Barack Obama - Political Career

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Chicago Socialist Movement

Barack Obama and the Chicago Socialist Movement

Chicago socialist alliance

Barack Obama did not rise to prominence from a political vacuum.

His political career has been supported since its earliest stages by a coalition of Chicago socialists.

This alliance, centered around the Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America and the far left of the Democratic Party came into its own in Chicago in the early 1980s.

One of the alliance's major successes was the election of Chicago's first black Mayor, Harold Washington in 1983. A Democratic Party Congressman, Washington bravely and successfully ran for mayor against the remnants of the once invincible Daley machine.

Washington died in office in 1987, but the alliance remained intact, incorporating the Communist Party spin-off Committees of Correspondence and went on to elect Carol Moseley Braun, to the U.S. Senate in 1992.

The same alliance worked to elect Barack Obama, to Moseley Braun's former Senate seat in 2004. In 2008, they worked with their allies nationwide to help put Barack Obama into the White House.

Legacy of Harold Washington

Harold Washington

On February 25, 2008 the the Communist Party USA online journal Political Affairs published an article by Joel Wendland entitled "Harold Washington: The People’s Mayor".

In the article Wendland suggested that Barack Obama's rise was attributable the legacy of Harold Washington;

Another unquantifiable part of Washington’s legacy is his enduring influence on national politics. Just about everyone interviewed for this story eventually came around to talking about another emerging Chicagoan – Barack Obama. Perhaps it is no accident that he too talks in broad, hopeful terms about change, reform, and empowering the people to reclaim democracy.
Indeed, is it mere chance that Obama’s main campaign image is a rising sun over a flag and the words “Obama for America”? Those blue buttons that dotted Chicago’s landscape in those exciting days of 1982 and 1983 showed rays of the sun like hope rising above the words “Washington for Chicago.”
Perhaps Washington’s very greatest legacy is the insurgent challenge to politics as usual Obama represents on a national stage. Perhaps “the peoples’ mayor” will inspire the making of “the peoples’ president.”

Elwood Flowers, former vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO and was a close friend and political ally of Harold Washington.

In a 2008 interview with Communist Party USA member Pepe Lozano, Flowers asserted that the movement to elect Barack Obama in 2008 was "almost identical to Washington’s, but nationwide". According to Flowers. “Our members wanted to be involved in the political process, similar to people today for Obama,”

“What Obama can do for the country will help all communities including providing jobs and health care. And the number one issue is stopping the Iraq war, which is draining our economic resources. If those things bear fruit, then they will benefit all working-class communities...[1]

Barack Obama and Harold Washington

Barack Obama was reportedly inspired to move to Chicago by the election of Harold Washington as Mayor in 1983;

When Barack Obama was 22 years old, just out of Columbia University, he took a $10,000-a-year job as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. It was a shrewd move for a young black man with an interest in politics...
The politician who truly set the stage for Obama's rise was also a South Side congressman: Harold Washington, who was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983...In New York, Obama read about Washington's victory and wrote to City Hall, asking for a job. He never heard back, but he made it to Chicago just months after Washington took office...

Washington died of a heart attack in 1987, at the beginning of his second term;

But the confidence he instilled in black leaders became a permanent factor in Chicago politics. His success inspired Jesse Jackson to run for president in 1984, which in turn inspired Obama...Washington also strengthened the community organizations in which Obama was cutting his teeth...Obama's Project Vote, which put him on the local political map, was a successor to the South Side voter registration drive that made Washington's election possible.

Washington/Moseley Braun/Obama

Radical Chicago journalist Don Rose worked for Harold Washington, Carol Moseley Braun and mentored senior Obama adviser David Axelrod.

According to Don Rose, Chicago has two unique advantages.

First, it's in Cook County, which contains nearly half of Illinois' voters. Second, the local Democratic Party is a county wide organization. After Chicago's Carol Moseley Braun beat two white men to win the 1992 Democratic Senate primary, precinct captains in white Chicago neighborhoods and the suburbs whipped up votes for her in the general election.

"They had to go out and sell the black person to demonstrate that the party was still open," says Rose, who sees "direct links" from Harold Washington to Carol Moseley Braun to Barack Obama.

Marilyn Katz "Barack Obama could only have emerged in Chicago"

Marilyn Katz has worked closely with Barack Obama since meeting him through his position at Miner, Barnhill & Galland in the 1990s.[2]

It was through the law firm that Mr. Obama met Marilyn Katz, who gave him entry into another activist network: the foot soldiers of the white student and black power movements that helped define Chicago in the 1960s.
As a leader of Students for a Democratic Society then, Ms. Katz organized Vietnam War protests, throwing nails in the street to thwart the police. But like many from that era, Ms. Katz had gone on to become a politically active member of the Chicago establishment, playing in a regular poker game with Mr. Miner while working as a consultant to his nemesis, Mayor Daley.
“For better or worse, this is Chicago,” said Ms. Katz, who has held fund-raisers for Mr. Obama at her home. “Everyone is connected to everyone.”''

In August 2008 Don Rose and Marilyn Katz gave an interview to the Democratic Socialists of America linked journal In These Times, just before Obama's "coronation" at the Democratic Party Convention in Denver.

ITT 40 years ago this week, Chicago police battled protesters at the DNC. Two ’60s radicals remember the madness, and look to Denver for change...

The ‘68 Democratic National Convention debacle remains a symbol of everything that went wrong with American politics, society and culture in that tumultuous and iconic year. It was five days of mayhem in the Windy City, five days that left the Democratic Party in shambles...

In August 1968, those explosive battles put Chicago at the epicenter of one of the most searing political and social upheavals of the 20th century. In August 2008, a U.S. senator from Chicago will be anointed the first black major-party nominee for the presidency of the United States.

Don Rose...the political wise man has helped elect mayors and senators since then, from Harold Washington to Paul Simon. Now 77, Rose - a mentor to David Axelrod, Obama’s top campaign strategist...

The 1983 election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor came courtesy of a progressive coalition of blacks, Latinos and so-called “Lakefront liberals.” Katz and Rose were there, once again, as advisors and operatives.

Katz My straight line goes from ‘66/’68 to the folks who began to work together and formed the core group of the Harold Washington campaign. (Almost) everyone I worked with in 1982 I had met as a kid in ‘68. I believe that Barack Obama could only have emerged in Chicago. Why? Because since ‘68 there was a web of relationships between black civil rights groups, anti-war groups, women’s activities, immigrant rights activities, that has sustained and grown...

ITT The Democratic Party will gather once again later this month. Everybody is expecting a big party in Denver. Will it be an Obama coronation? Is that what we should be looking for?

So how do you resolve Obama’s move to the center? What about holding his feet to the fire? Don’t we need to keep him true to progressive issues?

Katz We have to get him into office so then we can be the left opposition. I think it is a delicate balance between those of us who are progressive, how much you push, how much you don’t want to put him in very difficult positions that would embarrass him or give John McCain some advantage...

Axelrod on the Washington/Obama connection

Obama chief campaign strategist and senior adviser David Axelrod has also commented on the Harold Washington/ Obama connection.

From The Nation February 6th 2007[3];

Axelrod and Forest Claypool...opened their own consulting shop, handling mostly long-shot candidates until 1987, when Chicago Mayor Harold Washington hired the firm to help with his re-election. Four years earlier, Washington had won a historic victory...As the Tribune's city hall bureau chief, Axelrod had ringside seats. "Nineteen eighty-three, that was a phenomenal election. Harold Washington--extraordinary guy. I mean, he was the most kinetic campaigner and politician that I've ever met. It was inspiring the way the African-American community came alive around the prospect of electing Harold...
Axelrod sees Obama, who was working in Chicago as a community organizer during the Washington years, as a marker of progress, writing the second act of a story that Washington started...
Twenty-one years later, when Barack ran for the U.S. Senate in the primary against six very strong candidates, he carried every ward on the northwest side except one...I was thinking, and I told Barack, that Harold Washington is smiling down on us."

Communist Party on the Washington/Obama connection

In a November 23 2007 report to a Chicago Special District Meeting on African American Equality, Communist Party USA National Board member John Bachtell wrote[4];

The historic election of {Harold} Washington was the culmination of many years of struggle. It reflected a high degree of unity of the African American community and the alliance with a section of labor, the Latino community and progressive minded whites. This legacy of political independence also endures...
This was also reflected in the historic election of Barack Obama. Our Party actively supported Obama during the primary election. Once again Obama’s campaign reflected the electoral voting unity of the African American community, but also the alliances built with several key trade unions, and forces in the Latino and white communities.
It also reflected a breakthrough among white voters. In the primary, Obama won 35% of the white vote and 7 north side wards, in a crowded field. During the general election he won every ward in the city and all the collar counties. This appeal has continued in his presidential run.

Failed congressional run

In 1999, Obama challenged Bobby Rush, who has represented the South Side in Congress since 1992.

Rush had run against Daley in the 1999 mayoral primary, and Obama interpreted Rush’s defeat in that citywide race as a harbinger of his declining popularity in his congressional district.
Obama was financially outmatched. Although he raised about six hundred thousand dollars, sustained television advertising in Chicago cost between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand dollars a week, according to Dan Shomon, Obama’s campaign manager at the time. A series of unusual events defined the race. A few months before the election, Rush’s twenty-nine-year-old son, Huey Rich, was shot and killed, which made the incumbent a figure of sympathy, and in the final weeks of the campaign Rush’s father died. Obama made a serious misstep when, visiting his grandmother in Hawaii, he missed a crucial vote on gun-control legislation in Springfield. Even worse, on the day of the vote a column by Obama about how the gun bill was “sorely needed” appeared in the Hyde Park Herald, under the headline “IDEOLOGUES FRUSTRATE GUN LAW.” Obama protested that his daughter was ill and unable to travel, and that he saw his grandmother, who lived alone, only once a year, but the press treated the trip as a tropical vacation.

Obama lost hugely-by thirty-one points. On Election Night, at the Ramada Inn where he had begun his political career, Obama hinted that he might leave politics. “I’ve got to make assessments about where we go from here,” he said. “We need a new style of politics to deal with the issues that are important to the people. What’s not clear to me is whether I should do that as an elected official or by influencing government in ways that actually improve people’s lives.

Obama had misread the political dynamics of Rush’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign. According to Abner Mikva[5];

He thought he would get some help from Daley because Rush had run against Daley for mayor...He thought that Daley might use the opportunity to get even. That’s not the way the Daleys work. It’s not the way the machine works. When Barack went in to see the Mayor, whom he knew slightly, Daley said what his old man used to say: ‘Good luck!’

2000 House of Congress Campaign

On March 5, 2000, Obama was endorsed by former congressman and White House counsel Abner Mikva; former Chicago Alderman Leon Despres; Dr. Quentin Young, an advocate for universal health care; Michael Shakman, an attorney who led the legal fight to eliminate patronage positions in city government, and Eugene Ford, a former aide to late Mayor Harold Washington, in his bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.[6]

Stand against the War in Iraq

Obama addresses the Oct. 2, 2002 Federal Plaza rally

Carl Davidson, Marilyn Katz, James Weinstein, Don Rose and other Chicago area radicals came together as Chicagoans Against War in Iraq in September 2002 to campaign against the war in Iraq. The group began by organizing the famous October 2, 2002 anti war rally in Federal Plaza Chicago that drew a politically significant line up of speakers, including U.S. Representatives and a candidate for U.S. Senate, Barack Obama. It was at this event where Barack Obama first made his name as a strong opponent of the war. Some of the people around Davidson, later held a fundraiser for Obama when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004[7].

He spoke at our first antiwar rally. He spent most of his speech detailing all the wars in history he supported, then finally made a distinction between just wars and 'dumb' wars, and going into Iraq, which was still six months down the road then, was a 'dumb war,' and he flatly opposed it. Good, that put him on our side, and some of us organized a fundraiser for him for his Senate race.

According to Ryan Lizza[8]the idea for the rally came from Bettylu Saltzman and some friends, who, over Chinese food, had decided to stage the protest. Saltzman asked John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicagoto speak, but he couldn’t make it. “He was one of the main people we wanted, but he was speaking at the University of Wisconsin that day,” Saltzman said.

Then she called her rabbi and then Barack Obama. Michelle answered the phone and passed the message on to her husband, who was out of town.

Saltzman also called Marilyn Katz, a leading member of Chicagoans Against War on Iraq Katz managed to get Jesse Jackson as a speaker and handled many of the organizing details.

Katz described what she felt the political mood was at the time of the rally. “Professors are being turned in on college campuses, Bush’s ratings are eighty-seven per cent,” she said[9].

Among my friends, there hasn’t been an antiwar demonstration in twenty years. There’s huge repression, Bush has got all this legislation. They’re talking about lists, they’re denying people entry into the country. . . . Bush’s numbers were tremendously high, but we had no choice. Unless we wanted to live in a country that was fascist.”
In his biography of Obama, David Mendell, noting that Obama’s speech occurred a few months before the official declaration of his U.S. Senate candidacy, suggests that the decision to publicly oppose the war in Iraq was a calculated political move intended to win favor with Saltzman.

But as Saltzman herself has said[10], “He was a Hyde Park state senator. He had to oppose the war!”

Support for "single payer" health care

While an Illinois State Senator, Barack Obama was a strong advocate of "single payer" health care-socialized medicine.

In 2003 Obama stated[11];

I happen to be a proponent of single-payer universal healthcare coverage. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent—14 percent—of its gross national product on healthcare, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim’s talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out: a single-payer healthcare plan, universal healthcare plan.

2004 U.S. Senate campaign

While outside the Democratic Party mainstream, Obama was able to win his 2004 U.S. senate race by stitching together a coalition of socialist/communist dominated unions and "community organisations".

Obama has also received the backing of several independent Latino elected officials led by State Sen. Miguel del Valle, Rep. Cynthia Soto and Alderman Ray Colon. Alderman Joe Moore also backed Obama, as did USAction leader William McNary.

From the From the Communist Party USA paper Peoples Weekly World February 28th 2004;

The race for the Democratic nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois has boiled down to a three-person race, according to polls. Millionaire Blair Hull has a slight lead after pouring $18 million of his own money into an advertising blitz. State Sen. Barak Obama and State Controller Dan Hynes trail him, with a large undecided vote remaining. The primary will be held March 16.
At several campaign rallies across this city on Feb. 21, Obama said that after the presidential race, the Senate race in Illinois might be the most important. He noted the historic potential of his campaign, aside from helping break the Republican majority. If successful he would be only the third African American since Reconstruction elected to the U.S. Senate.
Of all the candidates, Obama can boast the most diverse support. While Hynes has the backing of the state AFL-CIO and the bulk of the Democratic machine, Obama has the support of several key unions including the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; Service Employees; Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees; the state American Federation of Teachers; Chicago Teachers Union and Teamsters Local 705, the second largest in the country. Obama has a 90 percent voting record on labor issues in the Illinois Senate.
In addition to widespread support in the African American community, Obama has also received the backing of several independent Latino elected officials led by State Sen. Miguel del Valle, Rep. Cynthia Soto and Alderman Ray Colon. Alderman Joe Moore from the North Side is also backing him.
Many progressive organizations have thrown their support to Obama, including the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters. In its endorsement, Citizen Action/Illinois praised Obama’s 96 percent voting record on consumer issues. President William McNary said Obama “will be a strong voice in Washington on behalf of working families.

In addition to the above excerpts from the article "Senate race offers historic opportunity", Feb. 28-march 5, 2004, by John Bachtell, P. 4, Obama received a lot of support from one of the most radical members of Congress in the past 20 years, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill). From this article are the following quotes by her about supporting Obama for the US Senate:

  • At a North Side rally for Obama, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky noted that these are extraordinary times that require a different kind of leadership in the fight against ultra-right policies.

"We don't need any old Democrat. We don't need a go-along, get-along senator. It is amazing that it's the 21st century and there are no African Americans in the U.S. Senate."

  • ***
  • "Noting that Hull has thrown around his considerable fortune to gain endorsements of elected officials and Chicago war organizations, Schakowsky said the key to victory would be "voter identification and get-out-the-vote. People power beats money any day of the week"."

List of Obama supporters from the above cited article:

Gerrymandering Strategy to the road to the Senate

Barack Obama's gerrymandering strategy was crucial to his in winning his Senate seat. From the New Yorker,[12]

"In 1996, during his first run for office, in the Illinois State Senate, Obama defeated his former political mentor Alice Palmer by successfully challenging her nominating petitions and forcing her off the ballot, effectively ending her career. A few years later, Illinois Democrats, after toiling in the minority in the Senate, gerrymandered the state to produce a Democratic majority. While drafting the new political map, Obama helped redraw his own district northward to include some of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens, making the district a powerful financial and political base that he used to win his U.S. Senate seat, a few years later.
"Another hard-edged decision helped make him the Democratic Presidential nominee. In early October, 2007, David Axelrod and Obama’s other political consultants wrote the candidate a memo explaining how he could repair his floundering campaign against Hillary Clinton. They advised him to attack her personally, presenting a difficult choice for Obama. He had spent years building a reputation as a reformer who deplored the nasty side of politics, and now, he was told, he had to put that aside. Obama’s strategists wrote that all campaign communications, even the slogan—“Change We Can Believe In”—had to emphasize distinctions with Clinton on character rather than on policy. The slogan “was intended to frame the argument along the character fault line, and this is where we can and must win this fight,” the memo said. “Clinton can’t be trusted or believed when it comes to change,” because “she’s driven by political calculation not conviction, regularly backing away and shifting positions. . . . She embodies trench warfare vs. Republicans, and is consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done. She prides herself on working the system, not changing it.” The “current goal,” the memo continued, was to define Obama as “the only authentic ‘remedy’ to what ails Washington and stands in the way of progress.”
"Obama’s message promised voters, in what his aides called “the inspiration,” that “Barack Obama will end the divisive trench warfare that treats politics as a game and will lead Americans to come together to restore our common purpose.” Clinton was too polarizing to get anything done: “It may not be her fault, but Americans have deeply divided feelings about Hillary Clinton, threatening a Democratic victory in 2008 and insuring another four years of the bitter political battles that have plagued Washington for the last two decades and stymied progress.”
"Neera Tanden was the policy director for Clinton’s campaign. When Clinton lost the Democratic race, Tanden became the director of domestic policy for Obama’s general-election campaign, and then a senior official working on health care in his Administration. She is now the president of the liberal Center for American Progress, perhaps the most important institution in Democratic politics. “It was a character attack,” Tanden said recently, speaking about the Obama campaign against Clinton. “I went over to Obama, I’m a big supporter of the President, but their campaign was entirely a character attack on Hillary as a liar and untrustworthy. It wasn’t an ‘issue contrast,’ it was entirely personal.” And, of course, it worked.
"The fourth momentous decision of Obama’s political career provided the financial boost that made him President. On June 19, 2008, he announced that he would be the first Presidential candidate since 1976 to forgo public funds, which allow candidates to run in the general election while limiting the corrupting influence of fund-raising. This was an awkward and hypocritical decision, given that in 2007 Obama had explicitly promised that he would stay in the system. David Plouffe, his campaign manager, wrote in his memoir, “The Audacity to Win,” that the promise had been a mistake: “We were overly concerned with making sure the reform community and elites like the New York Times editorial board, which care deeply about these issues, would look favorably on our approach.” Obama, Plouffe noted, was “genuinely torn,” but was eventually convinced that victory trumped idealism. Obama’s choice allowed him to raise unlimited amounts of money while John McCain, who remained in the system, was limited to a check from the government for eighty-four million dollars. From September 1st to Election Day, Obama outspent McCain by almost three to one, and, as many Republicans are quick to note, ran more negative ads than any Presidential candidate in modern history.
"There are obvious justifications for these four decisions. Alice Palmer had used phony signatures to get on the ballot, and Obama’s challenge was perfectly legal. The Democrats’ gerrymandering of Illinois was routine and no more outrageous than what happens in most other states. Compared with other Presidential primaries, Obama’s attacks against Hillary Clinton were relatively mild. Finally, if McCain could have raised more money outside the public-financing system, he surely would have. Still, Obama’s actual political biography is more partisan and ruthless than the version he has told over the years in countless “post-partisan” speeches and in “The Audacity of Hope.”

Supported by Council for a Livable World

The Council for a Livable World, founded in 1962 by long-time socialist activist and alleged Soviet agent, Leo Szilard, is a non-profit advocacy organization that seeks to "reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and increase national security", primarily through supporting progressive, congressional candidates who support their policies. The Council supported Barack Obama in his successful Senate run as candidate for Illinois.[13]

Sandler support

Susan Sandler is a philanthropist and political donor. She was the first and largest donor behind the independent efforts to support Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. She was also the lead investor in the independent activities supporting Kamala Harris’ 2010 campaign for California Attorney General and Cory Booker’s 2013 election to the United States Senate. She is a national leader in education reform and has served as a board member of several progressive non-profit organizations including the Democracy Alliance. [14]

Congressional Black Caucus

While serving in the US Senate Barack Obama was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.[15]


The following have worked as staff members for Senator Barack Obama, 2005/2006:[16]