By Lloyd Graff
About five and a half years ago my son Noah and I went to the Big Ten basketball championship at the United Center in Chicago. It was an early round and the stadium was pretty empty, but seated a few rows beneath us were a couple of guys I recognized – David Axelrod, and Rahm Emanuel. It is no huge leap of faith to believe that these smart young politicos were discussing how they were going to put Barack Obama into the White House.
Today Axelrod is considered the genius behind the masterful Obama campaign and Emanuel is widely expected to become White House Chief of Staff. These guys came up through the maze of Chicago politics. Axelrod started out as a newspaper reporter and then turned to the dark side. Emanuel had a lot of family connections and weaved his way into influence in the Clinton administration before getting bequeathed one of the country’s safer Democratic congressional seats on the North Side of Chicago. These two smart Jewish guys saw greatness in the wiry, chain smoking, hoops loving black guy with the Muslim name, soaring ambition and a beautiful, equally driven wife.
The story rings of the TV series The West Wing where the idealistic Josh Lyman goes looking for a candidate who inspires him and talks Martin Sheen – Jed – an obscure former governor of New Hampshire into running for President and then works 18 hours a day for two years to help make it happen.
As the Obama victory was taking shape last night I couldn’t help but think about the parallels with Bill Clinton. Obama like Clinton never knew his father growing up, who walked out on his mother to go back to Kenya. Clinton’s father died in a car accident before he was born. Both mothers married badly the second time around.
Neither Clinton nor Obama had any family money, but both went to the best schools on scholarships because they could make people believe in them. Both married brilliant lawyers who made money while they pursued politics. And both ran for President starting with no personal money, just an amazing ability to connect with America. Ultimately both Clinton and Obama beat war heroes with major family wealth and connections.
What a country.