Obama Takes His Outside Game to the Inside

How fast we journalists move so as not to be left behind or be seen as sentimental.

I expect a story any minute that President-elect Barack Obama is moving too fast, or not fast enough. That his first hire, that of Representative Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff by way of the Clinton Administration, is a sign he's just a hack. That he isn't doing enough to grasp the gracious olive branch extended by the man he defeated, Senator John McCain. The puppy he promised his daughters is the wrong breed.

It's coming. It always does.

For a day at least, let's stop and celebrate the improbable assumption of the highest office in the land by this outsider with no birthright, no connections, no mentors. Lyndon Johnson had Sam Rayburn. Harry Truman had the Pendergast gang. Dwight Eisenhower had George Marshall and the Lodges. John F. Kennedy had his dad. Ronald Reagan was mentored by an entire movement looking for a new face.

Obama's would-be rabbis came to him in Chicago and tried to persuade the community organizer to abandon his first bids for office. He once went to a Chicago bigwig and was asked who sent him. "Nobody," Obama answered. "We don't want nobody nobody sent," he was told.

At the 2000 Democratic convention, he couldn't get a floor pass. He couldn't even cadge an invitation to the Illinois delegation's parties. He watched most of the speeches on television. He left early.

Unknown Obama

In 2004, he got a speaking part at the convention but not when the networks were broadcasting. Still, the speech was so captivating, he entered the Fleet Center in Boston unknown and left a local hero. The delegates cheered. Cops reached out to shake his hand. The party sent money for his Senate race.

His 15 minutes was interrupted as he made his way home the next day on the $285 ticket he had purchased himself. He was pulled out of line to be frisked for flying while black with a Muslim name.

Even as he won his Senate seat, the skinny kid with the funny name was an island of one belonging to no easily recognizable group. His father grew up in a tin hut in Kenya. His Kansan flower-child Mom, who rose at 4 a.m. to tutor her son, turned him over to his grandparents at age 10 while she finished a graduate degree in anthropology.

They were Kansans who ended up in Hawaii: Obama's grandfather, who fought in World War II, was an outgoing furniture salesman; his grandmother, whom he spied watching him shoot hoops from their two-bedroom condo, worked her way up from secretary to vice president of a bank, saving enough along the way to send Obama to the best private schools.

Read the full column on Bloomberg.com here.

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