Barack Obama

The First African American President

Barack Obama

Early Life

Barack Hussein Obama Jr. was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was named after his father, a Kenyan exchange student whose African name meant "blessing" in his native Swahili. Obama's mother, Ann, was a white American born in Kansas who had moved to Honolulu with her parents.

Obama's family dissolved when he was two; his father won a scholarship to Harvard that was not sufficient to support a family, and he moved to Massachusetts alone. After finishing his degree, the elder Obama went back to Kenya and took a job as an economic planner for the country's government. He continued to write letters to his son and visited him once when he was ten, but his marriage to Obama's mother ended in 1964. Ann then met Indonesian oil company executive Lolo Soetoro in Hawaii, and they were married in 1967. The family left Hawaii and moved to Maya was born in Indonesia in 1970.Indonesia when Obama was six. His half-sister

Obama's diverse background gave him the ability to understand many voters' concerns, and he shone on the campaign trail as he connected with voters across class, racial, and geographic lines. "I just never heard anybody speak like him before," a downstate Democrat told the New Yorker. "It's like he's talking to you, and not to a crowd." Working-class African American Chicagoans, highly educated professionals and academics, and small-town business owners all felt that they had encountered one of their own when Obama gave a speech in their neighborhoods.

Getting Involved

Obama inherited an economy in disarray, among other problems. He signed a $787 billion spending plan in February of 2009 intended to stimulate the U.S. economy and announced a $500,000 salary limit on top executives from companies that had requested federal bailouts. He also introduced a $75 billion plan that he said would help as many as nine million Americans with mortgage problems. Meanwhile, automakers General Motors and Chrysler had filed for bankruptcy. Italy's Fiat eventually bought Chrysler's assets, and GM reorganized after Obama forced the resignation of GM chief executive Rick Wagoner.


In May of 2009 Obama made his first Supreme Court nomination, federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor. The Senate on August 6 confirmed Sotomayor by a 68-31 vote. She was the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court justice and the third woman on the top court, following Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Sotomayor, of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in a housing project in New York's South Bronx neighborhood. Obama, according to the New York Times, praised her confirmation as "breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union."

In the summer of 2009 Obama's signature legislation--an overhaul of the U.S. health care system--dominated the headlines. "From the start of his presidency, Obama made clear that his plan for enacting comprehensive health care reform came down to three words: fast, broad and bipartisan," Ceci Connolly wrote in the Washington Post. Obama, though, faced resistance from Republicans, conservative Democrats, and middle-class Americans worried about how any government plan would affect them.

In His Words

"If you run you stand a chance of losing, but if you don't run you've already lost"

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