, the article tells how Obama
      looked to redraw the district he represented in Illinois after
      losing the congressional race to Bobby Rush.

      . . . 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

      While Obama's current race for president portrays him as a black man
      running against white privilege and against long odds, Obama's base
      has always been mainly upper-class whites. And he has always known

      Also interesting is Obama's current use of surrogates and un-
      official campaign advisors. As some of these people are now under
      the bus, the story has always been that they spoke out of turn or
      didn't represent Obama's real position or that Obama no
      longer "knew" these people. In that sense, Obama is seen as removed
      from some of the lower aspects of politicking. But in this article,
      the author asserts:

      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

      I find this curious as well, because one of the hallmarks of the
      Obama campaign to date is its incoherence. Obama says one thing and
      his handlers say "what he meant was. . . " Everyone contradicts
      everyone else, with the end point being no one knows where Obama
      really stands on much of anything. Given all of Obama's "present"
      votes and non-appearance at votes, it feels as if the "fog of
      information" is really a campaign tactic. If you can't be pinned
      down, you can't be held accountable and you get to claim outcomes
      after the fact. If you don't actually vote on something, you can
      easily claim to have been for or against it all along, with no
      penalty for the slight of hand.

      Another interesting point not covered in the MSM is Obama's history
      with the troubled administration of Illinois governor Rod
      Blagojevich. Although Tony Rezko links the two men, Obama has kept
      his distance. Recently though, Rahm Emanuel noted that Obama and he
      worked for Blagojevich's campaign.

      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

      It's important to note that the Obama campaign has since claimed
      Emanual's memory on this issue is faulty. Must be a problem there.

      As the presidential race continues, the Obama campaign continues to
      tout his achievements in the state senate as examples of his ability
      to govern and help his constituents. As many people know by now,
      this record is spotty. The New Yorker's take on this period is clear.

      In the State Senate, Jones [an important politician in Illinois] 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.

      Interesting stuff indeed. Still, the core of Obama as a politician
      is muddy on the national scene. His supporters claim he is a person
      not "of the system" who practices "transformational politics." Here
      at NoQuarter, we've been saying this is not the case. The New Yorker
      says the same thing.

      Perhaps 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.

      In addition to this, the New Yorker notes that Obama has alienated
      past supporters by his tendency to switch positions. Sound familiar?

      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.

      Deja vu, much?

      The title of this article is "Making It." OK. But I think this story
      is more like the MTV show "Made" where young people are given a
      couple of weeks to learn something hard to do in order to "become"
      something they dream of, like the video gamer who was "made" into a
      martial artist. While you can't help admire the pluck and effort of
      these young people, you still know that a video gamer doesn't become
      Jackie Chan in a few weeks of hard work. It's artificial. Whatever
      skills the gamer gets won't be backed up by years of practice or
      depth of knowledge.

      And while Barack Obama has, arguably, put in a few years of work in
      politics, his rise and experience suggest to me someone who has
      been "made." There's just no "there" there.

      This article is definitely worth the read. In addition to the few
      bits I've highlighted are insights about Obama's choice of church
      and Michelle Obama's political connections.
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