President Obama’s friends, three years ago

This time three years ago, Investigate magazine previewed where Barrack Obama’s presidency had come from and where it might be going. We ended the article with this comment: “It remains to be seen whether his deeds will ever match his rhetoric, or whether Obama’s carefully crafted image was nothing more than a cynical PR stunt to leverage himself into the world’s most powerful job.”

Saint or Sinner?
The Obama mystery builds
Investigate Jan 09

On 20 January, Barack Obama will become America’s 44th president. But already he’s mired in scandal, and his supporters are becoming nervous about his ties to ‘Big Washington’ and his right-wing political appointments. IAN WISHART backgrounds the transition dramas unfolding around Obama

If you believed the media hype over the past year, Barack Hussein Obama was nothing short of the Second Coming – a political rock star of messianic proportions capable of, in his own words, lowering the sea levels and ending global warming:

“This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” Obama told a cheering crowd in July.

“A nation healed, a world repaired!…We are the ones we’ve been waiting for…I have become a symbol of America returning to our best traditions.”

When you look at it in print, the words seem almost corny. If John Key had uttered them, or Kevin Rudd, voters in Australia or New Zealand would have rolled all over the floor laughing, but when Obama intoned them the world sighed collectively like infatuated schoolgirls.

Some commentators have even gone so far as to suggest Obama’s speech patterns and vocal tones are similar to those used by hypnotists, and essentially mesmerise listeners into happily accepting whatever he says simply because they enjoy listening to his oratory.

There’s nothing sinister in the assertion – many great speakers have a similar effect and it may be the explanation as to why their speeches are so memorable.

If there’s such a thing as a political perfect storm, Obama is it. Black, and white. African, yet raised an Asian, educated in the Pacific, nominal Christian but nominally Muslim too. ‘Transcendent’ would be another adjective capable of execution in this equation.

As a tail-end baby-boomer, Obama is close enough to the first Gen-Xers to have bridged a generational divide. When George Bush leaves the oval office in a few weeks, he’ll likely be the last full baby-boomer in office. Now that’s change you can believe in!

Obama, like John Key in New Zealand and Rudd in Australia, benefitted hugely from the unpopularity of an incumbent leader, although to be sure for a while there the US election was a close-run thing. John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate energised the Republican party and will likely see a lurch away from the cynical internal deal-making that’s marked the Bush years towards a more conservative grassroots suite of policy platforms.

It wasn’t until the financial markets crashed that Obama’s poll fortunes recovered. Suddenly McCain looked too old to be burdened with the responsibility of leading through a recession, and his pitch wasn’t helped by some strategic blunders on the economic crisis.

But while Obama played heavily on his progressive, “change” theme – a tactic that ultimately won the confidence of voters tired of the Washington establishment – liberals have been devastated that most of Obama’s cabinet appointments post-election have been right-wing establishment icons.

As just one example, President Bush’s Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, has been re-appointed to the post by Obama. Most of the other appointments are heavyweights from the Clinton and Bush years – far away from the promise of changing the face of Washington politics.

There are soundings of unease across the liberal blogosphere and in newspapers like the Washington Post, but Obama is still in his official honeymoon period and hasn’t even taken office yet – making it hard for supporters to be openly rebellious. Yet.

But it is Obama’s roots in the corrupt Chicago political machine which have burned him before he’s even taken the oath. On December 9, the FBI moved against Illinois state governor Rod Blagojevich (pronounced Blah-goy-a-vich) on corruption charges.

Obama’s supporters, like Ben Smith at the US website Politico, have tried to paint Obama as neutral, and more or less untainted by Chicago’s notorious corruption.

“Unlike many others, Obama has not enriched himself off the machine; the closest he came was accepting Tony Rezko’s apparent help in buying a house.”

But others commenting on Smith’s blog are far from convinced:

“Did you forget the position that Michelle Obama received after Obama won the Senate seat? In January of 2005 Barack Obama became a freshman United States senator. In March of 2005 Mrs. Obama received a promotion at her place of employment, the not-for-profit University of Chicago Hospitals. Prior to the promotion, she was a hospital administrator earning $121,910 annually. Her promotion provided her with a title — Vice-President for Community and External Affairs — and a salary of $316,962. There is no coincidence here. There is absolutely no doubt that Mrs. Obama received a salary increase of $195,052 simply because her husband had become a senator. If one denies the causal relationship between the two events, then one has decided to allow their politics to cloud their judgment. The position of Vice-President for Community and External Affairs did not exist prior to the creation of the position for Mrs. Obama, and now that Mrs. Obama has resigned from the position in order to campaign for her husband, the hospital has not seen the need to fill the open position. To suggest that Mrs. Obama’s work efforts had suddenly justified a weekly increase in pay of $3751 is ludicrous.”

But the University of Chicago Hospitals’ generosity in nearly tripling the pay of Senator Obama’s wife was not forgotten by Obama: in 2006 he applied to Washington for a one million dollar grant in extra taxpayer funds for the University, later denying it had anything to do with the fact his wife was by now a Vice President at the institution.WOULD YOU LIKE TO READ MORE OF THIS STORY?

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