Author Archive


November 21, 2008


NY elementary school is renamed for Obama

NEW YORK – It was only a matter of time. A New York school has been renamed in honor of President-elect Barack Obama.
The former Ludlum Elementary School, in Long Island’s Hempstead Union Free School District, was renamed at a school board meeting Thursday — effective immediately.
School officials say most of the 440 students there are black or Hispanic, and Obama’s victory is a source of great pride.
On the Net:

Saturday, November 22, 2008
The first school named for Barack Obama: ‘The Barack Obama Elementary School’

I think the reaction of the kids who speak in the video says it all. They are engaged in what is happening in politics. They are engaged because of Barack Obama and that is too cool for words.

It also counteracts some of the negative stories that have come out in the weeks since the election that described children reacting hatefully and negatively with racial slurs about the election of Barack Obama.

That kind of reaction is inspired by adults in the lives of children. It’s always uplifting to see that positive things are also inspired by adults who have an impact in childrens’ lives.

…Their resolution read as follows:

“Whereas the Ludlum School students conducted a mock presidential debate related to the recent presidential elections and whereas the students did a wonderful job of carrying out their tasks and demonstrating their patriotism at an early age and whereas in recognition of their efforts and the victorious feat of Sen. Barack Obama in becoming the first African-American president of the United States, it be resolved that the Hempstead Board of Education proudly renames Ludlum Elementary School as the Barack Obama Elementary School.” Political Punch

A New York elementary school has been re-named in honor of President-elect Barack Obama. Ludlum Elementary School in Long Island’s Hempstead Union Free School District was re-named at a board meeting Thursday, at the request of numerous school students.

“Just to watch these kids after the board voted on what they asked them to do, they were so elated,” school district superintendent Dr. Joseph Laria told ABC News. “You want to talk about “Yes we can!”? That was a lesson in democracy.”

…The board then adopted the resolution by a vote of 5-0, re-naming the school immediately.

“People in the audience just stood up and applauded,” said Laria. “It was very well received…very poignant.”

The school is now planning a re-dedication ceremony following Obama’s inauguration in January, complete with the unveiling of a new sign.

And of course, the nation’s 44th president is invited, Laria said, as is New York Governor David Paterson, who once attended Hempstead High School in the same school district.

…”The lesson in civics and democracy that these kids learned and even the process of coming before a public body and making a presentation, it was all child-oriented and that’s what touched me,” said an “enormously proud” Laria. “It wasn’t some board member for political reasons grand-standing.” Political Punch


November 21, 2008



President-Elect Barack Obama
By Ashahed M. Muhammad
Assistant Editor
Updated Nov 12, 2008, 04:23 pm

A mercy from God to America

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan delivers address Nov. 9 at Mosque Maryam. His message focused on the significance of the Obama campaign victory and what it could mean for America’s future. Photo: Kenneth Muhammad
‘I said all along that Barack Obama needs our help. But what I didn’t say—but I’m going to say it now—was that Black people in America are not just America’s problem. They are the world’s problem, because no problem—the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said—of the world would be solved until the problem of these (Black people) that were destroyed by slavery and injustice has been properly redressed!’
—The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan
CHICAGO ( – After nine months of silence regarding the historic presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke the words that many have been waiting to hear him say.
“Congratulations are absolutely in order for President-elect Barack Obama,” said Min. Farrakhan as the crowd erupted in cheers and applause during his opening remarks on Nov. 9 at Mosque Maryam, the international headquarters of the Nation of Islam.

Addressing a national and international media contingent and thousands viewing live via webcast, Min. Farrakhan ended a great deal of speculation surrounding his views on President-elect Barack Obama’s political ascendancy and the future of America.

“What happened (on Nov. 4) has energized the entire world of man and mankind in a way that has never been seen before in the history of political elections in the United States of America or anywhere else in those nations that are committed to the principles of democracy,” he said.

Min. Farrakhan forbade all of his ministers from commenting on the presidential election after several statements during his February 2008 Saviours’ Day keynote address titled “The Gods at War” were deliberately taken out of context by some media outlets and right wing political operatives to cause mischief in hope of sabotaging Mr. Obama’s presidential aspirations.

Dressed in dazzling bejeweled crimson and gold robes, Min. Farrakhan said he felt and saw a “oneness of spirit” that he has neither seen nor felt since the Million Man March in 1995 as he watched the 250,000 people at Grant Park in Chicago and different places around the world celebrating a momentous occasion on Election Day.

“This desire for change is a desire that has intensified in America and throughout the world because of the failure of governments to adequately address the needs of the people under their rule and this is why the theme of change resonated so strongly in the people of America and the people of the world,” said Min Farrakhan. “So, who is this young man and how should he be handled in light of his historic victory?”

Min. Farrakhan forthrightly addressed the opinions of those who have said that Barack Obama’s presidential victory may signal the ushering in of a post racial America.

“Black people in America: Is the civil rights movement irrelevant now that this historic election has taken place? Is there no more need for Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP, the Urban League, and other civil rights activists (and) organizations that are working on problems that directly affect the quality of life of Black, and Brown, and the poor, and the Native Americans? Does this mean that Farrakhan has run his course and the Nation of Islam is irrelevant now?” asked Min. Farrakhan.

“As long as there is injustice in any shape, form, or fashion that hinders the growth and development of any people that are a part of the fabric of America, there will always be a need for a Rev. Jackson, a Rev. Sharpton, the NAACP, the Urban League and activist organizations that work for change,” said the Minister. He also addressed those who might have argued he and the Nation of Islam could be irrelevant in light of current events.

“I don’t think I am irrelevant because I am from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and he is a Warner. He is like a watchman on the wall, watching for the evils that ill-affect a people in whom God is interested. I have to continue to warn and guide,” he told the appreciative crowd.

Challenges lie ahead

After Mr. Obama takes the Oath of Office on Jan. 20, 2009 becoming the 44th President of the United States, the Obama administration inherits two intense and costly wars, one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan. Additionally, he faces political instability in Pakistan, continued uncertainty in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and ever-increasing pressure by Israel and its powerful lobby in the United States to move forward with military action against Iran. Other international flashpoints include Sudan, Russia, Syria and the Congo, said Min. Farrakhan adding that Mr. Obama should not be “manipulated or goaded into a war with Iran.”

The Obama administration also inherits domestic and international financial insecurity. Many financial analysts have said the United States economy is in a recession, and as a result, many foreign markets are experiencing trouble that some financial experts have considered close to meltdown. The Bush administration exits Washington, D.C., leaving the United States $10.1 trillion in debt and, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 10 million Americans are currently unemployed.

“America is really, really poor, but to keep up the image of her former greatness in the world, she has to borrow and borrow and borrow,” said Min. Farrakhan.

He pointed out that even though people of all ages, races, ethnicities united to elect Mr. Obama, the country is still divided and polarized. Nearly 57 million people voted for Mr. McCain, mostly older Americans who reside below the Mason-Dixon Line where “old racial attitudes and traditions die hard.” In fact, since the election, gun sales have surged, said Min. Farrakhan. “We can change laws, but it is difficult to change attitudes,” he said.

Calling the president-elect a “beautiful young man” and a “very special human being” the Minister said he saw a firmness of resolve and purpose in the face of Mr. Obama as he delivered a Nov. 4 victory speech viewed worldwide. Mr. Obama has been briefed on matters of national security and intelligence and the weightiness of the United States presidency has become real, however, the mission is not beyond his scope, said Min. Farrakhan.

“Was God involved in this young man’s victory?” the Minister asked rhetorically. “Because if God was involved—and He is—then it is God Who has laid on this young man this horrible burden at the worst time in the history of America and the world, but it is also God that has given this young man this tremendous capacity to handle what God has put on his shoulders.”

Not everyone is elated that a Black family is the first family of the United States of America and there are some who believe that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW is called “The White House” because only Whites are to govern from there, Min. Farrakhan pointed out.

There have been reported racial incidents and hate-crimes in the days immediately following Mr. Obama’s victory and at some schools, Min. Farrakhan said competing chants of “White power” and “Black power” and physical altercations broke out.

A teenager from Staten Island, N.Y. was reportedly viciously assaulted in what police believe was a hate-crime assault resulting from Mr. Obama’s presidential victory in the early morning of Nov. 5.

Several incidents of racial graffiti were reported in Texas, Maine and four people admitted spray painting racial graffiti targeting President-elect Obama on a wall at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Several hanging effigies of President-elect Obama lined highways in Maine on Nov. 5.

In Hardwick Township, N.J., a Black family’s banner in support of Mr. Obama that went missing the previous night was reportedly draped over a burning six-foot cross the family found on their lawn on Nov. 6.

Min. Farrakhan said he heard CNN commentator Lou Dobbs say America is “tanking.” Other financial experts have said the country is in a “freefall,” while some analysts have said the American economy is nearing “collapse.”

“This is not an hour that we should just rejoice; this is an hour that we should be very thoughtful, reflective and prayerful,” said Min. Farrakhan.

For his part, President-elect Obama has pressed forward conducting meetings with his transition team. Using the internet as a communication and organizing tool, Mr. Obama launched the website which promises to act as a consistent source for the latest news, events, and announcements related to the formation of his new administration.

The road ahead

Min. Farrakhan concluded his Nov. 9 message discussing the road ahead and how Blacks and Whites must shoulder the responsibility to assist President-elect Obama by taking advantage of the possibilities offered by his administration. Referring to Mr. Obama’s pledge to create 5 million new jobs, Min. Farrakhan urged Black youth who have been extraordinarily energized by the Obama campaign to learn “essential civilization building skills” to qualify themselves to rebuild the wasted cities of America and “not look for special favors.”

Citing the 7th Surah (Chapter) of the Holy Qur’an and the story of the people of Thamud who were commanded by the prophet Salih “do not hamstring the she camel,” Min. Farrakhan said this Qur’anic narrative was a sign.

“A sign is not the real thing, but it is pointing to something that is the real thing,” said Min. Farrakhan, citing facts about camels regarding their stamina and the characteristics that make them durable and able to withstand severe weather during long journeys in a hostile climate.

“This young man has a journey to make. He is equipped to make the journey. He has the mental capacity to be successful, with God’s help,” said the Minister.

Min. Farrakhan admonished those who claimed that President-elect Obama did not have the experience needed to govern. “There is no one in America that has that kind experience, so it is not experience that he needs,” said Min. Farrakhan. What America needs is vision and President-elect Obama “is a visionary,” he said.

Min. Farrakhan warned America’s political leaders and the Whites of this nation to let Mr. Obama “do what God has raised him to do” and not try to “hamstring” him and thwart his success.

“If Congress tries to hamstring him because of his vision for change, if the Whites in America don’t understand that he (Obama) is a mercy not only for us but for them and their children and their children’s children, then as the hamstringing of the she camel in the days of Salih and the people of Thamud brought about the terrible chastisement of God, if we hurt this young man and keep him from doing what is in his heart to do, we will bring on ourselves a chastisement from God the likes of which has never been seen before in any nation that God has chastised,” said Min. Farrakhan.

Min. Farrakhan then addressed those all over the world who have used Black people to become rich, building their societies and economic empires with slave labor.

“I said all along that Barack Obama needs our help. But what I didn’t say—but I’m going to say it now—was that Black people in America are not just America’s problem. They are the world’s problem, because no problem—the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said—of the world would be solved until the problem of these (Black people) that were destroyed by slavery and injustice has been properly redressed!” Min. Farrakhan declared.

One hundred and fifty years after being freed from chattel slavery, Blacks still suffer and depend on others for what they should be qualified to do for themselves, he noted.

“We have been trained in self-hatred! We are not proud to be who we are, and that self-hatred has caused us to turn in on one another like it never was during the darkest days of slavery! That is a problem. Walk the streets of the Black community and see the problem that slavery and injustice has created!” said the Minister.

“So I today, representing that One that is found in the Torah and the Injil (Gospel) and the Qur’an— I am asking for the help that I deserve from the world to help my people get up out of this condition!”

CD/DVD or full Webcast of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s November 9, 2008 address.


November 17, 2008



CONGRATULATIONS, President-elect Barack Hussein Obama! How sweet the sound. How sweet it is! On January 20, it becomes official that an African American will become the 44th President of the United States. How sweet it is! How sweet the sound! Headlines the world over announced the election victor Barack Hussein Obama. An average 8.5 million visitors per minute clicked onto new websites worldwide, from 11 pm to midnight EST, on election night

The Lower 48s were agog on Election Night 2008! Harlem was no exception. Thousands of people descended on the State Office Building Plaza on West 125 Street to view election results on a where a giant movie screen. The environment was electric, drumbeats pulsated, Harlem’s diverse population of African Americans, Africans, and whites joyously co-mingled as the election returns raced north of 200 electoral votes. When the electoral count exceeded 270, jubilant noises filled Harlem streets. Happiness spread like a contagion. Harlem folk embraced, kissed, and danced with each other while the streets were alive with the sounds of elation, which attended the historic Obama victory. The Kenyan ambassador to the UN joined the election watch party at Harlem eatery Londel’s. Oh, what a night!

The Obama victory had special resonance for African Americans. I have not heard that type of joyful Harlem street music since the Joe Louis boxing victories in the 40s, when Harlem was an all Black village. I suspect that enslaved Africans in the 1860s expressed the same type of joyful, street music during the first night of Emancipation and during Juneteenth celebrations. Some writers compared the 11/4 Election night euphoria with Nelson Mandela’s visit to Harlem. I say not so. Moreover, Mandela’s Harlem welcome was an afternoon celebration. The Obama victory was an all-American victory, an example for the world to emulate. It represented a triumph of hope and change, key residents in the human brain, which have been dormant for almost eight years.

The Obama triumph was not lost on the new Harlemites, who filled Harlem eateries and watering spots and that night. A rare American fraternity was evidenced on 11/4. After the Obama speech, a group of young white women, danced and chanted “OBAMA, OBAMA, OBAMA” on Lenox Avenue and 120 Street. Harlem streets teemed with people who were heavily intoxicated by the historic YES, WE CAN moment.

The Obama election day victory speaks to the wisdom of the majority of the U.S. electorate. We are once again en route to that more perfect union. More than 120 million Americans voted on 11/4. Obama got 95% of the African American vote and 67% of the Latino vote. He will deal with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives – 254 Democrats to 173 Republicans in the House of Representatives – and in the Senate with 56 Democrat leaning senators, ( 54 Democrats and 2 independents), 4 shy a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority. The jury is still out re: victories in 4 Senate races; and runoffs will be held. America is no longer blue states and red states. Barack Obama’s election results are consistent with his speech. “There is only the United States of America.

President-elect Barack Obama has named his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his campaign strategist David Axelrod, will be an adviser. He has a 17 member economic advisory board which will help him name the new Treasury secretary of should I say czar. Media speculation about Team Barack Obama runs rampant. Senators Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson are among Obama’s top picks for the coveted top Diplomat job, the Secretary of State. Then you read an Associated Press piece denying that Hillary’s in the running. General Colin Powell is mentioned as Education secretary. Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogiltree and Attorney Eric Holder, former Deputy US Attorney General and DC Superior Court Judge, are rumored to be on Attorney General’s short list.

Obama fever is a worldwide. The world press descended on Kenya, Obama’s dad’s homeland, on November 4, just in case. Africa is hot again and the world is intellectually curious about the continent. Since November 4, most Kenyan newborns have been named Barack and Michelle. In Sierra Leone, seven out of 10 boys are names Barack Obama. In post-election U.S., girl and boy newborns, have Barack or Obama as the first or one of many middle names.

Highly sought-after Barack Obama collectibles include the November 5 issues of the NY Times (still available at $14.95) and NY Daily News with special supplements, and the 11/9 Sunday Daily News Obama supplement; the November 6 Amsterdam News had an initial press run of 50,000 and sold out that day and went into a second printing. Scalpers were selling AmNews last week for $20. AmNews second and third editions have sold out. The 11/6 NY Beacon issues with the Obama family cover sold out. The Amistad book, OBAMA: THE HISTORIC CAMPAIGN IN PHOTOGRAPHS, by photo historian Dr. Deborah Willis and Washington Post editor Kevin Merida, is available at local bookstores. Harlem and Brooklyn street vendors have countless Obama items; and business is brisk. Read 11/17 New Yorker Magazine James Wood essay CLOSE READING; Victory Speech, where he credits Lincoln and Dr. King as the speech’s founders and inspiration, and labels its language..plain but musical. Time, Newsweek, People Magazine available on 11/10 boasted Obama/Obama Family covers. And most betting people say that Obama will don Time Magazine’s Man of the Year cover.

Records crowds, surpassing one million or more, are expected for the January 20 inauguration of Barck Obama, the 44th President of the United States.Tickets are free and available at your congressman’s and senators offices. Contact Senator Hillary Clinton at or Senator Chuck Schumer at 202.228.3027. Communicate with them immediately.

One of the continent’s most renowned citizens, South Africa-born Miriam Makeba,76, died in a town near Naples, Italy on last Sunday, after collapsing onstage, where she was performing in solidarity with six Ghanaians who were killed there, last September, it is alleged, by organized crime. Known to some as Mama Africa or the Empress of South Africa, Miriam Makeba musical enchantress, she was an articulate spokesperson enumerating the ills of South Africa’s apartheid. The Makeba phenom began in the 60s. Exiled by South Africa for more than 30 years, Ms. Makeba also became the voice and face of African culture the world over. She performed with Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie and Paul Simon. An international treasure and cultural icon, she often said. “I will sing until the last day of my life.”


November 14, 2008


Obama’s election: a turning point in the perception of blacks?

Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

James Fugate, owner of EsoWon Books in Leimert Park, celebrates Obama’s presidential win with another local business owner. “They’ll be trendsetters nationally and internationally,” Fugate says of the Obamas.
African American men wonder if the wider culture will finally start to see them as true equals or if the president-elect will just be seen as yet another exception.
By Carla Hall and Marjorie Miller
November 12, 2008
Hakeem Holloway may be a classically trained musician who has played with orchestras around the world, but when he crosses an L.A. city street wearing his typical uniform of jeans and a hoodie, white women have been known to eye him, a black man, and clutch their purses more tightly to their sides.

Frank Gilliam, the dean of UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, sometimes flies first class. When he does, white passengers often ask Gilliam, who is black, if he’s a record producer — if they talk to him at all.

Even as millions of black Americans revel in Barack Obama’s victory and plan trips to his inauguration that are turning into pilgrimages, many still wonder if this transformative moment in American politics will truly transform perceptions of black men. How much, if at all, they ask, will Obama’s victory shatter that glass ceiling?

The country may have become accustomed to seeing and hearing people of color populating various levels of power in almost all professions, but many people still cling to images that can be stubborn to erase. Is the prospect of a black man being ferried around in a presidential motorcade enough to curtail racial profiling of black drivers — or as blacks mordantly call it, the crime of “DWB,” driving while black?

Holloway, a 31-year-old double bassist with a master’s in music performance from USC, says one problem for African Americans is that success often blinds people to color — in the wrong way.

“We have plenty of black comedians, actors, athletes,” Holloway said. “And plenty of time, everybody regards those people as not black. Michael Jordan? ‘He’s not black. He’s Michael Jordan.’ Barack Obama? ‘He’s not black. He’s Barack Obama.’ ”

Murrell Garr Jr., associate pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Yorba Linda, expresses the hope that many feel: “As black men, we feel we have a voice now. We’ve been crying out in the wilderness. We have skills, qualities. Now people will give an ear to what we’re saying.’ ”

In the past, whites often did not listen, instead projecting their own racial anxieties. “The image of the black man is fear,” said Damian Thompson, 35, a self-employed graphic designer.

“I think Barack changes that and brings us the respect we deserve. There’s a bunch of Baracks. We just don’t get to be seen that way.”

Others couple hopefulness with skepticism about the ability of an Obama presidency to change deeply ingrained racial perceptions. Gilliam, for one, has seen times of national fellowship come and go.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he boarded a plane in Dallas alongside a Texan in cowboy boots who he suspects wouldn’t have paid him any notice at another time. Instead, “He said, ‘It’s you and me, partner. If something happens, you and me make a move for the door.’ ”

That solidarity faded, though. Maybe this time, a new expansion in perspective will be permanent. Or maybe it will just be a temporary, feel-good moment: “People felt bad and this makes them feel better.”

Almost every African American man has an anecdote, if not a dozen, about the insults they’ve endured merely because they are black.

Don Sanders, 55, an orthopedic surgeon who practices in the South Bay, has experienced the sting of being black in America. In Las Vegas, when he attends medical conferences, he often can’t hail a cab.

“They probably wouldn’t pick up Barack Obama,” he said.

And he had plenty of encounters with the police when he was younger.

“I couldn’t count the number of times I was stopped in my 20s while I was at UCLA,” he said.

During the years in which he earned undergraduate, master’s and medical degrees at the Westwood campus, “I was arrested, taken to jail, put in jail overnight, accused of participating in a burglary. My favorite was being stopped for being black in Westwood. I said, ‘What am I being stopped for?’. . . . He said, ‘Well, you know most of the crime in Westwood is being committed by young black men just like you.’ ”

Black men in the rarefied high ranks of business are accustomed to being, well, not perceived at all. When Broadway Federal Bank President and Chief Executive Paul Hudson attends a meeting of banking chiefs, there are maybe two African Americans in the room.

“I’m really not acknowledged,” he said. “It’s almost like I’m invisible.” It’s not entirely the fault of his white colleagues, he says. “I still don’t feel comfortable in white environments.”
Some black men worry that discomfort could even increase as an Obama presidency fosters the perception among some whites that racism no longer exists, dispelled magically Nov. 4.

Warner Brothers executive Chaz Fitzhugh, 53, who is black, earned undergraduate and MBA degrees from Harvard and has always counted conservative and liberal whites among his friends.

“The message I’ve heard from my conservative friends loud and clear is, ‘OK, you guys got what you want, so stop your whining,’ ” said Fitzhugh, who managed a good-natured chuckle even though he admitted the comments annoy him a bit.

“The perception will be that racism is essentially over and done — and that if you screw up, it’s all on you,” Fitzhugh said. “It’s true in some ways, but naive in a lot more.”

Even as all these images come into play, changing as the weeks go by, certainly the most indelible will be those that Obama and his family cast — starting with their appearance onstage in Chicago’s Grant Park last week.

The world will watch intently to see what the Obamas eat and what they read, how they dress and how they decorate the White House, said James Fugate, the co-owner of EsoWon Books in Leimert Park. They’ll be the First Family, lighting the national Christmas tree and, inadvertently or not, educating the public about and reshaping perceptions of African Americans.

“They’ll be trendsetters nationally and internationally,” said Fugate, who had a front-row seat to Obama’s rise. In 1995, when Fugate hosted a book-signing for the fledgling writer-politician’s “Dreams From My Father,” 10 people showed up. In 2006, when Fugate’s store co-sponsored a book-signing for Obama’s “Audacity of Hope,” more than 800 people flocked to the event, held at the California African-American Museum.

“They’ll be the American family,” Fugate said. “I remember once hearing someone say he didn’t know that black people celebrated Thanksgiving. Now the country will find out that black families are just like every other American family.”

Some say the greatest effect will be on young black men.

“When Michael Jordan shaved his head, that took off, and now everyone does it,” said David L. Evans, an African American and a senior admissions officer for Harvard College. With Obama in office, Evans believes a new tone may be set. For black youngsters who want to be studious “and would like to dress a certain way — but have been pressured to drop their pants down a few inches — they will have a kind of a rock to which to hold.”

Sanders, the orthopedic surgeon, wonders how long it will take for the effect of an Obama presidency to trickle down to city streets and begin to dispel social stigmas. But he, too, adds a note of hope:

“My nieces and young people who are in the 30-and-under crowd are much more colorblind,” he said. “And that generation is beginning to speak.”

Hall and Miller are Times staff writers.


November 14, 2008

Qatar Tennis WTA Championships

L.A. Times Archives


November 11, 2008


Nigerian-American Says Obama’s Path is Familiar

Last update: 11:56 a.m. EST Nov. 10, 2008
ST. LOUIS, Nov 10, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ — The following is a version of commentary by Benjamin Ola. Akande, Dean, Webster University School of Business & Technology, on NPR, Friday, November 7th:
Benjamin Ola. Akande came to America from Nigeria in his teens to pursue an education. On election night, he wrote a letter to his American-born daughters, reflecting on the historic moment from the perspective of an African immigrant. Akande says Barack Obama’s name and diverse personal history may seem exotic to most Americans, but his path is a familiar one to many first-generation African-Americans.
Dear Moyo, Anjola and Reni,
It’s 10:15 p.m. Central Time, Tuesday, November four, 2008 and history has been made. Barack Obama has just been declared the first African-American President of the United States. Frankly, I never thought this day would come. They say more people voted in this election than any other in U.S. history. Today was an affirmation that America values ideas over fear. And tonight marks the emergence of the Obama Generation.
Many Americans have wondered – some with awe, some with alarm – who is Barack Obama, this man with an African name? Where did he come from? To some, it seems that he appeared from out of nowhere to captivate the media and the masses all around the world. But, Barack Obama has been emerging all along. To the African immigrants, Obama is a familiar figure. His calm demeanor and thoughtful, wise perspective is a characteristic you will find among many Africans. His fluid ability to use the spoken word is a tradition that our ancestors have used for centuries to keep their dreams alive. During the campaign, Barack spoke to the past and the future as if it were in the present. He reminded America of the power of promises and effectively painted a picture of a better way and better days ahead.
We, the Obama Generation, are members of a broadly defined group of immigrants, first-generation African Americans and their children, a rich mix of people, who call America their home but whose common denominator is their link to the African continent. President-elect Obama is one of us.
We, the members of the Obama generation, have succeeded in virtually every walk of life. We are a people tested, resilient, and fortified with a rich cultural diversity. We are a new generation of immigrants; many of us professionals, who arrived here with well-honed skills and lots of potential, bringing with us humility, temperament, strength and resolve. Many of us came from abject poverty with a hunger to make a living and soak up the goodness of America. Others came to gain the knowledge and wisdom that America has to offer. Barack Obama’s life story is familiar to us and not that exotic at all.
We are an optimistic lot. We believe America’s future can be even more successful than its past and its present. We bring different experiences and perspectives to the task of breaking that impasse that has gripped this nation in its recent past – lack of trust and a lack of the will to change. Ours is a generation that eats change for breakfast.
My dear Moyo, Anjola and Reni: Today a man with the name Barack Obama – whose father journeyed here from western Kenya in search of knowledge – is to be the next president of the United States of America. His victory has granted you a future of unprecedented possibilities, along with newfound responsibility, and now, it is up to you to find the balance that will bring to life your dream. Our dream.
Your loving dad,
Benjamin Ola Akande
November 4, 2008


November 11, 2008


President Barack Hussein Obama
This election’s results will take years to play out, more to be understood

Tom Bachtell/New Yorker

updated 4:44 a.m. PT, Mon., Nov. 10, 2008
At the Times, it is house style to refer to a successful Presidential nominee by his full name in the lead of the main story the morning after the election. He may be Bill or Jimmy on his campaign posters, but in the newspaper of record on that one momentous occasion he is William Jefferson or James Earl, Jr. So say it loud and say it proud: Barack Hussein Obama, President-elect of the United States. Of the United States of America, as he himself liked to say on the stump—always, it seemed, with a touch of awe at the grandeur and improbability of it all.

Barack Hussein Obama: last week, sixty-five million Americans turned a liability—a moniker so politically inflammatory that the full recitation of it was considered foul play—into a global diplomatic asset, a symbol of the resurgence of America’s ability to astonish and inspire. In the Convention keynote speech that made him instantly famous four years ago, Obama called himself “a skinny kid with a funny name.” Funny? Not really. “Millard Fillmore”—now, that’s funny. The Times contented itself with referring to the candidate’s “unusual name.” Unusual? Unusual would be, say, “Dwight D. Eisenhower.” Ten weeks from now, the President of the United States will be a person whose first name is a Swahili word derived from the Arabic (it means “blessing”), whose middle name is that not only of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad but also of the original target of an ongoing American war, and whose last name rhymes nicely with “Osama.” That’s not a name, it’s a catastrophe, at least in American politics. Or ought to have been.

Yet Barack Obama won, and won big. Democrats have now achieved pluralities in four of the last five Presidential elections. But Obama’s popular vote was an outright majority—a little more than fifty-two per cent, at the latest reckoning—and the largest share for a nominee of his party since Lyndon Johnson’s in 1964. Obama made significant gains compared with John Kerry, four years ago, in nearly every category that exit polls record: black folks but also white folks; liberals but also conservatives; women but also men. His gains were especially striking among Latinos, the very poor and the very well-off, Catholics and the unchurched, and the two groups most likely to be concerned about the future—young people and the parents of children living at home. And although the Obama wave does not seem to have brought with it a filibuster-proof Senate, it did sweep into office enough new members of both houses of Congress to offer him the hope of a governing legislative majority.

This election was so extraordinary in so many ways that its meaning will take many years to play out and many more to be understood. But there is already the feel of the beginning of a new era. As in 1932 and 1980, a crisis in the economy opened the way for the rejection of a reigning approach to government and the forging of a new one. Emphatically, comprehensively, the public has turned against conservatism at home and neoconservatism abroad. The faith that unfettered markets and minimal taxes on the rich will solve every domestic problem, and that unilateral arrogance and American arms will solve every foreign one, is dead for a generation or more. And the electoral strategy of “cultural” resentment and fake populism has been dealt a grievous blow.

White House transition
The transition from one president to the next involves much more than declaring a winner on election day. See key departments that will have leadership changes after a new president is elected.

Obama is young, educated, focussed, reassuring, and energetic. He is as accomplished a writer as he is a speaker. His campaign was a marvel of discipline, organization, and prescience. He has, as a conservative critic acknowledged, “a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament.” We have had these qualities in our Presidents before, if rarely all in the same person. But Obama’s most visible attribute, the only one mentioned in that Times lead, is unique, even revolutionary: the color of his skin. As surely as Appomattox, the post-Civil War constitutional amendments, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the nineteen-sixties, Obama’s election is a giant victory in the long struggle against what an earlier generation of Republicans called the Slave Power and its long legacy of exclusion and hate.

During the campaign, Obama’s “exoticism”—both real (his childhood in Jakarta) and imagined (“he’s a Muslim”)—served bigots as a cover for racism. But it was a shield as well as a vulnerability. It set him apart from the stereotypes of racial prejudice. It broadened rather than narrowed his “otherness.” His absent father was Kenyan; if the son’s line of descent includes American slaves, they are hidden on his mother’s side, as they are in the lineage of myriads of this country’s white citizens. His upbringing in his mother’s far-flung world and the polyglot Hawaii of his white grandparents gave him the perspective of both an outsider and an insider. His search for identity—the subject of his book “Dreams from My Father,” now assured of a place in the American literary canon—made him a profound student of the American dilemma. In his Philadelphia speech of March 18, 2008, prompted by the firestorm over his former pastor, he treated the American people as adults capable of complex thinking—as his equals, you might say. But what made that speech special, what enabled it to save his candidacy, was its analytic power. It was not defensive. It did not overcompensate. In its combination of objectivity and empathy, it persuaded Americans of all colors that he understood them. In return, they have voted to make him their President.

A generation ago, few people anywhere imagined that they would witness the dissolution of Soviet totalitarianism, or the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as President of a multiracial South African democracy, or the transformation of China into a fearsome engine of capitalist commerce. Nor did Americans of an age to remember Selma and Montgomery and Memphis imagine that they would live to see an African-American elected President of the United States. It has happened. No doubt there will be disappointments and difficulties ahead; there always are. But a few months from now a blue-and-white Boeing 747 emblazoned UNITED STATES OF AMERICA will touch down on a tarmac somewhere in Europe or Asia or Africa, the door will open, and out will step Barack and Michelle Obama. That is something to look forward to.


November 11, 2008


Get Local! Create Your MyBO Account ( or Login ) Nearly There! Provide Your Name Welcome! Login to MyBO ( or create your account ) Almost Done! Create a Password My Home My Dashboard My Blog My Messages Community My Neighborhood My Groups Find Groups My Friends People Near Me Events Find Local Events Manage My Events Fundraise Logout Obama for America
Home Learn Meet Barack Obama Meet Michelle Obama Meet Joe Biden Meet Jill Biden Obama Speeches In the News Know the Facts Issues
Civil Rights Defense Disabilities Economy Education Energy & Environment Ethics Faith Family Fiscal Foreign Policy Healthcare Homeland Security
Immigration Iraq Poverty Rural Service Seniors & Social Security Taxes Technology Urban Policy Veterans Women Additional Issues Media Barack TV Photos Downloads Mobile Music Action Sign up for email Donate Contact us People
Asian Americans &
Pacific Islanders African Americans Americans Abroad Americans with Disabilities Arab Americans European &
Mediterranean Americans Environmentalists First Americans Generation Obama Jewish Americans
Kids Labor Latinos LGBT People of Faith Republicans Rural Americans Seniors Small Business Sportsmen Students Veterans & Military Families Women States
Alabama Alaska American Samoa Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware District of Columbia Florida Georgia Guam Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas
Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota
Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Puerto Rico Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virgin Islands Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming Blog Store Community Blogs Login | Register | Search Blogs

Post from Obama HQ Blogger:
What Happened on Tuesday
By Christopher Hass – Nov 10th, 2008 at 7:58 pm EST

“Our strategy all along has been to expand the playing field. People thought we were crazy, but it is paying off.” – Campaign Manager David Plouffe, Oct. 22, 2008
Nearly six days after polls closed, ballots are still being counted in some counties (with Missouri still yet to be officially called) but it’s not too soon to look back and consider what happened last Tuesday.

Over 121 million voters cast a ballot in this election, and the final number may be considerably higher. The number of votes already counted for Barack Obama — over 65.9 million — is the largest total for any candidate in history.

In addition to the states won by John Kerry in 2004, on Tuesday Barack Obama won the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Iowa. A willingness to compete everywhere and a commitment to expand the electoral map resulted in victories in a number of traditionally Republican states as well.

On Tuesday, a Democrat carried the state of Indiana, the state of Virginia and an electoral vote in Nebraska for the first time since 1964. On Tuesday, a Democrat won the state of North Carolina for the first time since 1976.

What happened on Tuesday, especially in states like Indiana and North Carolina, was driven in part by record youth turnout. MSNBC reported:

An estimated 24 million Americans ages 18 to 29 voted in this election, an increase in youth turnout by at least 2.2 million over 2004, reports CIRCLE, a non-partisan organization that promotes research on the political engagement of young Americans. That puts youth turnout somewhere between 49.3 and 54.5 percent, meaning 19 percent more young people voted this year than in 2004, estimates John Della Volpe, the director of polling for the Harvard Institute of Politics. And that’s a conservative estimate, Della Volpe says.

“It looks like the highest turnout among young people we’ve ever had.”
What happened on Tuesday was fueled by an ambitious, 50-state voter registration drive that brought millions of new voices into the political process and shifted the political make-up of over a dozen states. In Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida, Latino voters turned out in record numbers to vote for Barack Obama.

What happened on Tuesday wouldn’t have happened if not for an unprecedented grassroots movement that began over two years ago, and was ultimately transformed into the largest field organization in the history of American politics.

What happened on Tuesday was the result of ordinary Americans who invested in this campaign in whatever way they could: giving five or ten or twenty dollars, knocking on doors and making phone calls, talking to their friends and family and organizing within their own communities.

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor, Alexandra Marks explained what happened on Tuesday this way:

An estimated 136 million Americans – as many as 66 percent, the most since 1908 – pulled a lever, touched a screen, or filled in ballot. They are part of a radical transformation of American politics – not just in terms of ideology and party identification. It goes much further than that.

President-elect Barack Obama, harnessing the lightening speed of digital technology, tapped a new generation of young people, inspiring them to work, knock on doors, make phone calls, convince their parents, friends, neighbors, and grandparents that there was something in America still worth fighting for.
On Tuesday millions of Americans — young and old — fought for the hope of a better day, and won.

But what happened on Tuesday didn’t end on Tuesday. As Barack himself explained, this victory itself was not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change.

What happened on Tuesday is just the beginning.


November 10, 2008


Finally, An Intellectual Moral President
By Ohg Rea Tone | November 4th, 2008
Barack Obama is the President-elect.

We should say that again: Barack Obama is the President-elect.

It has been a long time. We in America can be proud of ourselves. Barack Obama is scholarly, educated in constitutional law, intellectually curious, a master communicator, and possesses the moral values of Ghandi, the wisdom of Solomon, and the courage of Sergeant York. Barack Obama is a transformational figure – and at a time when the history of civilization is most desperate for legitimate leadership.

George Bush is neither intellectual nor moral. Bill Clinton may have been the most intellectual of all Presidents, no need to dwell on his morals. George H. W. Bush was a reasonably smart person with Republican morals – the contemporary GOP has forgotten the concept of noblesse oblige. Ronald Reagan had great communication skills, and contemporary Republican morals. Jimmy Carter was a bright guy who could not make decisions. Gerald Ford was a stand up guy with a limited understanding of the world around him. Then there was Richard Nixon. We could go on – but suffice it to say that the free world has been desperate for moral leadership for a long time.

The world has breathed a sigh of belief. We can almost feel the tension relaxing.

September 11, 2001, released the absolute worst possible insanity from the most powerful leadership position in the history of man. With meager intellect, a shallow grasp of human motivation, and a hot ego desperate for a war-time legacy – George Bush began the destruction of world diplomacy and civility. Those aching News Conferences with the eloquent Tony Blair were embarrassments for all Americans. Who can forget the President spitting words of hatred and violence with a big ugly smirk, “Bring it on.” Bush does not realize that he was fortunate to have Tony Blair standing beside him to smooth the tension. But the world gasped in horror.

Barack Obama’s intellect needs no defense. People have said he is merely an orator, able to present a speech. The difference between Obama and Reagan is simple, Obama wrote his own speeches – those wonderfully presented words actually reflect the composition of the man. When Obama says, “this is not a red America, or a blue America, a Republican America or a Democrat America, a white America or a black America – This is the United States of America” – he means exactly that. These are not just words. This is a promise and a commitment to the unity of this country and of all mankind.

Obama possesses the practical reasonableness necessary for a leader. He is forty-seven years old and has demonstrated intelligent choices, balanced choices, during his life. He has demonstrated an empathy and compassion for others. He has demonstrated that he believes in personal responsibility. He believes in teaching others how to be responsible – and then letting those people make their choices. He is a leader who empowers his followers – with little egotistical need to dominate with micro-managing (a fault of Jimmy Carter). Obama will seek compromise because he understands the value of consensus as opposed to majority domination.

Obama possesses the courage necessary to take a position and hold the hill. In nearly thirty debates with the most powerful people in this nation Barack Obama held his position. Obama demonstrated patience and a sound temperament – demonstrating faith that his position would prevail. When attacked, whether justified or not, Obama was prepared and willing to defend himself and to counter punch. He is not some four-eyed-scholar hunkering down in the corner of the school yard, afraid of the bullies. Obama stood up to the bullies and said in paraphrased terms – “Your bullying days are over.”

Obama possesses the intellectual curiosity and capacity to grasp the nuances of international relations and international economics. With a profound appreciation and understanding of other cultures and other faiths he is not likely to offend the sensibilities of others at the cost of diplomatic relations. Obama’s scholarly and depth of intellectual understanding of the vast variety of government structures will allow him to spin the wool and weave the blanket of world peace.

The ugliness of the McCain Campaign will be forgiven by Obama – his courage, intellect, and moral values speak louder than his ego.

These character traits, Intellect, courage, and moral values, will dominate the Obama Presidency. Obama will not deny science. Obama will not deny diplomacy. Obama will not deny poverty. Obama will not deny inequality.

And the world will be a safer, more sane place.

Thank you Mr. President.


November 10, 2008


Go BackPrint this page

Skip to content
Subscribe to The New Yorker
Give a gift
Renew your Subscription
Subscription Questions
Letter From Washington
Battle Plans
How Obama won.
by Ryan Lizza
November 17, 2008 Text Size:

Benenson, Joel Last June, Joel Benenson, who was Barack Obama’s top pollster during his Presidential run, reported on the state of the campaign. His conclusions, summed up in a sixty-slide PowerPoint presentation, were revealed to a small group, including David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, and several media consultants, and, as it turned out, some of this research helped guide the campaign through the general election. The primaries were over, Hillary Clinton had conceded, and Obama had begun planning for a race against Senator John McCain.

There was good news and bad in Benenson’s presentation. Obama led John McCain, forty-nine per cent to forty-four per cent, among the voters most likely to go to the polls in November, but there was also a large group of what Benenson called “up-for-grabs” voters, or U.F.G.s, who favored McCain, forty-eight per cent to thirty-six per cent. The U.F.G.s were the key to the outcome; if the election had been held then, Obama would have probably lost.

Benenson, who is fifty-six, is bearded and volatile. He speaks with a New York accent, and in the movie version of the Obama campaign he might be played by Richard Lewis. He is considered the star pollster in the Democratic Party. Like several of Obama’s other top advisers—David Axelrod; Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman who is his new chief of staff; Bill Burton, the campaign’s national press secretary—Benenson was deeply involved in helping Democrats win in the 2006 midterm elections, an experience that put the Obama team more in touch with the mood of the electorate going into 2008. (The top strategists for Clinton and McCain had not been involved in difficult races in 2006.)

The data from Benenson’s June presentation contained some reasons to be optimistic. The conventional wisdom was that Obama, as the newest of the candidates, had an image that was malleable and thus highly vulnerable to negative attacks. But that was not what the polling showed. As the presentation explained, “Obama’s image is considerably better defined than McCain’s, even on attributes at the core of McCain’s reputation,” such as “stands up to lobbyists and special interests,” “puts partisan politics aside to get things done,” and “tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”

For Obama aides, who viewed McCain as the one Republican with the potential to steal the anti-Washington bona fides of their candidate, Benenson’s polling was revelatory. “Voters actually did not know as much as I think the press corps thought they did about John McCain,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Obama, told me. “What they’d heard about McCain most recently, and certainly during the primary process, was that he was like every other Republican—fighting to sound more like George Bush.” Benenson said, “What we knew at the start of the campaign was that the notion of John McCain as a change agent and independent voice didn’t exist anywhere outside the Beltway.”

Another finding from this initial poll had clear strategic implications: the economy concerned the U.F.G.s more than any other issue, and on that question neither candidate showed particular strength. In addition, the U.F.G.s were fed up with Washington and, especially, with George W. Bush. Based on those insights, Benenson came up with some recommendations, among them “Own the economy” and “Maintain an emphasis on changing Washington.”

As a practical matter, this meant that, after the Democratic National Convention, in Denver, the campaign would do all that it could to focus attention on economic matters. It had no idea, of course, how fully both the economy and John McCain would coöperate with that goal.

There was an almost obsessive singularity in the way that Obama and his chief strategists—Axelrod and David Plouffe, the campaign’s manager—saw the contest. In their tactical view, all that was wrong with the United States could be summarized in one word: Bush. The clear alternative, then, was not so much a Democrat or a liberal as it was anyone who could credibly define himself as “not Bush.” Axelrod had a phrase that he often used to describe this approach: America was looking for “the remedy, not the replica.” The appeal of the strategy was that, with only minor alterations, it could work in the primaries as well as in the general election, and that, in turn, allowed Obama to finesse the perpetual problem of Presidential politics: having one message to win over a party’s most ardent supporters and another when trying to capture independents and U.F.G.s—the voters who decide a general election. Experience? That was George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton? She could be portrayed as polarizing and as a Washington insider—just like Bush. When Obama gave economic speeches during the primaries and caucuses—which continued over five months, in fifty-five states and territories—he lumped together the Clinton and Bush years as one long period of decline. And John McCain? Four more years of Bush, of “the same.”

“We were fortunate,” Anita Dunn said. Both Clinton and McCain were “Washington insiders, people who for different reasons you could argue weren’t going to bring change.”

The incessant repetition of Obama’s change message had its drawbacks, though, and Benenson described to me the ongoing debate inside and outside the campaign about whether the candidate should move away from that theme—for instance, during the summer and fall of 2007, when Obama’s poll numbers in Iowa were stagnant. “We had people in Iowa in the summer of ’07 saying, ‘All we’re getting asked about is experience! We’ve got to have an answer on experience!’ ” Benenson recalled.

Polling in the summer and fall of 2007 led the campaign to a choice between trying to win the debate that the Clinton campaign was eager to have—about Obama’s perceived lack of experience—and sharpening the debate about change in a way that could undermine Clinton. Once again, change trumped experience. “The much shorter path for us,” Benenson said, going into the jargon of political consulting, “was to eliminate Senator Clinton from the decision set as a change agent. We defined change in a way that Barack Obama had to be the answer.” Larry Grisolano, whose job was to oversee all spending on TV ads and mail, the largest part of the campaign’s budget, posed the question this way: “How do we talk about change in a way that makes Hillary Clinton pay a price for her experience?”

On October 10, 2007, less than three months before the Iowa caucuses, Axelrod, Grisolano, Benenson, and other members of Obama’s “message team” distilled several weeks’ worth of polling and internal debate into a twelve-page memo that laid out Obama’s strategy for the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses. “The fundamental idea behind this race from the start has been that this is a ‘change’ election, and that has proven out,” the memo said. “Everything in our most recent research has confirmed this premise, as has the fact that other campaigns have adapted to try and catch—or survive—the wave.” The plan adopted by Obama was to raise character issues about Clinton that would disqualify her from employing Obama’s message. “We cannot let Clinton especially blur the lines on who is the genuine agent of change in this election,” the memo said. It argued that, in voters’ minds, Clinton “embodies trench warfare vs. Republicans, and is consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country,” and that “she prides herself on working the system, not changing it.” Obama raised all these issues with some delicacy; he framed the choice as “calculation” versus “conviction,” and was careful not to use Clinton’s name. But the campaign wanted to be sure that reporters got the message. “We also can’t drive the contrasts so subtly or obtusely that the press doesn’t write about them and the voters don’t understand that we’re talking about HRC,” the memo advised Obama.

The new strategy was unveiled on November 10th, at the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner, the biggest event of the Iowa-caucus season. Candidates could not use notes or a teleprompter at the dinner, and, in the weeks leading up to it, Obama stayed up late each night memorizing a new speech based on the strategy memo. “The Iowa Jefferson Jackson Dinner ended up being a tipping point in the election,” Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s communications director, said. “That’s when we took the lead in our internal polling in Iowa for the first time.”

Axelrod believed that the argument about change versus experience would also apply in a race against McCain, and he laid out his argument to Obama in a strategy memo in late 2006, when Obama was still planning his Presidential race. “I was assessing potential opponents,” Axelrod told me. “I got to McCain and said that the McCain of 2000 would be a formidable opponent in a year that was all about change, but that he would almost certainly have to make a series of Faustian bargains in order to be the nominee, and that would make him ultimately a very vulnerable candidate in a year when people were looking for change. And so we started the general election, and by then he had made the Faustian bargains, and he had turned himself into a Bush supporter.” Axelrod continued, “So we had a very simple premise about the general election, which is that these Bush policies had failed, that McCain was essentially carrying the tattered banner of a failed Administration, and that we represented a change from all that. There have been zigs and zags in the road, but that’s essentially the strategy that we have executed from the start.”

The campaign’s faith in the strength of such a simple message was constant. Not only was it the answer for an electorate exhausted with Bush; it turned Obama’s vulnerabilities into assets. “He was at that point a couple of years out of the Illinois Senate, and he was a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama,” Axelrod said. “You don’t have to load up the wagon with too many more bricks than that. But, in a year that was poised for big change, those things were less of an obstacle than you might find in a traditional year. As is often the case, your strength is your weakness, and your weakness is your strength.” Obama almost never delivered a speech from a lectern unless it was festooned with the word “change.” On Election Day, thirty-four per cent of the voters said that they were looking for change, and nearly ninety per cent of those voters chose Obama.

Like many campaign teams, Obama’s was young. The communications department—made up mostly of guys in their twenties and thirties—had a fraternity-house quality. On weekends, they would often drink beer together and play the video game Rock Band at a group house in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. They had been brought up in Democratic politics in the previous two decades with an understanding that the people who worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton were the best operatives in Washington, especially when it came to dealing with the media. They had watched “The War Room,” the documentary about the 1992 Clinton campaign, which featured strategists like James Carville and George Stephano-poulos manically responding to every negative story and trying to win every news cycle.

Several Obama aides believe that a crucial moment came after a debate sponsored by YouTube and CNN in July of 2007. During the debate, Obama was asked, “Would you be willing to meet separately, without preconditions, during the first year of your Administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Obama answered simply, “I would.” Hillary Clinton pounced on the remark as hopelessly naïve, and her aides prepared to emphasize what appeared to be a winning argument. Obama’s aides had much the same reaction. “We know this is going to be the issue of the day,” Dan Pfeiffer, recalling a conference call the following morning, said. “We have the sense they’re going to come after us on it. And we’re all on the bus trying to figure out how to get out of it, how not to talk about it.” Obama, who was listening to part of the conversation, took the telephone from an aide and instructed his staff not to back down. According to an aide, Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

The episode gave Obama’s communications aides a boost of confidence. “Instead of writing a memo explaining away our position to reporters, we changed our memo and wrote an aggressive defense of our position and went on the offense,” Pfeiffer said. The aftermath taught them that they could take on the dreaded Clinton machine—“the most impressive, toughest, most ruthless war room in the world,” as Pfeiffer put it. “It was like we had taken our first punch and kept on going,” he said.

The anti-Washington message of their candidate started to influence the way that some staffers saw themselves. “We are, I think, as a group, different from folks in Washington in that we signed up for this campaign and moved to Chicago not knowing a clear path to victory,” Bill Burton, Obama’s press secretary, said. “But, at the same time, we are all still creatures of Washington in the sense that when something happens like that”—the back-and-forth at the YouTube debate—“it lends itself to us thinking, Well, maybe that’s something that we clarify, because the grownups in Washington were all saying you can’t do that. And those are the people that we came up listening to. The Clinton Administration people were saying, ‘O.K., kids, you can’t do that.’ ”

Campaigns are divided in two. On one side are the ad-makers, speechwriters, press secretaries, and assorted spinners, who manage a candidate’s image. On the other side are the field operatives, who find voters and deliver them to the polls. While the communications people operate almost exclusively in the world of perceptions, the field people operate in the world of hard data. David Plouffe, the Obama campaign’s publicity-shy manager, whom Obama praised as “the unsung hero” of his campaign in his victory speech last Tuesday night, comes out of the field side of campaigns. “Politics is about numbers,” Plouffe said to me a few days before the election.

Plouffe, who is forty-one, is thin and discreet, and his low profile in the press sent a message throughout the Obama organization that staffers were to be similarly reticent about attracting publicity. The catchphrase inside the campaign was “No drama with Obama,” and Plouffe channelled the low-key temperament of the candidate himself. “Barack went out and sought people who had a certain personality type,” Pfeiffer said. “They were people who had intentionally low profiles in Washington.” Of Plouffe, Pfeiffer said, “If he had wanted to spend the past five years of his life on ‘Crossfire’ and CNN, he could do that. He’s chosen not to do that.” When, in January, 2007, Pfeiffer interviewed for his job, Obama told him, “What I want around me are people who are calm, who don’t get too high and don’t get too low, because that’s how I am.”

Jon Favreau, a twenty-seven-year-old speechwriter who had worked for John Kerry in 2004, told me, “People were drawn to him and inspired by him in a way that you knew this was about electing Barack Obama. People had come from places where they were probably disappointed in politics. I was, after 2004. It was painful, and I didn’t know if I was going to do it again.” He added, “Even during tough times, everyone sticks together. There are not a lot of Washington assholes on this campaign.”

Alyssa Mastromonaco, the director of scheduling and advance, who had also worked for Kerry in 2004, said that she had some trouble getting used to the quieter vibe of the Obama operation. “When I first started on the campaign, at the very beginning of this one, I was one of the only people who had actually done a Presidential before,” Mastromonaco, who is thirty-two, told me. “And so we were on some conference call, and I was just completely irritated by something someone was saying. After the call, they came in and were, like, ‘Alyssa, this is a campaign where you need to respect other people’s opinions and you can’t be a bitch.’ I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, these guys are serious!’ ”

Obama, who is not without an ego, regarded himself as just as gifted as his top strategists in the art and practice of politics. Patrick Gaspard, the campaign’s political director, said that when, in early 2007, he interviewed for a job with Obama and Plouffe, Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” After Obama’s first debate with McCain, on September 26th, Gaspard sent him an e-mail. “You are more clutch than Michael Jordan,” he wrote. Obama replied, “Just give me the ball.” Obama’s confidence filtered down through the campaign and gave comfort to his staff during the bleaker moments of 2008, such as when Obama learned that he had lost the New Hampshire primary. After that, he told his longtime friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett, “This will turn out to have been a good thing.” Jarrett told me, “You would think you would have a lot of other things to say before you might get to that.” Favreau said, “His demeanor when he won the Iowa caucuses and his demeanor when he lost New Hampshire were not much different.”

David Plouffe’s field director was Jon Carson. When we spoke, five days before the election, it was at a cafeteria-style Italian restaurant in the food court of the office building that housed Obama’s headquarters. He wore a gray button-down shirt and khakis, and told me that we had exactly forty-five minutes. Carson has a civil-engineering degree and spent time in Honduras working as a water and sanitation engineer. He, like Plouffe, made me think of the focussed men in white shirts and narrow black ties who, in the nineteen-sixties, ran the space program. When Carson hired field organizers for the campaign, he said that he looked for people with unusual backgrounds—“I try to throw out all the political-science majors when I do hiring.” During a lull in the primary season, he set up a three-week “data camp” in Oregon for Obama staffers. “We had the best data operation of any campaign,” he said. “You can have the most inspirational candidate, you can have the best organizing philosophy in the world, but if you can’t organize your data to take advantage of it and get lists in front of the canvassers and take these volunteers and use it in a smart way and figure out who it is we’re going to talk to—I mean, the rest of it is all pointless.”

Carson was part of the team that made the important decision, during the race against Clinton, to target small caucus states where Clinton had virtually no presence. Carson and Plouffe realized that the cost-per-delegate in caucus states was very low. “I remember the day when we said, ‘Look at this, we could win more delegates in Idaho than in New Jersey,’ ” he told me. Obama’s original plan was to win the Iowa caucuses and use momentum from that victory to catapult him through the three other early states—New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—and then on to February 5th, Super Tuesday, when twenty-four states voted. It was clear that the campaign would need a backup plan if Clinton and Obama split the first four states, which is what happened. Obama won Iowa and South Carolina, and Clinton won New Hampshire and Nevada.

As the campaign got ready for Super Tuesday, Carson called upon the volunteers—in particular, those he called the “super-volunteers,” people who had left their jobs or dropped out of school to help. He estimated that there were about fifteen thousand super-volunteers working full time for Obama. Carson recalled the moment when the campaign figured out what it would cost to put a hundred organizers out in the February 5th states. “It was the first time that we took an enormous leap of faith in our grass-roots network that was already out there,” he said.

On October 1st, a field organizer named Joey Bristol, a recent graduate of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, who had delayed a career at the State Department and was working as an intern at the Chicago campaign headquarters, was sent to Idaho to organize the state for Obama. When he arrived, he learned that much of his work had already been done by a local group, Idaho for Obama. “When Joey gets there, a hundred people are waiting for him,” Carson said. “They’ve got meetings planned for him for the next month, they’ve got little subgroups by county all across the state, they’ve already gone to the state Party, gotten the rules of the caucus, figured out a plan.” On February 5th, Clinton won a net total of eleven delegates from New Jersey, which had a primary, and Obama won a net total of twelve delegates from the caucus state of Idaho.

In hindsight, it seems that the most important decision that Obama made during the campaign was to remove himself from the restrictions of the public-financing system. The decision held risks. He had, after all, promised to stay in the system, and his reversal had the potential to damage the reform image that Benenson’s polling showed was a vital advantage over McCain. But there were collateral benefits; namely, making the campaign more of a person-to-person enterprise, by keeping it tied to the Internet grass roots. Much of the intimacy that the campaign created with its supporters was driven by its need—its ravenous appetite—for money. Plouffe, who rarely spoke to reporters on the record, communicated with donors via amateurish videos in which he explained campaign strategy. “You can’t just ask for money,” Jim Messina, Obama’s chief of staff, said. “You’ve got to involve them. That’s why the famous videos with Plouffe were so important. People felt like insiders. They felt like they knew what we were doing.”

Some Obama advisers couldn’t quite believe that McCain decided not to follow them in opting out of the system. McCain, during the campaign, criticized Obama for going back on his pledge, but the issue did not seem to hurt Obama. The financial gap between the two campaigns was striking. Budgets that were drawn up in June at Obama headquarters were discarded in September, after the Conventions, when online fund-raising soared. “I spend the money, so everything’s gotta go through me to get spent, which is the best job ever,” Messina, the keeper of the budget, told me. “It’s like getting the keys to a fucking Ferrari.” Messina’s Ferrari got more turbocharged every week. “On my whiteboard in front of me, I have the money we added to the media and field budgets by day,” he said. “We ended up adding tens of millions to the media budget and twenty-five million to the mail budget over the course of September and the first week of October.” By the end of September, Messina said, the money for Obama “was just raining down.” Though McCain was aided by outside groups and by the Republican National Committee, his entire budget for the general election was the amount provided by the government—eighty-four million dollars.

One day in September, Plouffe asked Messina if he could find seven million dollars more in the budget—for a thirty-minute advertorial that was to air on the Wednesday before Election Day. He found it. (The Obama commercial attracted an estimated thirty-three million viewers, nearly twice the number for the top-rated “Dancing with the Stars.”) There was still money left over, so the campaign bought ads in video games, like Guitar Hero and Madden NFL 09, and scheduled some get-out-the-vote concerts aimed at the youth vote and featuring the rapper Jay-Z and the N.B.A. star LeBron James. “I mean, dude,” Messina said, “when you’re buying commercials in video games, you truly are being well funded.”

But television remained the key advertising medium. And the volume of TV ads that Obama was broadcasting in late October was unprecedented in a Presidential campaign. “In a battleground state like Virginia, we’re at thirty-five hundred points,” Messina said, by which he meant that an average viewer sees a spot thirty-five times a week. “I’ve worked on two of the closest U.S. Senate races in the country,” he continued. “I helped do Jon Tester last time in Montana,” he said, adding that, at the end of the Tester campaign, an average viewer was seeing pro-Tester spots twenty times a week. For Obama, he said, “we’ve been at two thousand points in Montana since the end of September.” Obama narrowly lost the state, but Republicans were forced to use resources to defend it.

McCain couldn’t keep up. “From the second week in September to the middle of October, we were doing two or three to one against McCain, and at least three to one in some of these battleground states,” Messina said. “Republicans couldn’t play in North Carolina. They couldn’t play in Indiana. They weren’t in Florida for forever, and so we’re up by ourselves just kicking the shit out of them.” Obama won all three states.

The Obama campaign became so flush with cash that one of its trickiest political problems was dealing with other Democrats who wanted Obama to campaign for them and spend money on their races. Pete Rouse, who was Obama’s Senate chief of staff and an architect of his Presidential campaign, spent hours handling such calls. “When we announced that we raised a hundred and fifty-one million in one month”—in October—“every Democratic senator in America called Rouse and had an idea how to spend it on winning the Senate, or whatever race,” one senior Obama aide said. Senator Charles Schumer, who ran the committee in charge of Democratic senatorial campaigns, was particularly aggressive. “The only Senate ad Obama did was in Oregon,” the aide continued. “Schumer rolled Barack. He just got him at an event and made him promise. Barack is really good about not making those promises, but Schumer was begging for money.”

Like being too rich, seeming to be too popular—as exemplified by the enormous crowds that Obama attracted—also vexed the campaign. “We had a rally problem during the primaries,” Anita Dunn said. “It was like he was on a pedestal.” As far back as the earliest primaries, the campaign went back and forth between embracing the crowds to show off Obama’s mass appeal and shunning them to emphasize his regular-guy credentials. Hillary Clinton’s campaign discovered that it could make Obama’s popularity work against him. “Once the Clinton campaign figured out how it wanted to run against Obama, she started doing these town halls,” Dunn said. “Her visuals were she was with people, she was working her heart out, and he’s floating into these rallies with all these adoring people.”

McCain’s aides adopted the same strategy in the general election. In July, after Obama toured the Middle East and Europe, and spoke in Berlin at a rally where two hundred thousand people came to cheer him, a McCain ad compared Obama to Paris Hilton. What seemed to outsiders like a trivial, even ridiculous attack had an enormous impact inside Obama’s headquarters.

“We’ve had a ‘presumptuous watch’ on since then,” Dunn said. Alyssa Mastromonaco, who was in charge of putting on all of Obama’s events, said, “After that, people started thinking that he’s like this celebutante. You have to make it pretty clear through your pictures every day that you aren’t, that this is not easy for you.”

The campaign kept Obama away from celebrities as much as possible. A Hollywood fund-raiser with Barbra Streisand became a source of deep anxiety and torturous discussions. The campaign was on the phone for days trying to make sure it was going to work, and almost cancelled it. In Denver, celebrities who in past Presidential campaigns would have had major speaking roles were shielded from public view. “We spent hours trying to celebrity-down the Democratic National Convention,” the aide said.

Two days before Obama’s acceptance speech, in Denver, Jim Margolis, a top media consultant to the campaign, went to inspect the stage at Invesco Field. McCain’s aides had successfully turned the Greek columns ringing the stage at the stadium into a story about how a godlike Obama would be speaking from a “temple.” But when Margolis arrived he realized that it was even worse than that. “I walked in and turned to look at the stage, and they had put in purple runway lights all the way around the whole stage, up across all the columns and it looked like a set from ‘Deal or No Deal,’ ” he said. “And in back of them, where he would walk out, there was a colored horseshoe that was lit that would have gone around him. And in back of that was a sixty-five-inch plasma monitor that would change colors. And for a guy who is being torpedoed every day about celebrity and Hollywood this was straight out of a Hollywood set. My mouth just dropped open.” Margolis ordered the producer and the set designer, who had worked for months on the design, to remove the screen and the purple lights and generally make the stage look less like a Hollywood production.

Obama’s rallies had a strategic purpose beyond their visual impact, and, by putting pressure on Obama to scale down these events, Clinton and then McCain were able to take away one of the campaign’s most useful organizational tools—a chance to capture personal information about potential voters and campaign volunteers, and, toward the end, a means of encouraging supporters to vote early. The battle between the communications staff, which was spooked by the Paris Hilton ad, and the field organizers, who needed the rallies to help identify Obama voters, was decided in favor of the organizers. “Finally, at the end of September we got back to saying, ‘Look, we’re gonna do this again because we need to push early voting,’ and if you’re gonna push early voting and voter registration you’ve gotta do big events,” Messina said.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, crowds of fifty, sixty, and seventy thousand people greeted Obama at every stop—almost as if there were a pent-up demand to see him. At Obama’s final rally, in Manassas, Virginia, the night before Election Day, ninety thousand people came to a dusty fairground. Traffic was snarled for miles on the main highway leading to the site, and people simply abandoned their cars on the side of the road so as not to miss Obama’s speech. Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, had died that morning. He seemed subdued, and when he finished his speech he did something unusual. He stood on the stage for what seemed like a long time, a solitary figure in a simple black jacket with his arms at his sides, as if simply absorbing the intensity of a crowd illuminated by high-powered spotlights. A man standing next to me pointed up at Obama. “Look,” he said. “He doesn’t want it to end.”

Much of the Obama campaign was consumed with making the candidate look Presidential. The theory was that the U.F.G.s wanted to be for Obama, but needed some help visualizing him as Commander-in-Chief. His aides had a term for the process of getting voters comfortable with a President Obama: “building a permission structure.” Bill Burton explained it this way: “There were a lot of questions about Senator Obama from the start. Who is he? What’s with the name? Is America ready to vote for a black guy for President?” There were four major moments in the general election—Obama’s trip to the Middle East and Europe, his selection of a running mate, his Convention speech, and the debates—and each was designed to add another plank to the permission structure. For instance, the foreign trip was designed to show Obama in meetings with world leaders, the strategy that the McCain campaign employed when it sent Sarah Palin to the United Nations to meet people like Henry Kissinger and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan. “If he looks like a President, and you put him in Presidential settings, then people will get more comfortable with the idea that he could be President,” Anita Dunn said.

To Obama’s aides, the most important moment of the campaign occurred when Obama had to actually be President. It was not totally obvious how he would perform. Many who cheered for Obama from the moment he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention have had reservations. Michelle Obama once talked to me about the doubts that would need to be addressed before people could vote for her husband. “It is a leap of faith,” she said finally. “We talk about it all the time. It is a leap of faith.”

No matter how much confidence one has in Obama, support for him is often based on such intangibles as his temperament and his intelligence, not on a real record of successful decision-making. The campaign helped affirm supporters’ faith in him, but running a successful campaign can’t predict whether someone will be a good President; after all, most Presidents, whether good or bad, have won a Presidential race.

The September financial crisis, which confronted Congress with the task of trying to rescue the economy from collapse, gave Obama’s aides the clearest indication that he might indeed be as good at governing as he has been at campaigning. It forced Obama to do something unusual and difficult for a candidate: he needed to separate politics and governance in the midst of a political campaign in which there was often no distinction. Obama’s aides say that that was the moment they won the election—the moment that any lingering doubts were erased.

The Obama campaign was organized around a series of conference calls, the most important of which was a nightly call involving Obama and some dozen senior advisers. There was always a mixture of the serious and the absurd. For instance, on October 10th the agenda included an update on the message for rallies in Philadelphia, an update on the collapsing economy, and, just as important then, an “Ayers update”—how to respond to attacks on Obama’s limited contacts with the former Weatherman William Ayers. On these calls, Obama’s advisers had a chance to watch their candidate grapple with complex economic problems. During one, Obama laid out the steps in negotiating the bailout package: he would call the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and consult with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Pfeiffer said, “We all got off the phone and I was, like, ‘You know what? That was the first call that felt like that’s what it’s going to be like if he’s President.’ That was the moment where he began looking like a President and not a Presidential candidate.”

Ever since the Benenson PowerPoint presentation in June, Obama’s aides had been looking for ways to show that McCain was just another Washington politician; this was the strategy that had helped defeat Hillary Clinton. At the start of the financial crisis, when McCain announced that he would “suspend” his campaign, Obama’s team knew that McCain had stumbled—and that it could highlight his mistake. “We tested right away as to whether people thought it was a genuine attempt to solve the crisis or more of a political maneuver,” Benenson said. “The numbers started out as even, maybe a two-point edge on ‘genuine intent,’ but, five days later, it swung against him, with a ten-point deficit toward ‘political maneuver.’ ” Obama was surprised by McCain’s move. Earlier that day, September 24th, he had spoken with McCain and asked him to release a joint statement about principles that both men wanted to see in a financial rescue package. McCain seemed interested but also told Obama about possibly suspending his campaign; he asked Obama to join him. Obama was noncommittal, but he ended the conversation with the belief that they had agreed about the joint statement and called Jason Furman, a top economic adviser.

“I picked up the phone, and he basically said, ‘Jason, I just got off the phone with Senator McCain and we’re going to come out with a joint statement to help move the financial rescue package forward, because it looks like it’s in a lot of trouble,’ ” Furman told me. “ ‘I know you know his economic adviser, and I’d like you to call him up and make it a really substantive statement.’ ” Furman, glancing at a television, saw McCain walking up to a lectern; a caption at the bottom of the screen said that he was suspending his campaign and might not attend the first debate. When Furman told Obama what McCain was doing, Obama used a salty expression to describe the move and hung up the phone.

As the financial crisis dragged on, Obama and his aides began to realize what it meant for their prospects. Staffers eagerly soaked up the latest polling, which showed a growing lead for Obama, and the conference calls at night only increased their confidence in the candidate. There was some pressure on Obama to come out against the rescue bill, a position that would have been more consistent with the campaign’s themes. “On a purely political calculation, it would have been easy to be against that bill,” Anita Dunn said. “If you look at all the polls, right? People were thinking, They made a mess and they’re trying to stick you, and they’re going to bail out Wall Street. I mean, what would have been easier?”

David Axelrod, who has known Obama longer than most of Obama’s other campaign aides, said that he had always wondered how Obama would fare at such a moment. “Barbaric and sometimes ridiculous as is this process of running for President, the thing that I love about it is at the end of the day you can’t hide who you are,” Axelrod said. “I’d known him for sixteen years, I have huge confidence in him, but you never know how someone’s gonna handle the vagaries and vicissitudes of a Presidential race, so you hope that they do well.”

A lingering question about Barack Obama’s run for the Presidency was whether this inspirational figure—more so even than the candidate John F. Kennedy—would be transformed by consultants and a sophisticated campaign apparatus into someone no longer recognizable. “Most of us do this and then we go away,” Dan Pfeiffer said at the end of a conversation at Obama’s Chicago headquarters. “The first Wednesday in November, we’re off doing something else. We got the horse to the water, and someone else can make him drink. We’re about winning elections, not actually governing the country, and because he has not done campaigns—he has not run for reëlection five times; he’s actually really only ever had one hard race, this one—he doesn’t have all the bad habits of career politicians.”

It is already being said by the great army of bloggers and commentators that the Obama campaign was the best-run in modern history. Much the same thing was said about James Carville’s work for Bill Clinton in 1992 and Karl Rove’s for Bush in 2000. But campaigns can change a candidate, too. Axelrod said to me that, early in the process, Obama told aides, “I’m in this to win, I want to win, and I think we will win. But I’m also going to emerge intact. I’m going to be Barack Obama and not some parody.” At another point, in early 2007, Obama returned from a forum about health care knowing that he had not done well against Hillary Clinton. “She was very good, and I need to meet that standard, meet that test,” he told Axelrod. “I am not a great candidate now, but I am going to figure out how to be a great candidate.” One of Obama’s achievements as a politician is that he somehow managed to emerge intact, after navigating two years of a modern and occasionally absurd Presidential race, while also becoming a great candidate. On Election Night, as he once again invoked the words of Lincoln, he seemed to be saying that he was going to figure out how to be a great President. ♦



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,870 other followers

%d bloggers like this: