Tuesday, July 15, 2008 8:56 AM
By: Ronald Kessler
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A close look at Barack Obama's career reveals it has been even more mediocre than generally recognized.
Before being elected to the Illinois state Senate, Obama worked as a community organizer and a lawyer in Chicago.
In his memoir, Obama says being a community organizer taught him how to motivate the powerless and work the government to help them. His chief example is an effort to remove asbestos from Altgeld Gardens, an all-black public housing project on Chicago’s South Side.
But those who were involved in the effort say Obama played a minor role in working the problem and never accomplished his goal. A pre-existing group at Altgeld Gardens and a local newspaper, the Chicago Reporter, were working on the problem before Obama came on the scene, yet Obama does not mention them in his book, “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.”
“Just because someone writes it, doesn't make it true,” says Altgeld resident Hazel Johnson, who had been pushing for a cleanup of the cancer-producing substance years before Obama showed up.
Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., says it was Johnson's work, along with asbestos testing by the Chicago Reporter, that got Chicago officials interested in the issue. Rush, who launched an inquiry into the situation when he was a member of the Chicago City Council, says he is “offended” that Obama did not mention Johnson in his account.
“Was [Obama] involved in stuff? Absolutely,” says Robert Ginsburg, an activist who worked with Johnson and Obama on the problem. “But there was stuff happening before him, and after him.”
After three years working as an organizer, Obama could say he helped obtain grants for a jobs program and got asbestos removed from some pipes in the project. But as the Los Angeles Times has noted, the “large-scale change that was needed at the 1,998-unit project was beyond his reach.” To this day, most of the asbestos remains in the apartments.
Fruitless though his efforts were, Obama devoted more than 100 pages to his experiences at Altgeld Gardens and surrounding areas. Michelle Obama has said his work as a community organizer helped him decide “how he would impact the world,” assisting people to improve their lives. Yet, in a revealing passage in his book, Obama wrote, “When classmates in college asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I couldn’t answer them directly.”
Instead, he said, “I’d pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.”
Thus, Obama admitted that he accomplished little but that he was able to cover that up with fancy talk about change.
After going to Harvard Law School, Obama returned to Chicago, where he briefly headed a voter registration drive and then became a lawyer. While Obama’s campaign has touted him as a civil rights lawyer, “Over the nine years that Obama’s law license was active in Illinois, he never handled a trial and mostly worked in teams of lawyers who drew up briefs and contracts in a variety of cases,” according to David Mendell’s “Obama: From Promise To Power.”
A review of the cases Obama worked on during his brief legal career “shows he played the strong, silent type in court, introducing himself and his client, then stepping aside to let other lawyers do the talking,” the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.
“A search of all the cases in Cook County Circuit Court in which Obama made an appearance since he graduated from Harvard in 1991 shows: zero,” the article said.
Instead, his practice was “confined mainly to federal court in Chicago, where he made formal appearances in only five district court cases and another five in cases before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — a total of 10 cases in his legal career,” the paper said.
If Obama had virtually no impact as either a community organizer or as a lawyer, he was even more invisible in the state Senate and later in the U.S. Senate.
In both bodies, Obama had a reputation for voting “present,” thus avoiding controversial decisions that could be used against him later. In the U.S. Senate, he has missed more than one in five votes.
Only one of the measures Obama has sponsored as a U.S. senator was enacted: a bill to “promote relief, security, and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Contrary to Obama’s portrayal of himself as a unifier, on every bipartisan effort in the Senate to forge compromises on tough issues, Obama has been missing in action.
In sum, it would be difficult to imagine a more mediocre record. Most candidates for dog catcher have contributed more to society. Yet with the help of adoring reporters, Obama has managed to parlay extraordinary speaking and political skills into a presidential campaign built on sand.
The idea that America might entrust its security and future to someone who has never demonstrated an ability to get anything of significance done is scary.