Introduction: The Obama you don’t know
September 19, 2012 | 10:19 pm | Modified: September 20, 2012 at 12:06 am
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 post-partisan 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.
- Mark Tapscott / Executive Editor
September 19, 2012 | 10:34 pm | Modified: September 20, 2012 at 12:04 am
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.
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, non-classroom 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. (It is kind of like he regularly misses his Intel briefings and job council meetings now! Even the day after the terrorist attack on our Libyan Consulate where our Ambassador was killed, President Obama chose to skip his Intel Meeting and fly to Las Vegas to do fundraising.)
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%."
Next: Chapter III: The 1997 speech that launched Obama