Obama: a president for our time

January 20, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Jan 20 – With a few short words carved from the US constitution, Barack Obama Tuesday became the first African-American US president, capping a meotoric rise from obscurity to the Oval Office.

Invested early on with the mantles of late icons, civil rights leader Martin Luther King and beloved president John F Kennedy, the 47-year-old Democrat has ignited millions with his message of hope, unity and change.

In promising to "preserve, protect and defend" the constitution, Obama on Tuesday shouldered the burden of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A charismatic figure, with the soaring power to infuse hope and optimism through his words, some see a happy confluence of circumstances as having aided his rise from Chicago politics to the corridors of the White House.

"He is the luckiest politician I have ever come across. He seems to be blessed by Gods," his biographer David Mendell told AFP.

"He’s really dropped at a moment in history when his philosophy coincides with what a lot of experts are calling for: a government that is more proactive in trying to jumpstart the economy."

When Obama launched what he called his "improbable quest" for the White House on the steps of the old state capitol in Springfield, Illinois, in February 2007, he was seen as the rank outsider.

Then he was still just a little-known Chicago politician with a ready smile, who had wowed the 2004 Democratic convention with a dazzling speech.

"There is not a black America, and white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America," he proclaimed, bringing the convention to its feet.

The son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, Obama seems to be at ease in both worlds and indeed has sought to rise above the issue of race, to be a president who can unify all races.

Indeed he is a man who seems comfortable in his own skin, raising smiles during his first press conference after his November 4 victory when he referred to the family’s new pet, saying he wanted to choose among shelter dogs which "are mutts like me."

In defying the odds to defeat Hillary Clinton in the bruising White House Democratic primaries, Obama overturned the perception that America was not ready to vote for a black president, and crushed the weight of the Republican attack machine.

He also reshaped conventional wisdom on how to pay for a successful White House bid by harnessing the Internet as a powerful fund-raising tool. His tech-savvy approach, his fondness for his Blackberry and his "renaissance" man image herald the arrival of a new era in the stuffy corridors of power.

Born in ethnically diverse Hawaii on August 4, 1961, Obama’s path to the White House has not been backed by the privilege and wealth often enjoyed by many past candidates.

His father left when he was just two, and the young Obama later moved to Indonesia with his mother, Ann, when she re-married.

The young boy known as "Barry" spent several years in Jakarta, before returning to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents when he was in his teens.

After attending Columbia University in New York, Obama went to the elite Harvard Law School, where he was the first black American to be president of the influential Harvard Law Review.

It was while working at a Chicago law firm that he met and then married Michelle, a fellow lawyer, in 1992. The couple has two young daughters, Malia 10, and Sasha, seven.

A devoted father, Obama embarked on his political career in 1996, when he won a seat in the state Senate. He told his daughters in a letter last week that he had later decided to run for president for them, and for all children.

"When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me — about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world," Obama said in the letter published in Parade magazine, a weekend newspaper color supplement.

"I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours.

"In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for president: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation," wrote the soon-to-be Dad-in-chief.


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