Tuesday, February 5, 2008

After much consideration, it's Obama

When I visit my neighborhood Lutheran church Tuesday to cast a ballot, there will be nine names in particular I will be looking for.

From former Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General Roland Burris to current Aldermen Toni Preckwinkle and Freddrenna Lyle, one-time member of Congress and U.S. Court of Appeals judge Abner Mikva to Carolyn Rush (the wife of Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.), along with Lula Mae Ford, Alan King and Kwame Raoul, and Greta Ivers as a potential alternate – all are among the most important votes I will cast.

What they all have in common is that they live in Illinois’ first congressional district (as do I), and they want to spend a week in August in Denver attending the Democratic National Convention as delegates representing the interests of the presidential aspirations of Barack Obama.

OH, BY THE way, I’m also going to make a mark beside Obama’s name.

The Chicago Argus (which in reality is nothing more than me, myself and I) is supporting the presidential ambitions of the U.S. senator from Illinois over those of his colleague from New York – Hillary R. Clinton, who really is a suburban Chicago native. Barack Obama posing with Superman in Metropolis (the one in Southern Illinois) is the silliest image encountered by the Chicago Argus during this primary election season. Despite that, he still gets my vote. Photograph provided by Obama for America.

This is a tough election cycle for Democrats to figure out which candidate is worthy of consideration for president. I have long been a supporter of Hillary Clinton (preferring her in some ways to potential First Gentleman Bill Clinton), and it would not stink if she were to become president some day.

But Obama’s strengths overcome those of Clinton.

AN OBAMA PRESIDENCY would contain a symbolism of a United States that is moving forward rather than back, and is abandoning yet another of the old racial stigmas that provide this country with its moments of shame. His election would be a moral victory for the nation as a whole.

While some people hate the notion of symbolism because it is too squishy-feely for them – one also senses that the reason they always wind up coming out on the losing side of such arguments is because they want to live in the past, rather than the 21st Century.

Obama may have too much of an intellect for some people to be comfortable, but it is what makes him capable of coming up with innovative ideas to resolving our nation’s problems. While some intellectuals have a hard time putting their “ideas” into action (the late Alderman Vito Marzullo used to dismiss such people by saying, “They couldn’t get their dog out of the pound if you gave them the money to pay the fine”), Obama differs.

During his time in Springfield, he developed an ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans. He is a liberal who ultimately became a part of the city’s political establishment (the dreaded “Chicago machine”) in serving eight years in the Illinois General Assembly, before going on to the U.S. Senate.

HOW ABLE IS Obama to push aside liberal ideals for political pragmatism?

Able enough that it caused him to make one of the few bad votes of his time in the U.S. Senate -- he was one of the lawmakers who voted in support of a conservative measure to erect a physical barrier along the U.S./Mexico border.

Latino activists who tout the measure as evidence that Obama is not sensitive to their needs are overlooking two points. The first is that the bill had enough political support to pass regardless of what Obama did. He cast his vote solely so that Republicans in the future would not be able to run xenophobic campaign ads claiming he was allowing “illegal Mexicans” to slip into the U.S.

The second point is that Hillary Clinton also voted for the bill.

IN SOME WAYS, Obama has shown the ability to learn from the mistakes of being too partisan. His 2002 electoral loss for a U.S. House of Representatives seat to Bobby Rush knocked a bit of the liberal cockiness out of him and gave him a respectable balance between idealism and practical politics.

Those who want to claim Obama is “too liberal” to represent the ideals of the people of the United States of America don’t know what they’re talking about. How else to explain conservative pundit Ann Coulter once saying she couldn’t support Obama because she thinks a U.S. president “should be an American.”

Being born in Honolulu and living the bulk of one’s adult life in Chicago certainly qualifies as “American,” unless your view of American is so restrictive as to be patently un-American. All too often, it is those who themselves are not typical of the norm who are trying to use the power of political office to shift “the norm” to the far right – while demonizing those who are less interested in conservative causes than in living their lives to the fullest potential.

Some will argue that Obama (who is 46) is too young and inexperienced to be president. To that, I quote General Anthony McAuliffe at the Battle of the Bulge in saying, “Nuts!”

I REALLY DON’T understand why people think Hillary Clinton is so much more experienced at public service than Obama. Admittedly, her age (she is 60) gives her about an extra decade in public life over Barack. But thinking that makes her entitled to win this election is as ridiculous as the people in Illinois in 2002 who thought that then-state Attorney General Jim Ryan should be governor, just because he waited his turn behind GOP colleagues Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan.

Obama’s professional life in public service dates back to the mid-1980s and includes time as a community organizer trying to work on behalf of the less fortunate in Chicago’s inner cities. Those same people were the focus of his work as an attorney in Chicago in the early 1990s. He served eight years in the Illinois Senate (which I covered as a UPI reporter at the Statehouse in Springfield during the first three). Then, he went to Washington.

Clinton’s public life is due to her latching on to the career of her husband, who served a stint as Arkansas attorney general, several terms as Arkansas governor, then two terms as president.

The bottom line is this. Obama is a first-term U.S. senator, while Clinton is a second-term senator. Both of them are still low ranking in the world of the Congress. It’s not like either one of them is a three-decade Senate veteran. Both derive their D.C. influence these days from running high-profile campaigns for president, rather than for anything they actually did in the U.S. Senate.

FOR A POLITICO who gets his influence because of his actual senate duties, one needs to look to Illinois’ other senator – Richard Durbin.

Some people believe Hillary gained experience from being first lady of Arkansas and the United States. Some think she provided an intellectual underpinning to her husband’s political efforts that would finally rise to the top if she were elected president.

But giving her credit for being first lady just doesn’t cut it.

Even though Bill Clinton did give her some responsibilities, the biggest act of her time as first lady was when she was put in charge of a 1993 effort to reform healthcare in this country. That measure went down to defeat as it got tangled up in partisan politics.

ONE MIGHT ARGUE that her time as first lady ought to be held against her, although I personally don’t think it should amount to much either way.

How much of a rhetorical spanking does Obama deserve for his ties to Antoin Rezko, a former political adviser to many Chicago Democrats who is scheduled to go on trial next month on criminal charges that say he tried to extort money from companies that wanted to get contact with the political people he had relationships with.

In short, Rezko was a lobbyist who prosecutors believe grossly overstepped the legal boundaries involved in trying to influence government activities.

Obama was one of the people with whom Rezko had ties. Some have made a stink about the extra-large piece of property the senator bought for his home in the Hyde Park neighborhood. He got a larger-than-usual lot because Rezko purchased the neighboring property, then sold a portion of the land to Obama.

IN THEORY, OBAMA now owes Rezko a favor or two. Who’s to say what Rezko would have someday asked Obama to do in his role as a U.S. senator? It is proof, the critics say, that Obama is just a political hack, like all other Chicago politicians.


Prosecutors have not put forth any evidence that Obama has acted illegally. This is a case of the appearance of impropriety, which all too often is nothing more than whining about someone’s alleged wrongdoing without being able to prove a thing.

It’s also not like Obama was alone in dealing with Tony Rezko. The man was developing himself as an influence with Democratic politics and was not easily ignored. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has much deeper troubles connected to his ties with Rezko.

IT IS GOOD that the “Rezko” issue is not catching on among the general public (and not just because white-bred America would have too much trouble spelling “A-N-T-O-I-N R-E-Z-K-O” correctly).

Rezko is a lot of chatter about nothing.

There is one reason I would consider voting for Clinton to be president, both in the primary and in the Nov. 4 election – should she get the Democratic nomination.

Her presence in the White House would infuriate a segment of the electorate that absolutely wants to believe Hillary is liberalism incarnate. They want to think people like Hillary are what is wrong with our society and they want to believe such people are damaged goods politically.

IT WOULD GIVE me a perverse pleasure to see those people sputter in disgust at the sight of a President Hillary R. Clinton, and watching them when they realize that historians would wind up remembering their beloved presidency of George Bush the younger as merely a mistake that occurred in the middle of Clinton Era.

But that pleasure would be petty. Voting for someone because it would offend someone else is a juvenile reason to support someone for president. I’d rather vote for somebody to be president because I liked their vision of where they wanted the country to go.

That candidate is Barack Obama.

NOW, BACK TO the delegates. They ought to be the emphasis of Election Day voting for president. Under our electoral system, the political “beauty contest” of casting a ballot for Obama himself doesn’t mean much.

A candidate without delegates is powerless. Right now, Obama and Clinton are in a struggle to get a majority of delegates so as to ensure their nomination.

The delegate count is the reason that Obama can legitimately claim the Nevada caucuses as a victory. He lost the popular vote, but won more delegates from that state because of the local rules by which delegates were distributed.

As of Monday, Obama had 190 delegates, compared to 261 for Clinton. But when one considers those delegates allocated by voter totals (compared to the super-delegates who are political bigwigs who go to the convention without any obligation to support a specific candidate), Obama has 63 delegates, compared to 48 for Clinton.

“TSUNAMI TUESDAY” WITH its elections in 22 states is going to throw those figures totally out of whack, particularly since voters in the three largest cities of New York, Los Angeles and our sweet home of Chicago will all vote.

Obama and Clinton are both going to pick up delegates and win primaries. Voters need to pay attention to make sure they support the right delegates, and they are going to have to check before voting to see who the would-be delegates are in their district for the presidential candidate they wish to support.

The silliest mistake one could make on Tuesday would be to cast a ballot for Obama, but then vote for the Clinton delegates.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Local delegates for the presidential candidates from the Chicago-area congressional districts (http://www.voterinfonet.com/sub/view_all_candidates.asp) include both prominent and anonymous names, but are among the most important votes one will cast Tuesday.

One of the most interesting aspects of the final days of this primary election cycle was the dueling nature of guest commentaries published by the nation’s two major newspapers. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/opinion/27kennedy.html?_r=1&emc=eta1&oref=slogin) wrote a commentary in support of Obama for the New York Times. The Washington Post, feeling the need to match with a presidential daughter of their own, responded with an essay by Susan Eisenhower (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/01/AR2008020102621.html?referrer=emailarticle), the grand-daughter of Kennedy predecessor Dwight Eisenhower, who backs Barack. Personally, I’d have been more impressed if Barbara Bush had written the column.

Not all MySpace pages are personal expressions of one’s inner self. The Obama camp turned his page (http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=184040237) into a commercialized venture.

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