Does Eleanor Clift Know How To Do Research?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 21, 2010

I’m guessing she doesn’t:

Obama’s storied political career took him from the relative obscurity of the Illinois State Legislature to the presidency in such a short time that he didn’t get much of a feel for the nitty-gritty politicking that consumes so much of today’s partisan bickering. He didn’t have the benefit of getting beaten badly at the state level, like Clinton was in Arkansas, and having to learn how to reinvent himself. . . .

(Emphasis mine.) Ahem:

The rise of Barack Obama includes one glaring episode of political miscalculation. Even friends told Mr. Obama it was a bad idea when he decided in 1999 to challenge an incumbent congressman and former Black Panther, Bobby L. Rush, whose stronghold on the South Side of Chicago was overwhelmingly black, Democratic and working class.

Mr. Obama was a 38-year-old state senator and University of Chicago lecturer, unknown in much of Mr. Rush’s Congressional district. He lived in its most rarefied neighborhood, Hyde Park. He was taking on a local legend, a former alderman and four-term incumbent who had given voters no obvious reason to displace him.

[. . .]

“Campaigns are always, ‘What’s the narrative of the race?’ ” said Eric Adelstein, a media consultant in Chicago who worked on the Rush campaign. “In a sense, it was ‘the Black Panther against the professor.’ That’s not a knock on Obama; but to run from Hyde Park, this little bastion of academia, this white community in the black South Side — it just seemed odd that he would make that choice as a kind of stepping out.”

[. . .]

There were plenty of college-educated, white, “latte liberals” with whom Mr. Obama polls well. But he was barely known outside his state Senate district, in the eastern part of Mr. Rush’s district. To win, he would have to expand his support among blacks, including the older, church-going, Rush loyalists who vote disproportionately in primaries.

[. . .]

Mr. Rush had grown up in Chicago, enlisted in the Army, joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped found the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968. He coordinated a medical clinic that pioneered mass screening for sickle cell anemia, which disproportionately affects blacks. As an alderman in 1992, he had ousted a black political legend — Representative Charles A. Hayes, a veteran of the civil-rights and labor movements who was caught up in a scandal that year involving the House bank.

Mr. Obama, 15 years younger than Mr. Rush, arrived in Chicago in his 20s after growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia. He worked as a community organizer on the South Side for three years, then returned to the city after graduating from Harvard Law School. He ran a voter registration drive, joined a law firm, taught constitutional law and been elected to the state Senate from Hyde Park in 1996.

[. . .]

Mr. Obama’s Ivy League education and his white liberal-establishment connections also became an issue. Mr. Rush told The Chicago Reader, “He went to Harvard and became an educated fool. We’re not impressed with these folks with these Eastern elite degrees.”

[. . .]

Mr. Obama was seen as an intellectual, “not from us, not from the ’hood,” said Jerry Morrison, a consultant on the Rush campaign. Asked recently about that line of attack, Mr. Rush minimized it as “chest beating, signifying.”

The implication was not exactly that Mr. Obama was “not black enough,” as some blacks have suggested more recently; his credentials were suspect. “It was much more a function of class, not race,” Mr. Adelstein said. “Nobody said he’s ‘not black enough.’ They said he’s a professor, a Harvard elite who lives in Hyde Park.”

[. . .]

Mr. Rush won the primary with 61.02 percent of the vote; Mr. Obama had just over 30 percent. Mr. Obama was favored by whites but lost among blacks, Mr. Lester said. Looking back, some say the magnitude of the loss reflected Mr. Obama’s failure to connect with black, working-class voters. Mr. Mikva said, “It indicated that he had not made his mark in the African-American community and didn’t particularly have a style that resonated there.”

He and others say Mr. Obama learned from that experience. Mr. Mikva recalls telling him about advice once given to John F. Kennedy by Cardinal Richard Cushing: “The cardinal said to him, ‘Jack, you have to learn to speak more Irish and less Harvard.’ I think I recounted that anecdote to Barack. Clearly, he learned how to speak more Chicago and less Harvard in subsequent campaigning.”

Mr. Shomon said, “There was a gradual progression of Barack Obama from thoughtful, earnest policy wonk/civil rights lawyer/constitutional law expert to Barack Obama the politician, the inspirer, the speaker.” Denny Jacobs, a friend of Mr. Obama and a former state senator, agreed. “He stumbled on the fact that instead of running on all the issues, quote unquote, that hope is the real key,” he said. “Not only the black community but less privileged people are looking for that hope. You don’t have to talk about health care, you have to talk about ‘the promise’ of health care. Hope is a pretty inclusive word. I think he is very good at selling that.”

Gosh, it seems to me that Barack Obama did have an experience of “getting beaten badly at the state level,” having lost to Rush in the 2000 primary by over 30 points. And gosh, it seems to me that he did have “to learn how to reinvent himself” in the aftermath of that loss. And gosh, let’s not pretend that Obama’s experience in the 2000 primary, his work as a state senator, and his eventual successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2004 somehow means that he “didn’t get much of a feel for the nitty-gritty politicking that consumes so much of today’s partisan bickering.” One doesn’t succeed in Chicago and Illinois politics purely by virtue of the grace of God, after all.

It took me all of 5 seconds, by the way, to find the New York Times article on Barack Obama’s race against Bobby Rush. Granted, I am a Chicagoan, and know the political history around here–not to mention the history of Chicago’s and Illinois’s favorite son–rather well. But the way I figure it, Newsweek must pay Eleanor Clift a handsome salary. Can’t she justify the money she makes by doing some research, and writing a more informed article as a consequence?

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