Monday, November 17, 2008

HOW THE OBAMA FAIRY TALE BEGAN

Paul Street Z Mag - Conventional wisdom holds that Obama entered national politics with his instantly famous keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. But, as Ken Silverstein noted in Harper's in the fall of 2006, "If the speech was his debut to the wider American public, he had already undergone an equally successful but much quieter audition with Democratic Party leaders and fund-raisers, without whose support he would surely never have been chosen for such a prominent role at the convention.

The favorable elite assessment of Obama began in October of 2003. That's when "Vernon Jordan, the well-known power broker and corporate board-member who chaired Bill Clinton's presidential transition team after the 1992 election, placed calls to roughly twenty of his friends and invited them to a fund-raiser at his home. That event," Silverstein noted, "marked his entry into a well-established Washington ritual-the gauntlet of fund-raising parties and meet-and-greets through which potential stars are vetted by fixers, donors, and lobbyists."

Drawing on his undoubted charm, wit, intelligence, and Harvard credentials, Obama passed this trial with shining colors. At a series of social meetings with assorted big "players" from the financial, legal and lobbyist sectors, Obama impressed key establishment figures like Gregory Craig (a longtime leading attorney and former special counsel to the White House), Mike Williams (the legislative director of the Bond Market Association), Tom Quinn (a partner at the top corporate law firm Venable and a leading Democratic Party "power broker"), and Robert Harmala, another Venable partner and "a big player in Democratic circles."

Craig liked the fact that Obama was not a racial "polarizer" on the model of past African-American leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Williams was soothed by Obama's reassurances that he was not "anti-business" and became "convinced...that the two could work together."

"There's a reasonableness about him," Harmala told Silverstein. "I don't see him as being on the liberal fringe."

By Silverstein's account, the good "word about Obama spread through Washington's blue-chip law firms, lobby shops, and political offices, and this accelerated after his win in the March [2004] Democratic primary." Elite financial, legal, and lobbyists contributions came into Obama's coffers at a rapid and accelerating pace.

The "good news" for Washington and Wall Street insiders was that Obama's "star quality" would not be directed against the elite segments of the business class. The interesting black legislator from the South Side of Chicago was "someone the rich and powerful could work with." According to Obama biographer and Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, in late 2003 and early 2004:

"Word of Obama's rising star was now spreading beyond Illinois, especially through influential Washington political circles like blue chip law firms, party insiders, lobbying houses. They were all hearing about this rare, exciting, charismatic, up-and-coming African American who unbelievably could win votes across color lines. . . [his handlers and] influential Chicago supporters and fund-raisers all vigorously worked their D.C. contacts to help Obama make the rounds with the Democrats' set of power brokers. . .

According to Mendell, Obama now cultivated the support of the privileged few by "advocat[ing] fiscal restraint" and "calling for pay-as-you-go government" and "extol[ing] the merits of free trade and charter schools." He "moved beyond being an obscure good-government reformer to being a candidate more than palatable to the moneyed and political establishment." .

"On condition of anonymity," Silverstein reported two years ago, "one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn't see him as a 'player.' The lobbyist added: 'What's the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?'"

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