Contrary to popular belief, Barack Obama was not born in Kansas, nor did he ever live there. His mother, who was born in Kansas, left as a baby with her parents on an odyssey that would take them to California, Texas, Washington state, and Hawaii — where Obama was born and where he graduated from prep school.
It was in Hawaii, half a world away from Chicago, that Barack first heard of the Windy City from black poet and newspaperman Frank Marshall Davis, who was living in Hawaii. Frank’s second wife was a white Chicago socialite, and it was from Frank that Obama first learned about Chicago machine politics. Frank, by all accounts a member of the Communist Party USA, opposed loyalty oaths, Christianity, racism, white supremacy, American/white imperialism, and “the American war machine.”
Obama left Hawaii to attend Occidental College in Los Angeles and after two years transferred to Columbia University in New York City. After graduating, he worked as a financial writer for an international consulting firm, but Barack was dissatisfied. In his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," he wrote, “In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer,” but he couldn’t find a job working with black communities in New York.
When Gerald Kellman offered him a $10,000-a-year activist position with Chicago’s Developing Communities Project (DCP), Obama came to Chicago. DCP was built upon the concept of community agitation developed by Saul Alinsky. Working with Hazel Johnson, a veteran community activist and agitator, Barack set out to organize Altgeld Gardens, a public housing development. He also taught leadership courses for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a controversial leftist group active nationwide that has pled guilty to voter fraud.
Obama soon learned that, in Chicago, reaching the black population required membership in a black church.
Enter the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, who converted Barack from the non-church secularism of his maternal family (Obama’s father was a Muslim, as was his wife’s second husband who lived in Indonesia) to Christianity. In 1988 Barack officially joined the church, which he found important in shaping his identity as an African-American.
Among the 8,000 members of Wright’s church many had power in the black community and in Chicago politics. In 2008 Barack and his family left the church in response to incendiary sermons and speeches by Wright.
A Catholic priest, Father Michael Pfleger, a friend of Barack’s for years, defends Wright and Minister Lewis Farrakhan. Father Pfleger’s community projects receive grants from the Woods Fund and the Joyce Foundation, both leftist philanthropies, on whose boards Obama has served; and recently Pfleger projects received federal funds by way of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
In "Dreams," Obama ends his chapter on Chicago with a reference to one of Wright’s sermons, entitled “Audacity of Hope” that included the following: “. . . where white folks’ greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere . . .” Obama titled his second book, "Audacity of Hope," and wrote it as a prelude to running for national office.
In 1988 at age 27, after nearly four years as a community organizer in Chicago, Barack Obama entered Harvard Law School. Older and street-wise, Obama settled in to a centrist mode, recalling Frank Davis’ admonition about “an advanced degree in compromise.”
It worked, and Barack Obama was elected president of the Harvard Law Review — the first African-American to hold the office. Two left-of-center professors, Laurence Tribe and Charles J. Ogletree Jr. appear to have been his dominant influences faculty-wise. Both professors now advise the Obama campaign on legal issues and may wield considerable influence on judicial appointments should Obama be elected president.
Another mentor was professor Martha Minow, daughter of Chicago’s elder legal statesman, Newton Minow, a managing attorney of the elitist Sidley Austin law firm. Barack was an intern at Sidley Austin during law school summers, and it was there that he met his wife, Michelle, also a Harvard lawyer. The Harvard Liberal Legal Mafia is said to be backing Obama’s presidential campaign both financially and tactically from national and international law firms, corporations, and philanthropic foundations and trusts.
Chicago Lawyers: Mikva, Minow, and Miner
Upon his graduation from Harvard, Barack received a $100,000 award from Random House publishers to write his life story. He took a year off to work on the book, returning to Chicago and Hyde Park, an integrated oasis on the South Side. As home of the University of Chicago (UC), a world-renowned private university, Hyde Park has traditionally housed the long-haired men and short-haired women of the radical chic.
For many years, Chicago’s beloved football team, the Chicago Bears, practiced in Hyde Park. Sports writers nicknamed them the Monsters of the Midway, because their practice field was on the Midway, first built for the 1894 Columbian Exposition World’s Fair. As time passed, Hyde Park became even more the bastion of radical anti-war, anti-American, communists, socialists, and anarchists.
Today, among Obama’s Hyde Park neighbors are William Ayers, a literature professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago (the Old Navy Pier school), and Bernadine Dohrn of Northwestern University Law School. Ayers and Dohrn were members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and its more violent breakaway Weather Underground. Ayers is currently an advisor to Mayor Richard M. Daley (son of Chicago’s legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley).
Recently, to protect his friend Obama, Ayers wrote that he never advocated terrorism, never participated in it, and never defended it, adding that, in contrast, the U.S. government does these things routinely. Ayers, who sits on the board of the Woods Fund, rails about capitalist exploits, thefts, conquests, and racism. He advocates a world revolution to defeat capitalism and imperialism. One Hyde Parker opined that Ayers is just an aging toothless radical. William Ayers, however, is a friend of Obama’s and a supporter for more than 15 years — not a mere acquaintance, as the candidate has stated.
Ayers influence can be traced to his father Thomas G. Ayers, former CEO of Commonwealth Edison, the electric company of Chicago and Cook County, Ill., and a resident of Hyde Park until his death in 2007. Thomas Ayers, a major force in the cultural, financial, and political life of Chicago, was said to have been as powerful as any of the Daleys.
After Harvard, Obama lectured at the University of Chicago Law School and joined the Miner, Barnhill & Galland law firm, which was entrenched in Chicago politics. Judson Miner was a close associate of Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor. Known to be active in liberal causes, the firm did not shy away from representing groups such as ACORN.
Despite voter tampering charges in 12 states, ACORN continues to receive monies from the Woods Fund and the Joyce Foundation. Obama sat on the boards of both groups, which along with ACORN’s New Party spin-off are active in the Obama presidential campaign.
Abner Mikva, a former Hyde Park congressman and retired Federal Court of Appeals Judge (D.C. Circuit), had offered Obama a clerkship after law school, but he turned it down. Mikva, now back in Chicago, is an Obama confidant along with Newton Minow of the Sidley Austin law firm. Mikva and Minow are the elder national statesmen of the Obama campaign.
Strategists and Money Men/Women
David Axelrod, a New Yorker, came to Chicago as a newsman but left journalism for politics, working for U.S. Senator Paul Simon and Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. Since 1989, Axelrod has been a public relations strategist and close associate of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. As a Chicago Machine political advisor and insider, Axelrod has been a main adviser to Obama since the early 1990s and is today the Obama campaign’s chief strategist.
Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago native well versed in Machine politics, is a senior adviser of the Obama campaign and long-time friend of the senator and his wife. Jarrett worked for Mayor Richard M. Daley and is related to Washington, D.C., super lawyer, Vernon Jordan. Jarrett, who recruited Michelle Obama for the Daley administration, now sits on the board of the Joyce Foundation, as did Obama.
The director of Women for Obama is Becky Carroll, a native Chicagoan, former public relations director for the Chicago Department of Housing, and former member of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s re-election campaign.
Tony Resko, recently convicted felon, was an early Obama chief fundraiser and financial adviser. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, on July 11, 2008: “Anton ‘Tony’ Resko, whose friendship and fundraising prowess helped shape the political careers of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, was convicted Wednesday of using his political clout to orchestrate a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme . . . in a trial that exposed an ingrained culture of corruption in Illinois government . . .” Resko, as a Chicago real estate wheeler-dealer, was intimately connected with Chicago Machine politics, Illinois politics, and the Woods Fund, on whose board Obama and Ayers sat.
Resko and Obama go back to Obama’s Harvard Law School days. Their relationship was not exclusively political, as Resko was a private financial mentor of the senator.
Among Chicago supporters and advisers of Obama are Marilyn Katz, Penny Pritzker, and Bettylu Saltzman. Katz, like Ayers and Dohrn, was active in the SDS and Weather Underground, and Pritzker and Saltzman come from ultra-rich families. Obama’s speech on Oct. 2, 2002, at an anti-war rally in Federal Plaza, downtown Chicago, set all the radical leftists aglow. Wearing a “War is Not an Option” lapel button, Obama denounced the Iraq war as a “dumb war” and a “rash war” based on politics.
This endeared him to Katz and Saltzman, as well as to Jennifer Spitz, one of the rally’s organizers. These women have a history of aiding radical left causes especially anti-war. These politically savvy women, however, supported both anti-Machine Mayor Harold Washington and more recently Machine Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Chicago activist Jim Ginsburg, son of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was an early and active Obama campaigner. Jim Ginsburg is a vehement anti-war activist and, with the help of Katz, Saltzman, and others, pushed Chicago to become one of the first cities to pass an anti-war resolution on Iraq.
Emil Jones Jr., first black president of the Illinois Senate, in the past opposed Obama’s political aspirations, noting that Obama had not “toiled in the vineyard” long enough. As a good Chicago Machine politician, however, once Obama won a state Senate seat, he gave him choice assignments. According to published reports, Jones is a strong advocate for more government spending on social and minority programs and higher taxation of wage earners. He also accepted a gerrymandering of Obama’s Illinois Senate district to extend along Lake Michigan to the near North Side Gold Coast area, where the money people live. Niccolo Machiavelli would have approved this blending of intellectual liberals with moneyed liberals.
Obama associates in Chicago include Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of the Web site Electronic Intifada (EI). “Intifada”, an Arab word for “shaking off,” refers to the civil violence by Arab street fighters, exemplified by Palestinians against Israelis. EI was formed to offset a perceived pro-Israeli, pro-American slant of the news and of political parties in the United States.
Obama’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to any situation, his single-mindedness, his hubris and ambition, and his ingratiating persona ruled by an internalized racial identity create a complex candidate. From his speeches and voting record, Obama appears to be an orthodox liberal edging toward radical, as evidenced by the company he keeps — birds of a feather.
This amalgamation of traits, however, has led him to a pragmatism that is as comfortable with machine politics as with independent politicos, as long as they serve his campaign purposes. His upraising was based in ultra-left ideology, but just like at Harvard, he intellectually senses that his electability must be based on a centrist perception.
The spider-web relationships of entrenched liberal elitists in Chicago have been a product of the shifting sands of money from old Chicago to the nouveau riche of the last fifty years. With the presidency their goal, the moneyed elitists have worked the system. Another Illinois favorite son, Abraham Lincoln, predicted that the fall of the Republic would only come from within. “Change You Can Believe In” may well translate to remodeling the White House in a Chicago Machine style with all of its Byzantine alliances, betrayals, corruption, and socialist redistribution of wealth, except for the ultra-rich of course.
James Walsh is a former federal prosecutor born in Chicago. His knowledge of the Chicago Machine is based on research as well as on unforgettable table talk by his father, a Chicago lawyer, who once represented Al Capone on a tax matter.
The author’s sister is a University of Chicago graduate, and their family built a home on the South Side in the late 1930s, not far from St. Sabina’s parish, where today Obama confidant Father Pfleger is pastor.
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