That's the Obama I Knew

When Barack Obama burst onto the national scene with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, his speech was scarcely over before he was being spoken of as a contender for the presidency -- despite being a virtual unknown.

Sure enough, Obama began running for president as soon as the dust settled from the John Kerry campaign. It was a primary season that started early and ran long; a brutal slugfest with the vaunted Clinton machine, from which he emerged not only victorious but largely unscathed, in spite of the fact that he remained a virtual unknown.

Obama was successful in large measure because he gave the appearance of being not only personally likable, but politically and temperamentally moderate. His autobiographies deftly painted a portrait of a thoughtful family man, an identity reinforced by his ever-smiling countenance and graceful demeanor.

Yet there were occasional cracks in this facade, troubling signs of a radical core under the centrist package. There were those pesky associations: Bill Ayers, for one, the Pentagon bomber-turned-educator with whom Obama shared responsibilities on a charitable board. Obama downplayed this connection, dismissing Ayers as merely "a guy who lives in my neighborhood." Slightly harder to explain was the America-cursing, racial separatist preacher Jeremiah Wright, in whose church pew Obama sat and whose lunatic sermons Obama absorbed for nearly two decades.

And then there were the slips of the tongue that betrayed an appalling antipathy towards individual liberty: His plain admission that he would confiscate private property for redistribution ("spread the wealth"); the threat to single out a private company for government-induced bankruptcy because he disapproved of their product (coal producers); informing us that we cannot set our home thermostats where we like for reasons of global fairness.

Why did these associations and admissions not send a collective shiver down America's spine? For one, an adoring press gave such incidents little play (as when the Los Angeles Times refused to release a videotape of Obama toasting radical anti-Israel activist Rashid Khalidi). But these hints of radicalism also conflicted dramatically with the beautiful, seemingly normal Obama family portrait.