Sunday, February 03, 2008

Obama the Uniter

In response to Obesio's request for evidence supporting the assertion in my last post that Barack Obama has a strong record of building bipartisan coalitions, I present the following. I know I need more sources than this, but it's a start.

From Newsweek's Across the Divide which was published in its July 16 2007 issue (page 2 of the online version):

From his earliest days as a politician, Obama has made a career out of reconciling opposing sides. He's been able to assuage some conservative whites, who have been surprised by his lack of grievance and encouraged by his pragmatism. And he's accomplished that, for the most part, without alienating African-American supporters. The story of how he has walked that tightrope reveals a lot about what kind of politician Obama is, and how he might perform in the White House. It also says something about how far America has come—and how far it has to go.

Obama's first campaign was among the mostly white voters at Harvard Law School. At the time, in the early 1990s, the school was torn over racial issues such as affirmative action. On the left, there was anger at the failure to appoint African-American professors; on the right, there was dismay at the influence of liberal scholars who condemned the criminal-justice system as skewed against minorities and the poor. Amid this turmoil, Obama won election to the presidency of the influential law review by seeking consensus—with the support of a bloc of conservative students.

The conservatives knew he wasn't one of them, says former classmate Bradford Berenson (who later served in George W. Bush's White House). "What really set him apart from the people who had roughly the same views he did is that he did not demonize the people on the other side of the dispute," says Berenson. "He was not the sort to accuse people of being racist for having different views of affirmative action." Obama rewarded the conservatives by appointing several to the masthead of the law review, which angered some of his more-liberal supporters.

And this is from page 4 of the online version of the same article:

Back in the Illinois Senate, Obama made a name for himself as someone who could work both sides of the aisle. He befriended an eclectic group of lawmakers, including Kirk Dillard, a conservative Republican. Dillard specifically recalls Obama's work to reach a compromise on the death penalty. Gov. George Ryan had commuted every death sentence in the state after a series of flawed cases had come to light; the legislature was deeply split. Conservative law-and-order types were incensed, while black legislators, in particular, thought it was about time that the state stopped executing prisoners who had been wrongly convicted. Obama was handed the herculean task of reaching a compromise. He did so by getting conservatives to embrace the idea of videotaping police interrogations and suspects' confessions. Among Obama's toughest opponents: Illinois state Sen. Ed Petka, a former prosecutor who had put so many men on death row that his friends called him Electric Ed. "Ed Petka was the hardest person for Obama to convince that he was the real deal, but even Petka became an Obama convert with respect to these criminal-law issues," says Dillard. (Petka, now a Will County judge, declined to comment.)

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