Sep 20, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Excerpted from WASHINGTON EXAMINER:
Few if any of his predecessors took the oath of office with higher public hopes for his success than President Obama on Jan. 20, 2009.
Millions of Americans hailed his election as an end to partisanship, a renewal of the spirit of compromise and a reinvigoration of the nation’s highest ideals at home and abroad.
Above all, as America’s first black chief executive, Obama symbolized the healing of long-festering wounds that were the terrible national legacy of slavery, the Reconstruction Era and Jim Crow. We would be, finally, one nation.
But after nearly four years in office, Obama has become a sharply polarizing figure.
His admirers believe he deserves a special place alongside Wilson, the Roosevelts and LBJ as one of the architects of benevolent government.
His critics believe he is trying to remake America in the image of Europe’s social democracies, replacing America’s ethos of independence and individual enterprise with a welfare state inflamed by class divisions.
In an effort to get a clearer picture of Obama — his shaping influences, his core beliefs, his political ambitions and his accomplishments — The Washington Examiner conducted a four-month inquiry, interviewing dozens of his supporters and detractors in Chicago and elsewhere, and studying countless court transcripts, government reports and other official documents.
Over the years and in two autobiographies, Obama has presented himself to the world as many things, including radical community organizer, idealistic civil rights lawyer, dynamic reformer in the Illinois and U.S. senates, and, finally, the cool presidential voice of postpartisan hope and change.
With his air of reasonableness and moderation, he has projected a remarkably likable persona. Even in the midst of a historically dirty campaign for re-election, his likability numbers remain impressive, as seen in a recent AP-GFK Poll that found 53 percent of adults have a favorable view of him.
But beyond the spin and the polls, a starkly different picture emerges. It is a portrait of a man quite unlike his image, not a visionary reformer but rather a classic Chicago machine pol who thrives on rewarding himself and his friends with the spoils of public office, and who uses his position to punish his enemies.
Peter Schweizer captures this other Obama with a bracing statistic in his book “Throw Them All Out,” published last year. In the Obama economic stimulus program’s Department of Energy loans, companies owned and run by Obama contributors and friends, like Solyndra’s George Kaiser, received $16.4 billion. Those not linked to the president got only $4.1 billion. The Energy Department is far from the only federal program in which favoritism has heavily influenced federal grants.
To paraphrase Tammany Hall’s George Washington Plunkitt, Obama has seen his opportunities and taken them, over and over.
A childhood of privilege, not hardship.
First lady Michelle Obama told the Democratic National Convention that “Barack and I were both raised by families who didn’t have much in the way of money or material possessions.”
It is a claim the president has repeated in his books, on the speech-making circuit and in countless media interviews. By his account, he grew up in a broken home with a single mom, struggled for years as a child in an impoverished Third World country and then was raised by his grandparents in difficult circumstances.
The facts aren’t nearly so clear-cut.
Ann Dunham was just 18 years old when she gave birth to Obama. She was a freshman at the University of Hawaii. His Kenyan father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., was a few years older than Ann. They were married against family wishes.
Obama Sr. does not appear to have been welcoming or compassionate toward his new wife or son. It later turned out that he was secretly married to a Kenyan woman back home at the same time he fathered the young Obama.
He abandoned Obama Jr.’s mother when the boy was 1. In 1964, Dunham filed for a divorce that was not contested. Her parents helped to raise the young Obama.
Obama’s mother met her second husband, an Indonesian named Lolo Soetoro, while working at the East-West Center in Hawaii. They married, and in 1967, the young Obama, then known as Barry Soetoro, traveled to Indonesia with his mother when the Indonesian government recalled his stepfather.
In Indonesia, the family’s circumstances improved dramatically. According to Obama in his autobiography “Dreams from My Father,” Lolo’s brother-in-law was “making millions as a high official in the national oil company.” It was through this brother-in-law that Obama’s stepfather got a coveted job as a government relations officer with the Union Oil Co.
The family then moved to Menteng, then and now the most exclusive neighborhood of Jakarta, where bureaucrats, diplomats and economic elites reside.
A popular Indonesia travel site describes Menteng: “Designed by the Dutch Colonial Government in 1920s, Menteng still retains its graceful existence with its beautiful parks, cozy street cafes and luxurious housing complexes.”
In 1971, his mother sent young Obama back to Hawaii, where his grandmother, Madelyn, known as Toots, would become one of the first female vice presidents of a Honolulu bank. His grandfather was in sales.
Obama’s grandparents moved the same year into Punahou Circle Apartments, a sleek new 10-story apartment building just five blocks from the private Punahou School, which Obama would attend from 1971 to 1979.
Obama explains in “Dreams from My Father” that his admission to Punahou began “the start of something grand, an elevation in the family status that they took great pains to let everyone know.”
To his credit, Obama did not downplay Punahou’s upscale status, noting in his autobiography that it “had grown into a prestigious prep school, an incubator for island elites. Its reputation had helped sway my mother in her decision to send me back to the States.”
Obama also admitted in the book that his grandfather pulled strings to get him into the school. “There was a long waiting list, and I was considered only because of the intervention of Gramps’s boss, who was an alumnus.”
The school still features a lush hillside campus overlooking the Waikiki skyline and the Pacific Ocean. It was one of the most expensive schools on the island, and both Obama and his half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng received scholarships.
While the Dunhams were not among the wealthiest families on the island, he nevertheless studied and socialized with the children of the social and financial elite. Obama has said he didn’t fit in at the school. But that’s not how other Hawaiians remember it.
Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala reported from Honolulu in 2008 that “classmates and teachers say Obama blended in well. He served on the editorial board of the school’s literary magazine, played varsity basketball and sang in the choir. He went on the occasional date.”
In his recent book “Barack Obama: The Story,” Washington Post reporter David Maraniss said the future chief executive often smoked marijuana with prep school friends, rolling up the car windows to seek “total absorption,” or “TA.” They called themselves the “Choom Gang.”
Edward Shanahan, a retired newspaper journalist who now edits downstreet.net and makes no effort to conceal his admiration for Obama, retraced his Hawaii years shortly after the president was elected.
Shanahan wrote that Obama lived in a “well-off neighborhood near the University of Hawaii where Barry, as he was known, resided in a comfortable home with his mother and her parents before she took him to Indonesia.”
Sanahan said “our tour ended up on the lush, exquisitely maintained and altogether inviting campus of Punahou School, which we can imagine was a place of great comfort for Obama.”
Tellingly, Obama has never lived in a black neighborhood. Maraniss reported in his book that when leftist activist Jerry Kellman interviewed Obama for a community organizing job in Chicago, he asked Obama how he felt about living and working in the black community for the first time in his life.
Obama accepted the job but chose not to live among those he would be organizing. Instead, he commuted 90 minutes each way daily from his apartment in Chicago’s famous Hyde Park to the Altgeld Gardens housing project where he worked.
It was an early instance of Obama presenting himself one way while acting in quite a different way.
The myth of the ‘rock-star professor’
Time magazine gushed in 2008 about Barack Obama’s 12-year tenure as a law lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, saying, “Within a few years, he had become a rock-star professor with hordes of devoted students.”
That may have been true during his first two years, when he ranked first among the law school’s 40 instructors, with students giving him a rating of 9.7 out of a possible 10.
But law student evaluations made available to The Washington Examiner by the university showed that his popularity then fell steadily.
In 1999, only 23 percent of the students said they would repeat Obama’s racism class. He was the third-lowest-ranked lecturer at the law school that year. And in 2003, only a third of the student evaluators recommended his classes.
His classes were small. A spring 1994 class attracted 14 out of a student body of 600; a spring 1996 class drew 13. In 1997, he had the largest class of his tenure with 49 students. But by then, his student rating had fallen to 7.75. Twenty-two of 40 faculty members ranked higher than Obama.
Some former faculty colleagues today describe Obama as disengaged, doing only what was minimally required and almost never participating in faculty activities.
And, unlike others on the Chicago Law School faculty who published numerous articles in legal journals, Obama’s byline did not appear in a single legal journal while he taught there.
By comparison, more prominent legal scholars on the Chicago faculty wrote frequently. Federal Judge Richard Posner published 132 legal articles from 1993 to 2004, and federal Judge Frank Easterbrook published 32 legal articles from 1992 to 2004.
Obama has often cited his days at the law school as an important part of his preparation for the presidency. At a March 30, 2007, fundraiser, for example, he said, “I was a constitutional law professor, which means, unlike the current president, I actually respect the Constitution.”
From 1992 until 2004, Obama taught three courses: “Current Issues in Racism and the Law,” “Voting Rights and the Democratic Process,” and “Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process.”
Obama wasn’t a professor; he was a lecturer, a position that the Chicago Law School said in 2008 “signifies adjunct status.” He was elevated to a “senior lecturer” in 1996, the year he was first elected to the Illinois Senate in Springfield.
The new faculty status put him on par with Posner, Easterbrook and a third federal judge, Diane Wood. As the Chicago Law School explained, senior lecturers “have high-demand careers in politics or public service which prevent full time teaching.”
Senior lecturers were, however, still expected to participate in university activities. University of Chicago Law School Senior Lecturer Richard Epstein told The Washington Examiner that Obama did not do so.
Obama, Epstein said, “did the minimal amount of work to get through. No one remembers him. He was not a participant in luncheons or workshops. He was here and gone.”
Robert Alt, a former Obama student, echoes Epstein, telling the Examiner that “I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t engaged in the intellectual life of Chicago outside of the classroom.”
Alt is director of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Rule of Law Programs and a senior legal fellow.
Alt said, “When you have faculty giving faculty lectures, you’d literally have packed rooms in which it’s not unusual to have just all the big names of the university. It wasn’t unusual to see Easterbrook and Posner, and it wasn’t unusual to see the Nobel laureates attending as well.”
Even so, Alt said, “I never remember ever seeing Obama in the audience.”
Obama was also a no-show for the faculty workshops, nonclassroom lectures and moot court cases judged by sitting members of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals of the U.S. Current Chicago Law School professor Lisa Bernstein said faculty lecturers are still encouraged to participate in as many such events as possible.
The pattern of minimal performance at the Chicago campus was not an exception to the rule for Obama. In the state Senate during the same years he was lecturing, Obama voted “present” nearly 130 times, the most of any legislator in the chamber.
When then-Sen. Hillary Clinton made Obama’s state Senate voting record an issue in their Democratic presidential primary contest in 2007, the New York Times said it found at least 36 instances when Obama was the lone “present” vote or was one of six or fewer lawmakers casting that vote.
And during his lone term as a U.S. senator, according to Gov Track.us: “From Jan 2005 to Oct 2008, Obama missed 314 of 1300 recorded or roll call votes, which is 24.0%. This is worse than the median of 2.4%.”