By now it's a familiar tale: On July 27, 2004, Barack Obama strode to the podium at the Democratic National Convention and captivated the nation with a soaring and memorable keynote address entitled "The Audacity of Hope." The speech marked America's first encounter with a rising political star. By the time Obama took the stage in Boston, he was already a shoo-in to become the next United States Senator from Illinois; he enjoyed a massive lead in the polls back home, where the state Republican Party was in total disarray and his carpet-bagging opponent seemed to specialize in alienating voters. Since that summer night more than three years ago, Obama has rocketed into the political stratosphere and now faces the possibility—if not the probability—of becoming his party's standard-bearer in the 2008 election.
Several questions still linger. How did Barack Obama rise from relative obscurity to his current level of prominence? How many Americans have heard of Alice Palmer, Blair Hull, or Jack Ryan? These names may hold no significance to the legions who now chant "yes we can," but they are names that Barack Obama should remember well. The mainstream press, which affords Obama nearly unanimous glowing coverage, has repeatedly failed to report a reality that doesn't quite fit the Obama-as-Messiah narrative. Namely, that this self-stylized agent of hope and change is a political opportunist extraordinaire. Barack Obama's dizzying ascendancy to political celebrity has been marked by less-than-inspirational bare-knuckle politics, an unremarkable legislative career, and a slew of lurid scandals that conveniently sunk formidable opponents.
Obama's first big break came in 1995 when Democratic Congressman Mel Reynolds resigned from office amid allegations of a sexual relationship with an underage girl. As state officials convened a special election, a venerable Chicago politician and civil rights leader named Alice Palmer chose to vacate her State Senate seat to pursue the open Congressional slot. After she was defeated handily, Palmer returned to run for re-election, only to discover that her hand picked successor was unwilling to relinquish his spot on the ballot. Though a series of legal challenges, Barack Obama strong-armed Palmer—and several other Democratic challengers—off the ballot, clearing a path to victory by destroying all potential competition.