Barack "Trickster" Obama
To hear it from supporters of Obama you would think he was a new type of politician; even post-partisan. But the problem with supporters is that you don't get the whole truth and nothing but. Instead, you get an idealized version of a vision and this version is more idealized than any I can remember because the real Obama doesn't play nice. He rolls around in the political mud just as much as anybody, if not more.
Using rules to disqualify candidates:
When he ran his own campaign for the Illinois Senate and faced a formidable list of primary opponents, he sent his emissaries to challenge hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of all four of his primary challengers. He even disputed signatures on the petition of his chief opponent Alice Palmer, whom it is said he promised to not run against if she ran in the primary.
Like every other Democratic legislator who entered the inner sanctum, Obama began working on his "ideal map." Corrigan remembers two things about the district that he and Obama drew. First, it retained Obama's Hyde Park base-he had managed to beat Rush in Hyde Park-then swooped upward along the lakefront and toward downtown. By the end of the final redistricting process, his new district bore little resemblance to his old one.
In the liberal New Republic, Sean Wilentz noted that Barack Obama "played the race card and blamed Hillary Clinton" and portrayed a campaign that was eager to wield charges of racism against the Clintons -- and to do so unfairly in the opinion of Wilentz and many others (McCain tasted a bit of this poison a few weeks ago in the wake of Obama's claim that McCain was trying to scare people away from Obama because his face didn't look like the face of other Presidents portrayed on our dollar bills).
Barack Obama also appears to have intimidated superdelegates into supporting him. Superdelegates include members of Congress who need money to run their races. In an earlier article, "Barack Obama's Goldmine", I speculated that Barack Obama might use the information he gained about voters and his ability to raise and deploy vast amounts of money to reward supporters and punish opponents. There were reasonable grounds to believe that such support was being "bought" by measuring the correlation between his donations to superdelegates and the level of support shown to him compared to Hillary Clinton. Roger Simon's article in Politico adds a new dimension to this type of tactic. The Obama campaign appears to have used their financial resources to coerce wavering delegates to support Obama by threatening to "primary" them. Gerrymandering (see above) has made positions safe for incumbents in general elections. What incumbents fear the most are primary challengers, which they can lose.
Preckwinkle is a tall, commanding woman with a clipped gray Afro. She has represented her slice of the South Side for seventeen years and expresses no interest in higher office. On Chicago’s City Council, she is often a dissenter against the wishes of Mayor Richard M. Daley. For anyone trying to understand Obama’s breathtakingly rapid political ascent, Preckwinkle is an indispensable witness—a close observer, friend, and confidante during a period of Obama’s life to which he rarely calls attention.
Although many of Obama’s recent supporters have been surprised by signs of political opportunism, Preckwinkle wasn’t. “I think he was very strategic in his choice of friends and mentors,” she told me. “I spent ten years of my adult life working to be alderman. I finally got elected. This is a job I love. And I’m perfectly happy with it. I’m not sure that’s the way that he approached his public life—that he was going to try for a job and stay there for one period of time. In retrospect, I think he saw the positions he held as stepping stones to other things and therefore approached his public life differently than other people might have.”
On issue after issue, Preckwinkle presented Obama as someone who thrived in the world of Chicago politics. She suggested that Obama joined Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ for political reasons. “It’s a church that would provide you with lots of social connections and prominent parishioners,” she said. “It’s a good place for a politician to be a member.” Preckwinkle was unsparing on the subject of the Chicago real-estate developer Antoin (Tony) Rezko, a friend of Obama’s and one of his top fund-raisers, who was recently convicted of fraud, bribery, and money laundering: “Who you take money from is a reflection of your knowledge at the time and your principles.” As we talked, it became increasingly clear that loyalty was the issue that drove Preckwinkle’s current view of her onetime protégé. “I don’t think you should forget who your friends are,” she said.
Others told me that Preckwinkle’s grievances against Obama included specific complaints, such as his refusal to endorse a former aide and longtime friend, Will Burns, in a State Senate primary—a contest that Burns won anyway. There was also a more general belief that, after Obama won the 2004 United States Senate primary, he ignored his South Side base. Preckwinkle said, “My view is you have to bring your constituency along with you. Granted, you have to make some tough decisions. Granted, sometimes you have to make decisions that people won’t understand or like. But it’s your obligation to explain yourself and try to do your supporters the courtesy of treating them with respect.” Ivory Mitchell, who for twenty years has been the chairman of the local ward organization in Obama’s neighborhood—considered the most important Democratic organization on the South Side—was one of Obama’s earliest backers. Today, he says, “All the work we did to help him get where he finally ended up, he didn’t seem too appreciative.” A year ago, Mitchell became a delegate for Hillary Clinton.
The same month Mitchell endorsed Clinton, the Obama campaign reached out to Preckwinkle, and eventually she signed on as an Obama delegate. I asked her if what she considered slights or betrayals were simply the necessary accommodations and maneuvering of a politician making a lightning transition from Hyde Park legislator to Presidential nominee. “Can you get where he is and maintain your personal integrity?” she said. “Is that the question?” She stared at me and grimaced. “I’m going to pass on that.”