His unusual background and his ability to use it to articulate a hopeful version of the American dream have turned Barack Obama into a political star. But is the US ready for its first black president?by James Crabtree / February 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
On a cold December day in Manchester, New Hampshire, 1,500 Democrats are packed into a hall for an event that would normally attract a fraction of that number. They have come to see America’s new political sensation—Senator Barack Obama. The next day another 700 (and more than 100 journalists) flock to a signing event for his new book. William Shaheen, a prominent local Democrat, says: “Some of it is infatuation.” He is right.
As yet, Barack Obama has only taken the first step to a presidential run by establishing an exploratory committee. He is expected to formally declare on 10th February. Yet even the possibility of Obama’s participation has seen a bandwagon career straight through the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign. Polls now put him only marginally behind Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton. His possible entry has led at least one plausible candidate, Indiana senator Evan Bayh, to rule himself out. He has already been on the front cover of Time and been endorsed by Oprah. His recent book, The Audacity of Hope, reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list and also won a Grammy for best spoken work recording. His every utterance is picked over for clues, both about his intentions and his character. Indeed, the fuss in New Hampshire was such that Obama quipped that it was “surprising to me, and baffling to my wife.” So what is it about the young black rookie politician with an odd name, who may not even run for president, that has so grabbed America’s attention?
Barack Hussein Obama first hit America’s consciousness with a rapturously received speech at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston. He was then a little-known provincial politician, running for the Senate in Illinois. But the early buzz about his unusual talent, background and speaking ability led John Kerry to offer him a primetime slot. That night, he gave a taste of the themes that currently captivate the US: a remarkable personal story, and an ability to use this…