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Who Is Barack Obama?

Ryan Lizza offers an answer. This is a very long article, but it is a good one and chock-full of information–some of which is quite disturbing:

One day in 1995, Barack Obama went to see his alderman, an influential politician named Toni Preckwinkle, on Chicago’s South Side, where politics had been upended by scandal. Mel Reynolds, a local congressman, was facing charges of sexual assault of a sixteen-year-old campaign volunteer. (He eventually resigned his seat.) The looming vacancy set off a fury of ambition and hustle; several politicians, including a state senator named Alice Palmer, an education expert of modest political skills, prepared to enter the congressional race. Palmer represented Hyde Park–Obama’s neighborhood, a racially integrated, liberal sanctuary–and, if she ran for Congress, she would need a replacement in Springfield, the state capital. Obama at the time was a thirty-three-year-old lawyer, university lecturer, and aspiring office-seeker, and the Palmer seat was what he had in mind when he visited Alderman Preckwinkle.

“Barack came to me and said, `If Alice decides she wants to run, I want to run for her State Senate seat,’ ” Preckwinkle told me. We were in her district office, above a bank on a street of check-cashing shops and vacant lots north of Hyde Park. Preckwinkle soon became an Obama loyalist, and she stuck with him in a State Senate campaign that strained or ruptured many friendships but was ultimately successful. Four years later, in 2000, she backed Obama in a doomed congressional campaign against a local icon, the former Black Panther Bobby Rush. And in 2004 Preckwinkle supported Obama during his improbable, successful run for the United States Senate. So it was startling to learn that Toni Preckwinkle had become disenchanted with Barack Obama.

Preckwinkle is a tall, commanding woman with a clipped gray Afro. She has represented her slice of the South Side for seventeen years and expresses no interest in higher office. On Chicago’s City Council, she is often a dissenter against the wishes of Mayor Richard M. Daley. For anyone trying to understand Obama’s breathtakingly rapid political ascent, Preckwinkle is an indispensable witness–a close observer, friend, and confidante during a period of Obama’s life to which he rarely calls attention.

Although many of Obama’s recent supporters have been surprised by signs of political opportunism, Preckwinkle wasn’t. “I think he was very strategic in his choice of friends and mentors,” she told me. “I spent ten years of my adult life working to be alderman. I finally got elected. This is a job I love. And I’m perfectly happy with it. I’m not sure that’s the way that he approached his public life–that he was going to try for a job and stay there for one period of time. In retrospect, I think he saw the positions he held as stepping stones to other things and therefore approached his public life differently than other people might have.”

On issue after issue, Preckwinkle presented Obama as someone who thrived in the world of Chicago politics. She suggested that Obama joined Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ for political reasons. “It’s a church that would provide you with lots of social connections and prominent parishioners,” she said. “It’s a good place for a politician to be a member.” Preckwinkle was unsparing on the subject of the Chicago real-estate developer Antoin (Tony) Rezko, a friend of Obama’s and one of his top fund-raisers, who was recently convicted of fraud, bribery, and money laundering: “Who you take money from is a reflection of your knowledge at the time and your principles.” As we talked, it became increasingly clear that loyalty was the issue that drove Preckwinkle’s current view of her onetime protégé. “I don’t think you should forget who your friends are,” she said.

Others told me that Preckwinkle’s grievances against Obama included specific complaints, such as his refusal to endorse a former aide and longtime friend, Will Burns, in a State Senate primary–a contest that Burns won anyway. There was also a more general belief that, after Obama won the 2004 United States Senate primary, he ignored his South Side base. Preckwinkle said, “My view is you have to bring your constituency along with you. Granted, you have to make some tough decisions. Granted, sometimes you have to make decisions that people won’t understand or like. But it’s your obligation to explain yourself and try to do your supporters the courtesy of treating them with respect.” Ivory Mitchell, who for twenty years has been the chairman of the local ward organization in Obama’s neighborhood–considered the most important Democratic organization on the South Side–was one of Obama’s earliest backers. Today, he says, “All the work we did to help him get where he finally ended up, he didn’t seem too appreciative.” A year ago, Mitchell became a delegate for Hillary Clinton.

The same month Mitchell endorsed Clinton, the Obama campaign reached out to Preckwinkle, and eventually she signed on as an Obama delegate. I asked her if what she considered slights or betrayals were simply the necessary accommodations and maneuvering of a politician making a lightning transition from Hyde Park legislator to Presidential nominee. “Can you get where he is and maintain your personal integrity?” she said. “Is that the question?” She stared at me and grimaced. “I’m going to pass on that.”

Read the whole thing, and you will find that there are plenty of former Obama supporters who are now really disillusioned with him. You’ll also find–surprise!–that contrary to popular opinion, Barack Obama is just another politician.

Of course, if you don’t share in the adulation of Barack Obama, the first person to criticize you for your reticence may well be . . . Barack Obama.

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