Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Barack Obama

By winning more than 52% of the vote in a seven-candidate Senate primary in Illinois last year, Barack Obama instantly made his name in political circles. And after delivering a lyrical speech last July at the Democratic National Convention—he declared that the "audacity of hope" and the "insistence on small miracles" unite Americans more than blue or red states divide them—the self-proclaimed "skinny kid with a funny name" became one of the most admired politicians in America. Even before his election last November as the Senate's third black member since Reconstruction, Obama's memoir had landed on best-seller lists, groups from all around the country had invited him to speak, and everyone began asking when he would run for President.

Obama, 43, son of a black Kenyan immigrant and a white woman from Kansas, grew up in Hawaii and attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Rather than take a high-paying corporate-law job, he headed to Chicago to work at a small civil rights firm and later entered politics. In the Illinois state legislature, Obama developed a reputation for bipartisanship, notably winning support for a law requiring police to videotape homicide confessions.

In only his fourth month in the Senate, Obama is still learning the rules of Washington, but he realizes that many Americans have even greater hopes for him. They see him as a man who cannot only repair the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans but also ease racial tensions that persist more than four decades after Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed his dream at the Lincoln Memorial. It's an almost impossible set of expectations, but for a man whose first name in Swahili means "blessed by God," nothing seems out of reach.

From the Archive
Obama's Ascent: How do you leap from neighborhood activist to U.S. Senator to perhaps higher office? Even for Barack Obama, it's more complicated than it looks