Barack Obama Biography
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Barack Obama, the 44th and current president of the United States of America, has been more than just the first African American to hold the highest office in the country. Any Barack Obama biography includes his work as a civil rights lawyer, teacher, and Illinois state senator. He attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School. As president, first elected in 2008, Obama has championed domestic and economic policies, and his first term led to reelection in 2012. Obama has had several challenges in his life, not to mention working as an African American against racism but also as president in dealing with economic and foreign crises.
Birth and Childhood
Barack Hussein Obama II was born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Barack Obama, Sr. and Ann Dunham. Barack’s father, Barack Obama Sr., was born in the Nyanza Province of Kenya before moving to Hawaii. He earned a scholarship to attend school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. There, he met Ann Dunham. As a white woman, Dunham grew up in Wichita, Kansas. Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley, served in World War II after Pearl Harbor. After the war, he and his wife, Madelyn, took advantage of the GI Bill, eventually moving to Hawaii. Their daughter, Ann, also attended the University of Hawaii where she met Barack Obama, Sr. The two married on February 2, 1961.
Barack Obama had an unsettled childhood. Not long after Barack was born, his parents separated. His mother took him and relocated to Seattle for a year to attend the University of Washington while his father completed his economics degree in Hawaii and then went to Harvard University for graduate school. His parents ultimately divorced in March 1964. Barack Obama Sr. eventually returned to Kenya and remarried. Obama’s mother, Ann, returned to Hawaii and remarried Lolo Soetoro in 1965. Soetoro was in Hawaii studying geography under an exchange program. When his visa expired, the family then moved to Indonesia in 1967 for several years.
While in Indonesia, Barack and his family lived in Jakarta. His half-sister, Maya Soetoro Ng, was born there. Obama attended St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School and Besuki Public School before moving back to Hawaii at the age of ten. Barack lived with his maternal grandparents while he attended Punahou Academy, a private prep school. While at Punahou, Barack excelled both academically and at sports, specifically basketball. However, his high school years were also a difficult time. He struggled with being black and the prevailing racial stereotypes. Obama admits to using alcohol and marijuana during high school but has also expressed regret for his drug use. Obama wrestled with issues related to having few black role models and what it meant to be an African American in a predominantly white society.
On top of that, Obama never had a relationship with his father who moved back to Kenya. His father only visited his son once while he lived in Hawaii, and then he died in 1982 following a car crash in Nairobi. Obama also had limited contact with his mother and sister after moving to Hawaii. His mother and sister returned for Hawaii for three years but then moved back to Indonesia so his mother could do field work in anthropology. Obama’s mother, Ann, divorced Lolo Soetoro in 1980. Ann eventually earned her PhD in anthropology but died in 1995 after a fight with cancer. Neither his father nor his mother lived long enough to see their son make history when he won the presidency in 2008. Barack’s biography is marked with family tragedy.
After graduating from Punahou Academy with honors in 1979, Barack Obama moved to Los Angeles, California. There, he studied at Occidental College for a couple years. During his time at Occidental College, Barack traveled to Indonesia to visit this mother and sister. He also went to India and Pakistan. Obama began his long career as a civil rights advocate while at Occidental College with his first public speech about apartheid in South Africa. In 1981, Obama transferred to Columbia University in New York. He majored in political science with an international relations specialty. Upon graduating with his bachelor of arts in 1983, Obama worked for the Business International Corporation and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
In 1985, Barack Obama moved to Chicago, Illinois to begin work as a community organizer for the next three years. He worked as the director for the Developing Communities Project, a church-based organization that worked with low-income residents on Chicago’s South Side. His duties included setting up a tenant’s rights group in Altgeld Gardens and establishing job training and college prep programs. Obama also worked for the Gamaliel Foundation. During his time in Chicago, he joined the Trinity United Church of Christ. Obama also visited Kenya in 1988 to meet several of his father’s relatives and visit his grave.
After returning to the United States, Barack then attended Harvard Law School, beginning in 1988. Barack excelled at Harvard. By the end of his first year there, he became the editor of Harvard Law Review. During his second year, Obama became the journal’s president and its first African American president, which earned him national attention. In between terms, Obama returned to Chicago to participate in summer internships at the law firms of Sidley Austin and Hopkins & Sutter. This is how Barack met his wife, Michelle Robinson. Michelle had been working at Sidley Austin and was assigned to be Barack’s advisor during his summer internship there. Not long afterwards, they began dating and got married on October 3, 1992.
In 1991, Barack Obama graduated from Harvard with magna cum laude honors. By then, his life had reached a turning point. He returned to Chicago to practice law as a civil rights lawyer. He also began work on his first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance which started as a work on race relations and turned into a personal memoir. Obama also taught at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. He taught constitutional law as a lecturer, later a professor, and accepted a position as a Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the school to work on this book. The book, Dreams from My Father, was published in 1995 and earned critical acclaim. Obama narrated the audio version of the book published in 2006, and it won a Grammy Award for best spoken word album.
Over the next few years, Obama continued to be involved in civil rights and community organizing. In 1993, Barack began work as a lawyer partnering with the firm of Davis, Miner, Barhill, and Galland. The firm specialized in neighborhood economic development and civil rights litigation. Obama worked with that law firm in Chicago until 2004. Obama also served on the board of directors for several charitable foundations and reform projects like the Joyce Foundation and the Woods Fund of Chicago. Barack became the founding president and chairman of the board for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a project established to reform Chicago area public schools. When President Clinton ran for his term in 1992, Barack organized voting drives for Project Vote which intended to register African Americans. The project succeeded in registering 150,000 people. For Obama’s work with Project Vote, he was named as one of the top 40 Under Forty by Crain’s Chicago Business in 1993.
Meanwhile, Barack and Michelle were married in 1992 and moved to Kenwood in Chicago’s South Side. They ultimately had two daughters, Malia who was born in 1998, and Natasha who was born in 2001. In 1996, Barack Obama began his long political career, which has culminated in being elected to the United States presidency after George W. Bush. As a natural extension of his work as a civil rights lawyer and advocate, Obama ran for the Illinois State Senate as a Democrat. He won election in 1996 for Illinois’s 13th district which encompassed several South Side neighborhoods.
During that time, Obama continued his reform work. He earned support from both Republicans and Democrats for legislation that reformed health care by expanding services and targeted ethical reforms as well as welfare reform. He also worked to expand early childhood education programs for people with low incomes and designed an Illinois earned-income credit for those considered to be the working poor. Obama worked on the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that supported Governor Ryan’s regulation of payday loans and mortgage lending practices to help reduce foreclosures. Plus, he became the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee in the Senate.
Even as a member of the Illinois State Senate, Barack kept advocating for the rights of African Americans. He sponsored bills that examined racial profiling from police by requiring them to write down the race of drivers taken into custody. He also sponsored a bill that made it a requirement for law enforcement officials to videotape interrogations and confessions for capital offenses like homicide. Illinois became the first state to require this after inmates on death row had been found innocent. In 1998, Obama was reelected to the Senate and then again in 2002. He resigned from the Illinois State Senate in 2004 after being elected to the United States Senate.
Before that, in 2000, Obama lost a bid to become the representative for the Illinois 1st congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He lost to incumbent Bobby Rush who had already served four terms. His intentions to become a congressman were not hampered, however. Barack then began a campaign for a seat in the United States Senate. A couple of years later, in 2002, Obama began raising funds, established a campaign committee and worked with political consultant David Axelrod. He ran for the seat formerly held by Republican Peter Fitzgerald against millionaire Blair Hull and the Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes in the primary.
During this run for Senate, Obama remained an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq which began in 2003. He spoke at a rally in Chicago held at the Federal Plaza, arguing against the use of force in Iraq and speaking out against people in the Bush Administration like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. This happened on the same day that Congress and President Bush authorized the war by a joint resolution. Obama also spoke out against the war in Iraq at a rally in March 2003. Obama criticized the White House’s handling of the war during the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention which nominated John Kerry in a bid for the U.S. presidency. In that speech, Obama urged unity, a theme that would reemerge in his own bid for the presidency a few years later.
In 2004, Obama ousted Hull and Hynes for the Democratic primary by winning fifty-two percent of the vote. He then went on to face the Republican candidate Alan Keyes, a former presidential candidate and diplomat. The Republican primary winner was actually Jack Ryan, but Ryan withdrew over allegations made by his ex-wife of sexual misconduct. Instead, Obama faced Keyes and debated him on the issues of tax cuts, school vouchers, abortion, and gun control. During the general election, Obama won an overwhelming majority of the votes with seventy-two percent compared to Keyes’s twenty-seven percent. The victory was not only the largest margin in Illinois history, but Barack Obama also became the third African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction. His victory sealed his status as a major player in the Democratic Party.
Barack Obama began his term as a U.S. Senator for the state of Illinois in January of 2005. As a senator, Obama worked with others to champion several important bills. First of all, Obama worked with Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, to draft a bill that increased efforts to reduce and destroy weapons of mass destruction in Russia and Eastern Europe. The initiative was named Lugar-Obama. Obama worked with fellow senators Tom Coburn, Tom Carper, and John McCain to sponsor the bill called the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act which required the disclosure of all organizations or entities receiving federal money to the public. The act was signed into law by President Bush, and it resulted in the website USAspending.gov from the Office of Management and Budget.
As a senator, Obama has worked to increase veteran’s benefits, urged the development of alternative energy, spoken out for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and proposed legislation for de-escalating the war in Iraq. He cosponsored the bill called the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act which sought much-needed immigration reform, although the bill never made it out of the Senate. He also sponsored a bill that died in the Senate requiring owners of nuclear plants to report radioactive leaks to state and local authorities. Obama also voted for two pieces of legislation, the Class Action Fairness Act and the FISA Amendments Acts of 2008. Both of those bills dealt with tort reforms and the protection of telecommunications companies from liability in cases of wiretapping.
Obama continued to work for reform, even if many of his proposed bills never made it out of the Senate. He sponsored a bill that would have protected American voters from intimidation tactics that kept them from voting on Election Day. The bill was called the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act. Barack Obama also introduced the Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007, which also failed to be signed into law. The bill would have established a redeployment of troops from Iraq in stages with the goal of the complete withdrawal from Iraq by March of 2008. The bill never got enough support and earned Obama criticism from Republicans. Obama, however, remained committed to getting out of the war in Iraq.
On the other hand, Obama sponsored several successful bills. In December of 2006, President Bush signed the first legislation where Obama was its primary sponsor. The bill was called the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act. It set forth several U.S. policies in regards to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The following month, Obama and Senator Feingold proposed a provision for the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act that dealt with corporate jets. The legislation increased the requirements for the disclosure of lobbying activity and funding, the disclosure of earmarks in spending bills, and put more restrictions on gifts for Congress members.
As a senator, Obama also worked for veteran’s benefits. He supported an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act adding protections for military discharges having to do with personality disorders. He also supported an amendment to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that provided job protection for those caring for family members injured in combat. Obama worked on legislation dealing with Iran and nuclear terrorism. He sponsored the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, working to encourage the economic boycott of Iran, specifically targeting the country’s oil and gas industry. Obama also sponsored legislation that sought to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Besides sponsoring several bills during his time as a U.S. Senator, Barack Obama also took part in several Senate committees. He worked on the committees of Foreign Relations, Veteran’s Affairs, Environment and Public Works, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Obama also served on the committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Barack Obama made strides in foreign affairs as well. He became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and served as Chairman of the European Affairs subcommittee. Obama traveled extensively during his time in the U.S. Senate, visiting Central Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. He even made a speech in Nairobi, Kenya which condemned government corruption.
In October 2006, Obama published his second book called The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. The book become number one on both the New York Times and Amazon.com lists of bestsellers. In the book, Obama shares his views on faith, family, values, and the American political process. The book also sets out Obama’s vision for America’s future and emphasizes many of the themes during his presidential campaign such as unity and the need for dramatic changes in society. His ultimate expression is hope for reclaiming lost values and strength that has made America a world leader.
As for his own ambitions to be a world leader, Barack Obama, along with his wife Michelle and their two daughters, announced his run for U.S. president in February of 2007. He did this in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, the same place where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous House Divided speech. During his announcement, Obama spoke about his stand on several issues, including the withdrawal from Iraq as soon as possible, the promotion of universal health care, and decreasing the country’s dependence on others for energy. Several months later, Obama selected Joe Biden as his running mate who was a senator from Delaware.
During the early part of his campaign, Obama faced several competitors in democratic primaries around the country. The field eventually narrowed to him and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic Senator from New York and wife of former president Bill Clinton. After several primaries and a close race with Clinton, Obama took the lead. He proved better at campaign organization and the raising of funds. In June of 2008, Hillary Clinton ended her bid for president and threw her support behind Barack Obama. At the Democratic National Convention held in Denver, Colorado, Obama accepted the candidacy for president and delivered his speech to a crowd of 75,000 at Invesco Field. The speech was watched by thirty-eight million people around the globe.
Barack Obama continued to gather support as the presidential candidate. His campaign themes and speeches talked of hope and change, something the American people were eager to hear during the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, in late 2008, a financial crisis rocked the country as the housing bubble burst, leading to an economic recession and global financial problems. Obama was pitted against Republican nominee Senator John McCain and his vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. During his campaign, Obama set several fundraising records and became the first major-party candidate for president to turn down public financing. Obama also took part in three debates with McCain in the fall of 2008.
On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama made history by being elected to the United States presidency over Republican John McCain. Obama is the first African American to hold the office. He received 365 electoral votes compared to McCain’s 173. Shortly after winning, Obama made a victory historic speech in Chicago’s Grant Park to thousands of people. Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009 in Washington D.C. Despite this historic win, the Obama Administration faced several major difficulties at the beginning of Obama’s first term, including the economic crisis, two unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a sharply divided U.S. public.
In response to the economic crisis, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package almost immediately after taking office. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 increased government spending for education, health care, and infrastructure, while it also provided direct monetary benefit to people in the form of tax breaks and incentives. The Obama Administration stepped in to help the struggling American auto industry and signed into law the Car Allowance Rebate System, also known as Cash for Clunkers. Obama also signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011 which established several measures to get the national debt and deficit spending under control. In 2010, Obama signed other measures into law to extend payroll tax deductions and unemployment benefits.
Obama has also continued to push his domestic policies. After becoming president, he authorized the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover four million more children. He also signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and repealed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy for homosexuals in the U.S. military. Obama has been supportive of gay rights including gay marriage. Also, upon entering office, Obama appointed two new female justices to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. More recently, Obama has introduced several measures for expanding gun control laws in the aftermath of the shootings that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
One of Obama’s biggest victories has been the passage of his health care reform laws. This was one of his largest campaign promises. The package included measures to provide low-cost health insurance for the uninsured, allow people to keep their health insurance coverage when they leave jobs, require people to have health insurance, place a cap on premium increases, and penalize health insurance companies for dropping coverage or denying coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions. The plan called for $900 billion in federal money for the program. The president’s plan was passed by Congress under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March of 2010, even though it still faced several legal hurdles in the Supreme Court.
Obama and his administration have also put efforts into improved relations with foreign countries. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made friendly gestures to the Muslim world. In 2010, Obama and Russian President Medvedev reached a new agreement to reduce long-range nuclear weapons. Regarding the war in Iraq, Obama immediately made plans to reduce troop numbers and withdraw completely from the country. By August 2010, Obama announced the end of combat operations in Iraq with all troops leaving by the end of the year. Early in his first term, Obama increased the number of troops in Afghanistan but also brought about the end of Osama bin Laden. He authorized a Navy SEAL raid of a remote compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, resulting in bin Laden’s death.
President Obama has been proactive in reaching out to people in the U.S. and the world. Obama holds a weekly web address similar to the Fireside Chats of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Obama enjoyed a 68% approval rating when he took office, and the after the 2012 election, maintains about a 52% approval rating. Obama also has strong support in other parts of the world, especially in Western Europe. In 2009, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize from the Norwegian Nobel Committee for his efforts towards international diplomacy and cooperation. Obama’s award drew mixed reactions, but he is not the only U.S. president to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama also continues to be a bestselling author.
Obama claims to be a Christian, even though he admits his family was not religious. His involvement with the Trinity United Church of Christ sparked outrage during his presidential campaign after controversial statements by the church’s pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama enjoys sports, especially basketball, and threw out the first pitch of the baseball all-star game in 2009. He is a dedicated fan of the Chicago White Sox. Barack, Michelle, and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha have a Portuguese water dog named Bo as well. Both Barack and Michelle make extensive use of the Internet and social media to get their messages across to the public.
In April 2011, Obama announced his bid for reelection. The following year he accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention. His adversary in the Republican Party turned out to be Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney picked Representative Paul Ryan from Wisconsin as his running mate. In November of 2012, Obama was reelected to a second term, beating Romney with 332 electoral votes. Obama was sworn in again on January 21, 2013 to begin another term as U.S. president.
As the 44th president, Barack Obama has pushed several key pieces of key legislation and continues to work for reform. However, besides his work as president, Obama’s biography includes working for reform as a civil rights lawyer, teacher, Illinois state senator and U.S. senator. Obama continues to be one of the most popular figures in the world.