Published September 20, 2012
A newly published report raises questions about some established narratives in the early life of President Obama, suggesting the president's upbringing was one of privilege and not hardship.
The Washington Examiner published a 10-part report detailing Obama's path to the White House. Some of the information appears to conflict with the narratives the Obamas and the Democratic Party have pushed, most recently at the party's convention in Charlotte.
At the convention, Michelle Obama said they "were both raised by families who didn't have much in the way of money or material possessions."
Examiner Executive Editor Mark Tapscott questioned that.
"I'm sure he had a difficult childhood given the circumstances with his parents, but from a financial standpoint and social standpoint and so forth , it was not an underprivileged childhood," Tapscott said.
The Examiner reports that the Indonesian neighborhood, Menteng, where Obama's mother and step-father raised the young Barry Soetoro was the most exclusive in Jakarta.
Later sent to live with his grandparents in Hawaii where his grandmother was a bank vice president, Obama attended the exclusive Punahoe school. He later went on to Columbia University and Harvard Law School.
In his first job as a Chicago community organizer, Obama rejected more lucrative offers.
But while he worked in the city's impoverished Southside, he lived in exclusive Hyde Park.
Of his 12 years as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, Time Magazine said in 2008: "Within a few years he had become a rock star professor with hordes of devoted students." But student evaluations obtained by the Examiner tell a different story. In 2003, only a third of students recommended his courses.
"It went steadily down in the last five or six years that he was there. He was among the lowest-ranked professors," Tapscott said.
Nor did the future president leave any record of scholarly writings, while similarly credentialed colleagues had a prolific presence in law journals.
"He showed up to class, he gave his lectures and he was gone," Tapscott said.
The Examiner found sharp contrasts between Obama's memory of his legal work, and the record of it.
In "Dreams From My Father," he wrote: "In my legal practice, I work mostly with churches and community groups, men and women who quietly built grocery stores and health clinics in the inner city, and housing for the poor."
But a document filed with the Illinois Secretary of State shows the young lawyer represented some well-heeled clients. In one case, he represented a politically connected preacher and real estate developer, Bishop Arthur Brazier, who had failed to provide heating and running water to 15 apartments in the dead of winter. Obama's client had all the tenants forcibly removed from the building, yet paid only a $50 fine under Obama's legal counsel.
For all of his critics on the right, community organizer Obama left many colleagues on the left disheartened, by allegedly selling out to the Chicago establishment.
The late radical journalist Robert Fitch, who specialized in urban politics, said: "What we see is that the Chicago core of the Obama Coalition is made of blacks who've moved up by moving poor blacks out."
D'Anna Carter, a neighborhood activist, singled out the president's closest aid, Valerie Jarrett, for criticism. Jarrett was CEO of Habitat Co., a low-income real estate firm that made millions of dollars in part by leveraging federal programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit with subprime lending to poor people.
"They were never interested in poor people. They would sell poor people a bill of goods," Carter said.
Some argue that President Obama won office on his strength as a reformer - he did vow to "fundamentally transform America." But the Examiner found as a state senator he rejected overtures to reform the Chicago machine.
"He made it pretty clear he wasn't interested in risk-taking or challenging the Chicago machine's lock on a lot of mechanics of government in Cook County in Chicago," said one frustrated former colleague, former state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger.
Mayor Richard J Daley -- the last of the big city bosses -- built that machine by rewarding allies with patronage positions. Today, Obama's choice of aides suggests an unbreakable bond to that machine. Closest aide Valerie Jarrett, campaign adviser David Axelrod, and former chiefs of staff Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley all cut their political teeth in the Daley machine.
The legendary Chicago Tribune writer Mike Royko once penned this advice to mayoral candidate Richard M. Daley, the son of the big city boss: "Reward your friends and punish your enemies." It is a phrase the president once used to describe how Latinos should think about elections.
In a 2010 interview, Obama urged Latinos to say: "We're gonna punish our enemies and reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us."
To that end, The Examiner says 31 Obama campaign bundlers received clean-energy loans and grants totaling more than $16 billion. The auto bailout favored the United Auto Workers -- over secured creditors -- and eight of the 10 states getting the most contracts from the stimulus program were heavily Democratic.