Barack Hussein Obama II (born August 4, 1961) is an American politician serving as the 44th President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at University of Chicago Law School between 1992 and 2004. He served three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, and ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for the United States House of Representatives in 2000 against incumbent Bobby Rush.
In 2004, Obama received national attention during his campaign to represent Illinois in the United States Senate with his victory in the March Democratic Party primary, his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July, and his election to the Senate in November. He began his presidential campaign in 2007 and, after a close primary campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008, he won sufficient delegates in the Democratic Party primaries to receive the presidential nomination. He then defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the general election, and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. Nine months after his inauguration, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
During his first two years in office, Obama signed into law economic stimulus legislation in response to the Great Recession in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. Other major domestic initiatives in his first term included the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare”; the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. In foreign policy, Obama ended U.S. military involvement in the Iraq War, increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered U.S. military involvement in Libya in opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. In January 2011, the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives as the Democratic Party lost a total of 63 seats; and, after a lengthy debate over federal spending and whether or not to raise the nation’s debt limit, Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
Obama was reelected president in November 2012, defeating Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and was sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2013. During his second term, Obama has promoted domestic policies related to gun control in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and has called for greater inclusiveness for LGBT Americans, while his administration has filed briefs which urged the Supreme Court to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and state level same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional. In foreign policy, Obama ordered U.S. military intervention in Iraq in response to gains made by the Islamic State after the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, continued the process of ending U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, promoted discussions that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement on global climate change, brokered a nuclear deal with Iran, and normalized U.S. relations with Cuba.
Family and personal life
In a 2006 interview, Obama highlighted the diversity of his extended family: “It’s like a little mini-United Nations”, he said. “I’ve got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I’ve got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher.” Obama has a half-sister with whom he was raised (Maya Soetoro-Ng, the daughter of his mother and her Indonesian second husband) and seven half-siblings from his Kenyan father’s family—six of them living. Obama’s mother was survived by her Kansas-born mother, Madelyn Dunham, until her death on November 2, 2008, two days before his election to the Presidency. Obama also has roots in Ireland; he met with his Irish cousins in Moneygall in May 2011. In Dreams from My Father, Obama ties his mother’s family history to possible Native American ancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.
Besides his native English, Obama speaks some basic Indonesian, having learned the language during his four childhood years in Jakarta. He plays basketball, a sport he participated in as a member of his high school’s varsity team; he is left-handed.
Obama is a supporter of the Chicago White Sox, and he threw out the first pitch at the 2005 ALCS when he was still a senator. In 2009, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game while wearing a White Sox jacket. He is also primarily a Chicago Bears football fan in the NFL, but in his childhood and adolescence was a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and rooted for them ahead of their victory in Super Bowl XLIII 12 days after he took office as President. In 2011, Obama invited the 1985 Chicago Bears to the White House; the team had not visited the White House after their Super Bowl win in 1986 due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
In June 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson when he was employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin. Assigned for three months as Obama’s adviser at the firm, Robinson joined him at several group social functions, but declined his initial requests to date. They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married on October 3, 1992. The couple’s first daughter, Malia Ann, was born on July 4, 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha (“Sasha”), on June 10, 2001. The Obama daughters attended the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. When they moved to Washington, D.C., in January 2009, the girls started at the private Sidwell Friends School. The Obamas have two Portuguese Water Dogs, the first, a male named Bo, a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy. In August 2013, Bo was joined by Sunny, a female.
Applying the proceeds of a book deal, the family moved in 2005 from a Hyde Park, Chicago condominium to a $1.6 million house in neighboring Kenwood, Chicago. The purchase of an adjacent lot—and sale of part of it to Obama by the wife of developer, campaign donor and friend Tony Rezko—attracted media attention because of Rezko’s subsequent indictment and conviction on political corruption charges that were unrelated to Obama.
In December 2007, Money estimated the Obama family’s net worth at $1.3 million. Their 2009 tax return showed a household income of $5.5 million—up from about $4.2 million in 2007 and $1.6 million in 2005—mostly from sales of his books. On his 2010 income of $1.7 million, he gave 14 percent to non-profit organizations, including $131,000 to Fisher House Foundation, a charity assisting wounded veterans’ families, allowing them to reside near where the veteran is receiving medical treatments. As per his 2012 financial disclosure, Obama may be worth as much as $10 million.
Obama tried to quit smoking several times, sometimes using nicotine replacement therapy, and, in early 2010, Michelle Obama said that he had successfully quit smoking.
Obama is a Protestant Christian whose religious views developed in his adult life. He wrote in The Audacity of Hope that he “was not raised in a religious household”. He described his mother, raised by non-religious parents, as being detached from religion, yet “in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known.” He described his father as a “confirmed atheist” by the time his parents met, and his stepfather as “a man who saw religion as not particularly useful.” Obama explained how, through working with black churches as a community organizer while in his twenties, he came to understand “the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change.”
In January 2008, Obama told Christianity Today: “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.” On September 27, 2010, Obama released a statement commenting on his religious views saying “I’m a Christian by choice. My family didn’t—frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead—being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.”
Obama met Trinity United Church of Christ pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright in October 1987, and became a member of Trinity in 1992. He resigned from Trinity in May 2008 during his first presidential campaign after some of Wright’s statements were criticized. The Obama family has attended several Protestant churches since moving to Washington, D.C. in 2009, including Shiloh Baptist Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church. After a prolonged effort to find a church to attend regularly in Washington, Obama announced in June 2009 that his primary place of worship would be the Evergreen Chapel at Camp David.
Early life and career
Main articles: Family of Barack Obama and Early life and career of Barack Obama
Obama was born on August 4, 1961, at Kapiʻolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital (now Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children) in Honolulu, Hawaii, and would become the first President to have been born in Hawaii. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, born in Wichita, Kansas, was of mostly English ancestry. His father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a Luo from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Kenya. Obama’s parents met in 1960 in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where his father was a foreign student on scholarship. The couple married in Wailuku on Maui on February 2, 1961, and separated when, in late August 1961, Obama’s mother moved with their newborn son to attend the University of Washington in Seattle for a year. During that time, Obama, Sr. completed his undergraduate economics degree in Hawaii in June 1962, then left to attend graduate school at Harvard University on a scholarship. Obama’s parents divorced in March 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya in 1964 where he remarried; he visited Barack in Hawaii only once, in 1971. He died in an automobile accident in 1982, his son being 21 years old at that time.
In 1963, Dunham met Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian East–West Center graduate student in geography at the University of Hawaii, and the couple were married on Molokai on March 15, 1965. After two one-year extensions of his J-1 visa, Lolo returned to Indonesia in 1966, followed sixteen months later by his wife and stepson in 1967, with the family initially living in a Menteng Dalam neighborhood in the Tebet subdistrict of south Jakarta, then from 1970 in a wealthier neighborhood in the Menteng subdistrict of central Jakarta. From ages six to ten, Obama attended local Indonesian-language schools: St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School for two years and Besuki Public School for one and a half years, supplemented by English-language Calvert School homeschooling by his mother.
Obama returned to Honolulu in 1971 to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham, and with the aid of a scholarship attended Punahou School, a private college preparatory school, from fifth grade until his graduation from high school in 1979. In his youth, Obama went by the nickname Barry. Obama lived with his mother and sister in Hawaii for three years from 1972 to 1975 while his mother was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Hawaii. Obama chose to stay in Hawaii with his grandparents for high school at Punahou when his mother and sister returned to Indonesia in 1975 so his mother could begin anthropology field work. His mother spent most of the next two decades in Indonesia, divorcing Lolo in 1980 and earning a PhD degree in 1992, before dying in 1995 in Hawaii following treatment for ovarian cancer and uterine cancer.
Of his early childhood, Obama recalled, “That my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind.” He described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage. Reflecting later on his years in Honolulu, Obama wrote: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered—to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect—became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.” Obama has also written and talked about using alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine during his teenage years to “push questions of who I was out of my mind”. Obama was also a member of the “choom gang”, a self-named group of friends that spent time together and occasionally smoked marijuana.
After high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to attend Occidental College. In February 1981, Obama made his first public speech, calling for Occidental to participate in the disinvestment from South Africa in response to that nation’s policy of apartheid. In mid-1981, Obama traveled to Indonesia to visit his mother and half-sister Maya, and visited the families of college friends in Pakistan and India for three weeks. Later in 1981, he transferred as a junior to Columbia College, Columbia University, in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialty in international relations and lived off-campus on West 109th Street. He graduated with a BA degree in 1983 and worked for a year at the Business International Corporation, then at the New York Public Interest Research Group. In 1985, Obama was among the leaders of May Day efforts to bring attention to the New York City Subway system, which was in a bad condition at the time. Obama traveled to several subway stations to get people to sign letters addressed to local officials and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and was photographed at the City College subway station holding a sign protesting against the system’s condition.
Community organizer and Harvard Law School
Two years after graduating, Obama was hired in Chicago as director of the Developing Communities Project, a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale on Chicago’s South Side. He worked there as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988. He helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time in Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his paternal relatives for the first time. He returned to Kenya in 1992 with his fiancée Michelle and his half-sister Auma, and again in August 2006 for a visit to his father’s birthplace, a village near Kisumu in rural western Kenya.
Obama entered Harvard Law School in the fall of 1988. He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, president of the journal in his second year, and research assistant to the constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe while at Harvard for two years. During his summers, he returned to Chicago, where he worked as an associate at the law firms of Sidley Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990. After graduating with a JD degree magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, he returned to Chicago. Obama’s election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review gained national media attention and led to a publishing contract and advance for a book about race relations, which evolved into a personal memoir. The manuscript was published in mid-1995 as Dreams from My Father.
University of Chicago Law School and civil rights attorney
In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book. He then taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years, first as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and then as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004.
From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois’s Project Vote, a voter registration campaign with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, leading Crain’s Chicago Business to name Obama to its 1993 list of “40 under Forty” powers to be.
He joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a 13-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004. In 1994, he was listed as one of the lawyers in Buycks-Roberson v. Citibank Fed. Sav. Bank, 94 C 4094 (N.D. Ill.) This class action lawsuit was filed in 1994 with Selma Buycks-Roberson as lead plaintiff and alleged that Citibank Federal Savings Bank had engaged in practices forbidden under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act. The case was settled out of court. Final Judgment was issued on May 13, 1998 with Citibank Federal Savings Bank agreeing to pay attorney fees. His law license became inactive in 2007.
From 1994 to 2002, Obama served on the boards of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which in 1985 had been the first foundation to fund the Developing Communities Project, and of the Joyce Foundation. He served on the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge from 1995 to 2002, as founding president and chairman of the board of directors from 1995 to 1999.