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Sweet column: New book on Obama reveals "hidden side."


WASHINGTON -- On the stump, presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama suggests his political career was an afterthought. He tells of returning to Chicago from Harvard Law School to be part of a civil rights practice and teach law.

However, a new book reveals a reason Obama joined a politically connected law firm: to give him entree to the powerbrokers in Chicago's elite liberal political community who helped elect Mayor Harold Washington -- a job the new lawyer had his eye on.

Obama actually pondered a political career early on, even telling Craig Robinson, his future brother-in-law, he might get into politics after Harvard and "maybe I can be president of the United States."

This supplemental, more opportunistic narrative comes as Obama is relying intensely on his biography to propel him to the White House. It is delivered in a copy I obtained of Obama: From Promise to Power, by Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell to be published in August.

Last June 19, Obama offered an audience at the Take Back America/Campaign for America's Future conference a riff from his stump speech. "I joined a civil rights law practice, and I started teaching constitutional law. ... And after a few years, people started coming up to me and telling me I should run for state Senate. So I jumped in the race."

But another view is offered by Mendell, who covered Obama during his 2004 Illinois Senate race, which is covered in detail in his book. Spending large amounts of time with Obama, Mendell writes about what he calls Obama's "hidden side: his imperious, mercurial, self-righteous and sometimes prickly nature, each exacerbated by the enormous career pressures that he has inflicted upon himself."

Obama's interest in politics, contrary to the narrative he weaves, started long before his first run for office, an Illinois state Senate seat.

During his time at Harvard, "he wanted to be mayor of Chicago, and that was all he talked about as far as holding office," said Cassandra Butts, a law school classmate and current Obama adviser.

After Harvard and a stint working on a voter registration drive in Chicago, the much recruited Obama took a job at a firm now called Miner, Barnhill & Galland. Among other cases, the firm handled litigation stemming from reapportionment battles. But partner Judson Miner served in Mayor Washington's administration and, Mendell writes, appealed to Obama because he had "a bevy of contacts in Chicago's political circles."

Mendell also writes on a central premise of Obama's presidential candidacy: that he had the judgment to oppose authorizing the Iraq war and that his key rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, did not.

Obama decided to oppose the impending war "in part as a political calculation that he hoped would benefit him among Democrats," Mendell wrote.


When I graduated from kindergarten, I told the class and those in attendance that I wanted to be "President of the United States... like Mr. Nixon."

Hope no one publishes a tell all book about me!


Has Obama ever denied having political aspirations before his state Senate run? How is this is any way contrary to his story? This sounds like another bogus attempt by a bad journalist to invent a controversy where none exists. Mendell is no better than a tabloid journalist.

Your "New Book" was already reported by the Tribune in June, and the main gist -- that Obama was trying to ingratiate himself with influential liberals in Chicago -- was refuted in a letter from BettyLu Salzman in early July. Don't you read the papers? Your omission is tantalizing, but reflects inadquate research and misleading reporting. We know you can do better; you usually do.

Apparently Obama told Ray and the Choom Gang in high school that he wanted to be President before he turned 50, and that he would fashion a persona similar to JFK or Bobby.

There's some book out that in a novelized version of the underbelly of the elite high school; i believe it's called: punahou blues. There are chapters dealing with drugs, basketball, and the day where all white students get beat up by locals just for being white; talk about reverse discrimination!

So what?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 2, 2007 9:50 AM.

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