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Barack Obama Revealed
Aired August 20, 2008 - 21:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: We now turn to Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president. His campaign is historic. His life story unexpected. Just a few years ago, most people didn't even know his name. Here now, Barack Obama revealed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How's it going, Sunshine?
MALVEAUX (voice-over): He's drawing the biggest crowds, an underdog candidate who caught fire. Rock star attention for a man who's become a media magnet in this year's presidential campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Democrat, Barack Obama --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama --
MALVEAUX: But just four years ago, Barack Obama was a virtual unknown, a freshman senator from Illinois. Today, Barack Obama is making history.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our next president of the United States, Senator Barack Obama!
MALVEAUX: But in many ways, he is an unlikely candidate. His life very different from the lives of most Americans.
MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: As Barack has said, you know, only in this country would our stories, both he and mine, be possible.
MALVEAUX: His story is fascinating, yet complex. Obama's father, Barack Sr., a black man from a small village in Kenya. His mother, Ann, a white woman from a small town in Kansas. Biracial and raised largely by his white grandparents in Hawaii, Obama often struggled to understand his own racial identity.
(on camera): Your father was largely absent. How did that impact you?
OBAMA: I didn't have a father in the house. I didn't have any role model as -- or very few role models as an African-American teen growing up. And there was a period in my teenage years where I was rebellious. MALVEAUX (voice-over): His family mosaic was far from traditional. His younger half-sister, Maya, remembers.
MAYA SOETORO-NG, BARACK OBAMA'S SISTER: We were born into this complicated family that spanned more than one continent. And from the moment of our birth, we were faced with opportunities to forge connections.
OBAMA: In many ways, it was a wonderful childhood because I got to know so many different parts of the world and so many different cultures. But it also meant that I never felt that I had a place, a community that was mine.
MALVEAUX: Part of Barack Obama's story is pure Americana, beginning with his mother Ann.
OBAMA: Oh, she was just -- she was spectacular. She was an only child. She had traveled a lot growing up. You know, she was born in Wichita, Kansas. My grandparents were from small towns in Kansas. She was a really loving, sweet person. She was somebody who had very clear ideas about what was right and what was wrong. She had no patience for bigotry. She had no patience for intolerance.
SOETORO-NG: She really did a great job of making connections with other human beings. And she taught us the value of that. She was so strong, but so soft, so persistent, but so yielding in a way. I think that is something she has given to Barack.
MALVEAUX: Ann's parents, Madeleine and Stanley Dunham, struggled after World War II. But they were eager to follow their dreams, a dream that would take their family to Hawaii in 1959, lured by the promise of America's newest state. Eight thousand miles to the east in Kenya, Obama's father, Barack Sr., was also searching for a better life. Leaving his small village Kogolo for the capital city, Nairobi.
OBAMA: My father had this reputation as being this larger than life figure, charismatic, very smart, very engaging. And all those things were true.
MALVEAUX: That charisma helped his father win a scholarship in 1959 to the University of Hawaii, becoming the school's first African student.
OBAMA: He was part of that first generation of Africans who moved West to get an education, and then intended to bring it back to develop their country. And he made a great impression on people.
MALVEAUX: It was here in a Russian language class that a 23- year-old Barack met a shy 18-year-old student, Ann Dunham.
SOETORO-NG: She was eternally hopeful, some might even say naive, in thinking the best of everyone, and never imagining that people didn't have benevolent feelings towards her.
MALVEAUX: Hawaii Congressman Neil Abercrombie was friends with Barack and Ann at the university. REP. NEIL ABERCROMBIE (D), HAWAII: She was much more an observer and he was always the center of attention, because he had an opinion on everything and quite willing to state it. And it made people listen, among other reasons, because he thought in paragraphs. He had this tremendous smile, a pipe in his mouth, dark-rimmed glasses with bright eyes. He was incandescent.
MALVEAUX: After less than a year of dating, Ann and Barack secretly married in 1961. Ann, three months pregnant, dropped out of college. Barack Sr.'s family was furious. His father accused him of disgracing the family by marrying a white woman. Ann's parents, conservative middle Americans, were also upset that their daughter had eloped with a black man.
(on camera): Why wasn't she caught up in that whole racial conflict at the time when she married Barack's father?
SOETORO-NG: That's part of her idealism, was that she really imagined that people would simply get over it. She recognized that people were foolish to place so much stock in something like race.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): It took a bit of time and a grandson for Ann's parents to eventually accept their daughter's marriage. They welcomed Barack Sr. and Barack Jr., whom they nicknamed Barry, into their lives. But it was all short-lived.
When we return, a search to understand the father he never knew. Experimenting with drugs. And a political awakening that would launch him from obscurity into the national spotlight. Barack Obama in his own words when OBAMA REVEALED continues.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): In 1963, when Barack Obama was just two years old, his father left his family and Hawaii to study economics at Harvard. The distance strained the marriage and soon he and Ann divorced. At 22 years old, Ann had become a single parent. As a student at the University of Hawaii, she collected food stamps to make ends meet. Still, she saw a bright future.
OBAMA: I think because she was an only child, she was a voracious reader and ended up having this amazing imagination and always, I think, was looking to the larger world beyond where she was living. By the time she was an adult, she was somebody who was fascinated with different kinds of people in different cultures.
MALVEAUX: One of those people, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian student at the University of Hawaii. Ann, attracted to his easy nature and the playfulness he showed to her son Barry, began dating Lolo. Two years later, this time with her parent's approval, Ann married Lolo. Soon they moved to Jakarta, Indonesia with six-year-old Barry.
SOETORO-NG: Jakarta was like a big sprawling village at that time. It wasn't as developed as it is now. The driveways of homes were still lit with kerosene lamps. And there were a lot of open air markets and street food sellers.
MALVEAUX: His stepfather, Lolo, was a geologist. Ann, concerned with the poverty that surrounded her, worked with a non-profit group. In 1970, they had their first child, a daughter, Maya.
(on camera): Tell me about your mother, Ann.
SOETORO-NG: Here was this woman who put on her birkenstocks and she would get on the back of a motorcycle and she would go and fight in patriarchal societies to get resources for women and children.
MALVEAUX: Georgia McCulley (ph) was Ann's close friend in Jakarta.
GEORGIA MCCULLEY, FRIEND OF ANN DUNHAM: She was joyful. I can hear her laughter to this day, strong, hearty laugh. She was just interesting, fun, outgoing, vibrant, brilliant.
MALVEAUX: Ann's home was always a flutter of activity.
MCCULLEY: You never knew if a famous Indonesian movie producer was going to come, an artist was going to come. It was kind of like being at the U.N.
MALVEAUX: For Barry, every day brought something new.
SOETORO-NG: He was confronted with poverty, but also great beauty and cultural complexity. And I think that he learned in Indonesia that there was always more than meets the eye.
MALVEAUX: Indonesia's large Muslim population has prompted questions about what kind of school Obama attended. For two years, beginning in Kindergarten, he went to this Catholic school, later, a public school. While it had mostly Muslim students, it was open to all faiths. And we can confirm it was not a Muslim religion school or Madrassa.
OBAMA: I was going to an Indonesian-speaking school. We couldn't afford to send me to a fancy international school.
MALVEAUX: But his mother also kept him on his toes at home.
OBAMA: She made sure that I was getting my English lessons. She would wake me up at 4:30 in the morning and drill into me, you know, the lessons. And I would be sleeping and nodding off and she would say, listen, this is no bargain for me either, buster. Because she was having to wake up and then go to work later.
MALVEAUX: After four years in Jakarta, Ann worried that her son, now in fourth grade, was not getting the best education. In 1971, she made a painful decision to send him back to Hawaii to live with her parents, where he was accepted into an exclusive private school on a scholarship.
MCCULLEY: It was very painful. She's a very sensitive person. And he was the center of her life for many years.
MALVEAUX: For the first time in his life, Barry was without his only real parent, his mother.
OBAMA: One of the things that I always knew was that I was the center of her world and, you know, I've always believed that if kids know they're loved, if they know that in their parent's eyes they are special, that can make up for a lot of instability and a lot of change. And that's what she was always able to transmit to me.
MALVEAUX: But that same year, Barry's father, Barack Sr., came back into his life. They had not seen each other in eight years.
(on camera): Was there anything in your 10-year-old mind that you thought maybe I can do to keep him to stay?
OBAMA: If you've got this person who suddenly shows up and says, I'm your father, and I'm going to tell you what to do, and you don't have any sense of who this person is, and you don't necessarily have a deep bond of trust with him, I don't think your reaction is, how do I get him to stay. I think the reaction may be, you know, what's this guy doing here and who does he think he is?
It was only during the course of that month -- by the end of that month that I think I started to open myself up to understanding who he was. But then he was gone. And I never saw him again.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): This school, the Punaho school in Honolulu, was one of the few constants in Barry's life. His friends became his second family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I definitely think it was like a family. We were all close.
MALVEAUX: Alan Lung (ph) and Barry played basketball together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the cool dresser, very hip, bell bottoms with flip-flops, walking around, you know, talking to everybody. Maybe even being a politician in his own way.
MALVEAUX: While popular, Barry wasn't at the top of his class.
SOETORO-NG: He was a cool kid. He was balanced kid. He wasn't particularly ambitious. He didn't get straight A's. He wasn't part of student government. But he was affable and easy going, and he liked to play basketball.
MALVEAUX: Basketball became the center of his life, earning him the nickname Barry O'Bomber.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can remember him practicing and playing on the outdoor courts, and school getting over and he'd be the first guy out there. We'd all meet out there. He just loved basketball.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love this picture.
MALVEAUX: But Kelly Forushima (ph), another friend, saw a different quality.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had written a piece for one of our literary magazines in high school that showed a sense of social consciousness. Everybody else was writing about butterflies and music and, you know, the last line of his poem was something like "walking a straight line in a crooked world." So he was pretty deep for a kid.
MALVEAUX: On the surface, Barry Obama seemed happy. But as a mixed race child raised by white grand parents in a largely white school, he struggled with his own identity.
Coming up, Barack Obama, fatherless, unfocused and adrift.
OBAMA: There was a lot of turbulence there and, you know, I experimented with drugs, didn't apply myself at school.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): The Punaho School in Honolulu, class of 1979. That's Barack Obama in a Saturday Night Fever Leisure suit. On the surface, Barry, as he was known then, was polite, laid back. But underneath, he struggled to find his place, a biracial teenager raised by his white grandparents.
(on camera): Not a typical American family. How did you deal with that?
OBAMA: I was luckier, I think, than I might have been because I was in Hawaii. Although there wasn't a large black population there, there was a multicultural environment there. But I didn't have any role models as -- or very few role models as an African-American teen.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Obama began to drift. His grades were mediocre, and there were distractions.
OBAMA: There was a period in my teenage years where I was rebellious. On the surface, I remained very polite. But, you know, there was a lot of turbulence there. I experimented with drugs. I think didn't apply myself in school. And, in some ways, I think was conforming to some of the stereotypes of an African-American young man.
MALVEAUX: When a friend of Barry's was arrested for drugs, his mother Ann, who was visiting from Indonesia, was alarmed and confronted her son. Barack Obama tells the story in his memoir "Dreams From My Father."
OBAMA: Don't you think you're being a little casual about your future, she said? What do you mean? You know exactly what I mean. I could get into any school in the country, she said, if I just put in a little effort. Remember what that's like, effort? Damn it, Barry, you can't just sit around like some good time Charlie waiting for luck to see you through.
MALVEAUX: Although he says his mother was the most positive force in his life, this time her message did not sink in. Barry remained a lackluster student. But when he got accepted into Occidental College in Los Angeles, he decided to go.
OBAMA: My first two years of college, I was continuing some bad habits from high school, but I was starting to become more aware of the world.
MALVEAUX: And politics. He'd stay up all night discussing and debating with a politically active crowd.
SOETORO-NG: He started recognizing that our cities contained a lot of problems and a lot of inequality. He did feel a certain restlessness and a desire to change things and to make his mark.
MALVEAUX: He would seen have his chance.
OBAMA: I was starting to become more aware in the world. I became active in the anti-Apartheid movement on campus.
MALVEAUX: It was 1981. Anti-Apartheid demonstrations were being held all over the world. When Obama spoke at a rally on the Occidental campus, he says things started to click.
OBAMA: I really wanted to stay up there, to hear my voice bouncing off the crowd and return back to me in applause. I had so much left to say.
MALVEAUX: The speech was a turning point. The student who had been indifferent about college now wanted to move up the academic ladder.
OBAMA: I started to think to myself, I've got to buckle down here a little bit. So I transferred. I went to Columbia in New York City. And for about two years, I lived sort of the life almost like a monk. I was -- all I was doing was going to classes and reading and writing and thinking and never went out. In retrospect, you know, it's -- it's a pretty sober way to spend your junior and senior years in college. But that was what I felt was needed for me at that time.
MALVEAUX: His sister Maya noticed the big change while visiting him in his rundown New York apartment.
SOETORO-NG: He seemed more serious. He seemed more pensive. He was reading a great deal and studying hard. I now know that he was trying to figure out who he was and what he was going to do for the rest of his life.
MALVEAUX (on camera): He went back to his given name Barack. Can you tell me the significance of that?
SOETORO-NG: It didn't feel like a man's name perhaps to him. He wanted to sort of claim his inheritance. And also, I think, it was part of figuring out how to become a man.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Searching for a connection with his father, Obama exchanged letters with him and planned to visit after graduation. But halfway through his senior year, Obama received a static-filled phone call from Kenya. His father had been killed in a car accident. Now there would be no reunion, no reconnection, just a sense of loss and longing.
His father's death gave him a sense of urgency about his own life.
OBAMA: I think I just became much more aware that I was frittering my life away and that, if I really wanted to make my mark, it wasn't going to be because I was pursuing my own selfish aims, that there was going to be something that I connected up to that was larger than myself.
MALVEAUX: When we return, Barack Obama finds purpose in Chicago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He taught us to speak for ourselves.
MALVEAUX: And a minister named Jeremiah Wright.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): In 1985, Barack Obama, a few years out of Columbia, wanted to make his impact on the world. He sent resumes to dozens of community organizations. He got just one response.
(on camera): What was it like when you first saw him?
JERRY KELLMAN, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: There were lots of reasons to be skeptical of somebody who was 24 who wanted to do this work.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Jerry Kellman's Developing Communities Project, a charity that worked with Chicago's poor, needed a community organizer.
He invited Obama for coffee.
KELLMAN: This is a young man who had wanted -- who wanted to be involved in the civil rights movement, but he was somewhere between 10 or 15 years too young.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The civil rights movement had an enormous impact on -- on my imagination, reading about people who were, at that time, not much older than me who had gone to jail and suffered beatings in order to liberate a people and give life to America's ideals. I thought, there's something powerful about that.
MALVEAUX: Obama moved to this apartment on Chicago's South Side, to establish a connection with the black community, and to be closer to the people he wanted to serve.
B. OBAMA: I thought to myself, this is how you can forge a community for yourself, by working in that community and -- and making sacrifices on behalf of that community.
KELLMAN: We paid him $10,000.
MALVEAUX (on camera): A year?
KELLMAN: A year. A year. And he needed a car, so I gave him $2,000.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Obama bought a beat-up compact, and started to explore. What he saw was a black community suffering from years of government neglect and record unemployment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the elevator, have you voted?
MALVEAUX: Chicago elected its first black mayor, Harold Washington. But, like many big cities in America, Chicago was racially divided. Many white Chicagoans were outraged that a black man was in charge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Mr. Mayor.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MALVEAUX: Barack Obama's job was to help Chicago's forgotten residents learn to help themselves.
Reverend Alvin Love.
REVEREND ALVIN LOVE, PRESIDENT, BAPTIST GENERAL STATE CONVENTION OF ILLINOIS: Remember that, at that time in Chicago, the wards were really politically motivated. And, if you weren't on board with the political process with the people in leadership, then your garbage didn't get picked up on time; your street didn't get fixed.
MALVEAUX: Obama had taken to walking his neighborhood like a cop on the beat. Along the way, he spotted Reverend Love's church, Lilydale First Baptist.
LOVE: And this guy walks up, rings the doorbell, and says: "My name is Barack Obama. And can I talk to you for a few moments?" And, in the back of my mind, I'm wondering, what does this guy want, you know?
MALVEAUX: What Obama wanted was to organize Chicago's South Side pastors to better help their own communities. It was during this period that Obama joined the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's Trinity Church. It was the church to join if you wanted to be one of Chicago's black movers and shakers.
Reverend Wright was a believer in the idea that religion could be used to fight racism. But, years later, their relationship would backfire.
KELLMAN: What people don't understand about the period of time was that the issues that he talked to Jeremiah Wright about were how to get kids summer jobs, how to improve the -- the local public schools. They were very much grassroots kind of issues.
MALVEAUX: Working together in what Obama called God's army, entire congregations now turned out for ward meetings.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack's job was to build the organization, and he did a good job on bringing in churches.
MALVEAUX: Loretta Herron (ph) was active in the community. Along with several other woman, they became foot soldiers for Obama. They also tended to mother him, earning them the nickname "Obama's Mamas."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt so protective of him. You know, are you eating right? Are you getting enough rest?
MALVEAUX (on camera): Did he listen to you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I doubt it. I doubt it.
MALVEAUX: Yvonne Lloyd (ph) was also one of "Obama's Mamas."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He always stayed in the background, and he would always tell us: "This is your community. If I go out front, people are going to say, who is he?"
MALVEAUX: Obama made Loretta Herron his point person for a desperately need job center for the community. Herron ran into trouble at a meeting with city officials.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The director was really talking over me, and she had that high-handed attitude about, well, you don't even know what I do, and whatever, you know. And I was trying to get a word in edgewise, without being really disrespectful.
MALVEAUX: Herron says, when Obama saw her struggle, he spoke up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He started calling. He said, "Let Loretta speak, let Loretta speak," you know, in that voice of his. And, so, people kind of picked it up, you know. And, so, she backed down.
MALVEAUX: The residents got their job center. Mayor Washington came to the opening and complimented Loretta's work. Obama beamed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He taught us to speak for ourselves. He gave us the strength that a lot of people never gave. You know, to this day, I am an empowered person.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was fine living here. I had a few run- ins with some of the management.
MALVEAUX: Linda Randall (ph) lived here at the Altgeld Gardens housing project, which was surrounded by toxic waste dumps. The apartment buildings themselves were filled with asbestos. Randall alerted Obama to the problem. His army of everyday citizens went to work. It started when Randall alerted Obama to a problem.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two guys in white suits came out. And they had these little glass things on their faces. So, I knocked on one of them's glass thing. And I asked them, I said, what are you all doing? And they told me, he said, we're removing asbestos.
MALVEAUX: But the city only planned to remove asbestos from the management office, not from residents' apartments.
MALVEAUX (on camera): He took it on an issue of injustice. Was that -- was that...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, because it was.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are people living with small children. Some of them, we found, had been eating part of the asbestos.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Eventually, Obama's army forced the housing authority to clean it up, but it took years. The slow pace was Barack Obama's undoing as a community organizer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Things weren't moving fast, as the way he felt they should. And that does frustrate you. When you have put your whole heart and soul and everything that you're doing, and it seems like everybody else is dragging their feet, it does frustrate you.
MALVEAUX: After three years in Chicago, Obama decided to leave.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I would watch him in the trainings and in meetings, and I knew. I knew he was not ours just to keep.
MALVEAUX: When we come back: Barack Obama learns the truth about the father who left him.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill. "Obama Revealed" continues in a moment, but, first, the headlines.
Iraqi and American negotiators tonight have a draft agreement that could have U.S. troops leaving Iraqi cities as soon as next summer. Officials stress, though, this is not a deadline, nor is it a done deal.
A new CNN poll of polls shows Barack Obama with a very slim one- point lead over John McCain. That is down from three points yesterday and eight points about a month ago.
Tropical Storm Fay is stalled over the Cape Canaveral area, where it's already dumped nearly two feet of rain. Thousands of homes are flooded. But Fay isn't done with the state yet. The storm could make a third landfall there tomorrow, possibly near Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. We will have the latest for you at the top of the hour on 360.
And Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones has died after suffering a brain hemorrhage. She was the first black woman to represent Ohio in Congress. Ms. Tubbs Jones was 58. Those are the headlines at this hour.
"Obama Revealed" continues -- right after this.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): In 1988, like his father 30 years earlier, Barack Obama was accepted into Harvard, where he planned to study law. But before opening the next chapter of his life, he knew he needed to close one in his past.
MAYA SOETORO-NG, SISTER OF BARACK OBAMA: It was important, I think, that he travel to Kenya, that he meet his family there, that he begin to understand his father, in all of the man's complexities.
MALVEAUX: That summer, he traveled to Kogelo, Kenya, to meet his father's family and learn who the man really was.
(on camera): You said: "Every man is trying to live up to his father's expectations or make up for his mistakes. In my case, both may be true."
Can you explain?
B. OBAMA: In my case, you had this -- this person who was almost -- almost a myth in our family, about how smart he was, and how well he had done in school, and how well-spoken he was, and so forth. So, that was something to live up to, high expectations.
On the other hand, here's somebody who wasn't there, and that I would come to learn was an alcoholic, and somebody who had not treated his family well. And, so, that was something that you felt you had to make up for.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): The myth of his father was soon replaced with the reality of a complicated and broken man.
B. OBAMA: He generally had trouble providing stability for his other children and his subsequent wives. He fought, when he got back to Kenya, against tribalism and nepotism, but ultimately was consumed by it, blackballed from the government, ended up having a serious drinking problem, was in a severe car accident, ended up dying a -- a tragic and bitter man.
MALVEAUX: Sitting between the graves of his father and grandfather, Barack Obama's feelings of abandonment and frustration gave way to understanding and acceptance.
KELLMAN: It was not until I traveled to Kenya and heard from relatives of who he had been, and the story that he had lived, that, I think -- that I -- I fully was able to understand him, and, obviously, in some ways, understand myself.
MALVEAUX: In the fall of that year, Barack Obama arrived at Harvard Law School.
Classmate Hill Harper recalls that Obama stood out.
HILL HARPER, FORMER CLASSMATE OF BARACK OBAMA: He had already had real life experience. He -- he had already done a great deal of community service. You know, he worked on the South Side of Chicago. And, so, he really had a sense of why he was here. He definitely had a sense of gravitas that many -- many of us may not have had.
MALVEAUX: Kenneth Mack, now a Harvard professor, was a good friend and remembers one of Obama's favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King.
KENNETH MACK, PROFESSOR OF LAW, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. And he used to -- he used to love to sort of say this and kind of let it roll off of his tongue.
MALVEAUX (on camera): And how did people react?
MACK: For other people to say things like that, you know, come on, people wouldn't take it seriously. In law school, you're quoting Martin Luther King. But, with Barack, people really did take him seriously.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): After his first year, Obama returned to Chicago for a summer internship at a high-powered corporate law firm. It was here he met Michelle Robinson, a recent Harvard Law School grad.
B. OBAMA: I had actually spoken to her on the phone. And she was very corporate and very proper on the phone, trying to explain to me how the summer program at Sidley and Austin was going to go.
MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: I probably did what a lot of people do when they hear about Barack Obama. First, I thought, what kind of name is Barack Obama?
B. OBAMA: First of all, she thought it was inappropriate to have any interoffice dating, even though I was only there for the summer.
M. OBAMA: I had already sort of created an image of this very intellectual nerd. And I was prepared to be polite and all that.
B. OBAMA: When I saw her, she was very crisp, and professionally dressed, and -- and beautiful.
M. OBAMA: And then he walked into my office on that first day, and he was cuter than I thought he would be. So, that was a first positive impression.
B. OBAMA: Then she had, I think, given up on men. She was going to be focusing just on work.
M. OBAMA: I thought, this guy is going to be a good friend of mine. I liked him. We hung out. But I just didn't see that. I didn't see a relationship coming out of that.
B. OBAMA: And she had all these theories. And I basically knocked them down one after the other, until finally...
M. OBAMA: I said, OK, we will go on this one date, but we won't call it a date. I will spend the day with you.
B. OBAMA: At that point, I thought, OK, I think I got something going here.
M. OBAMA: We went to the Art Institute in Chicago. And he impressed me with his knowledge of art. And then we walked up Michigan Avenue. It was on a really beautiful summer day, and we talked, and we talked.
Then, we wound up having a drink on the 99th floor of the John Hancock Building. That gives you a beautiful view of the city. And, probably by the end of that date, it was -- it was over.
MALVEAUX (on camera): You were sold?
M. OBAMA: I was sold.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Obama was smitten. He and Michelle continued dating long-distance while he finished law school. In his second year, Barack Obama would stake his first claim to making history. In 1990, he set his sights on becoming president of Harvard's Law Review, the first African-American.
MACK: The Law Review, like Harvard as a whole at that time period, was a very divided institution, divided politically, divided racially.
B. OBAMA: I think it's real important to keep the focus on the broader world out there.
MALVEAUX: Friends say, Obama rose above the fray. He had the knack of winning arguments without losing friends.
HARPER: Barack defied the stereotypes and misperceptions about achievement, about excellence, without question. And there's -- there's no question about it, that he was the most outstanding student at Harvard Law School across race, across income level, across gender, across period. He was the top student of our class.
MALVEAUX: He won the presidency and was profiled in newspapers across the country. There were also the usual job offers for the top student at Harvard Law.
HARPER: So, what do most people who are historically number one, what do they -- what choices do they make? They decide to clerk for the Supreme Court. That's the next big power move you do. Or you take your big high six-figure salary job, best job you can get, in a big New York law firm or whatever. Barack decides to do neither of those two things.
MALVEAUX: So, what does he decide to do?
Coming up: back to Chicago, where Obama learns to play political hardball.
DAVID MENDELL, OBAMA BIOGRAPHER: In the end, we saw the first real example of Barack Obama's cutthroat nature.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Barack Obama was 30 years old, with a Harvard Law degree and president of the Law Review on his resume. Everyone wanted to hire him, Wall Street, big-name firms. He rejected them all. Instead, Obama headed to Chicago, where there was yet another low-paying job with his name on it.
SANDY NEWMAN, ATTORNEY AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: He could have taken the easy road to wealth and prestige. Instead, he gave both of those up, because he really believed in the democratic process.
MALVEAUX: In 1991, Sandy Newman recruited Obama to head the Chicago chapter of Project Vote!. The group registered minority and low-income voters.
B. OBAMA: My first love is getting people to participate in the political process.
NEWMAN: He ran the most successful voter registration drive in Chicago history.
MALVEAUX: And Obama was making a name for himself in Chicago political circles. Obama took on two jobs. He taught at the elite University of Chicago Law School, and he practiced civil rights law at a small politically connected firm.
One client was developer Tony Rezko, who owned tenements in the inner city. He would become Obama's friend and financial supporter, and, down the road, a liability. But, at the time, Rezko was politically well-connected, and Obama was thinking about a career in politics. He was also thinking about a future with Michelle.
CRAIG ROBINSON, BROTHER OF MICHELLE OBAMA: When we first met Barack, my sister brought him over to my mom and dad's house.
MALVEAUX: Michelle's brother, Craig Robinson.
ROBINSON: We all met him, had dinner. They left to go to the movie. And my mom and dad and I were talking, oh, what a nice guy. This is going to be great. Wonder how long he will last?
MALVEAUX (on camera): How did you come to the point where the two of you decided that you would get married?
M. OBAMA: It wasn't until after he finished law school that we started talking about marriage. And he would sometimes say, well, you know, if you love -- two people love each other, you know, what is marriage? And I would say, marriage is everything.
MALVEAUX: I want that ring.
M. OBAMA: Right. It's like, you know, marriage means a great deal. But he had always intended to propose, because, apparently, he had talked to my father, talked to my family before he bought the ring. I think everybody knew but me. So, he was just sort of goading me on.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): On October 18, 1992, Barack and Michelle were married by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church, the same Reverend Wright whose controversial sermons would later threaten Obama's political career.
Obama had become close to Wright. He credits Wright with bringing him to Christianity. Wright would also baptize the Obamas' two daughters, Sasha and Malia.
But, as Barack was building his new family, he lost one of his own. His mother, who was living in Hawaii, died in 1995. She was only 52 years old. He and his sister, Maya, said goodbye to their mother in Hawaii, scattering her ashes on the south shore.
SOETORO-NG: This enormous wave came sweeping over us, and we felt sturdy. It was almost as though she were saying farewell.
MALVEAUX: He returned to Chicago more focused and ready to make his move into politics. When State Senator Alice Palmer tapped Obama to run for her seat, he jumped at the chance. State Senator Rickey Hendon was Palmer's friend.
RICKEY HENDON, ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR: Her and Barack had a discussion about him replacing her for the Senate when she went to Congress. So, there was an agreement between them.
MALVEAUX: But then something unexpected happened.
EMIL JONES, ILLINOIS SENATE PRESIDENT: She lost the race. Then she decided to come -- that she wanted to come back.
HENDON: She said, well, look, I'm going to run for reelection.
MALVEAUX: Palmer asked Obama to withdraw.
JONES: He refused to step down.
HENDON: There's no way Barack could have beat Alice Palmer in that seat. It just wasn't going to happen. Alice was extremely popular.
MALVEAUX: Obama played hardball. He challenged Palmer's right to be on the ballot.
MENDELL: He looked at her nominating petitions that she had to submit to the board of elections and could see that they were put together in a real hurry.
HENDON: And the people who she had depended on to do her petitions really did not do a good job.
WILL BURNS, FORMER CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: The rules are there for a reason.
MALVEAUX: Will Burns was part of an Obama team that found a number of Palmer's signatures were not valid.
BURNS: One of the first things you do whenever you're in the middle of a primary race or any race, especially in primaries in Chicago, you look at the signatures.
MALVEAUX: Successfully challenging her signatures, Obama knocked Alice Palmer, a revered political figure, off the ballot, as well as all three other candidates. While Obama's campaign today promotes him as a different kind of politician, back then he was an avid student of Chicago-style politics.
MENDELL: Morally, he had some complications with whether he should knock this woman out of the way.
MALVEAUX: David Mendell is a Chicago reporter who wrote Obama's biography.
MENDELL: In the end, what happened is we saw the first real example of Barack Obama's cutthroat nature when it came to advancing his own career in politics.
OBAMA: I love him, but he's wrong.
MALVEAUX: Obama's 1997 entree into the state Senate did not sit well with some legislators.
MENDELL: They looked at him with some suspicion as to who is this sort of outsider in our ranks.
MALVEAUX: Senate leaders assigned Dan Shoman to help Obama navigate the state capitol. He didn't want the job.
DAN SHOMAN, FORMER OBAMA STAFFER: And my boss called me, the chief of staff, and he said, "Dan, I need you to staff Obama."
I said, "I don't have time for Obama." I said, "This guy wants to change the world in five seconds. I have a lot of other things to do."
MALVEAUX: But Obama won Shoman over, and Shoman sent Obama to meet party leader Emil Jones.
JONES: The first thing he said to me after this election, he said, "You know, I like to work hard, and we know one another. So feel free to give me any tough assignments."
MALVEAUX: And he did, making Obama the point person on campaign finance and ethics reform. But the state legislature became too small a stage for Obama.
SHOMAN: Being a state senator is not much better than being a city councilman. You don't get any television coverage in Chicago. You're nobody.
MALVEAUX: restless after three years in the Senate, Obama took a risky step. He decided to run for Congress against four-term incumbent Bobby Rush. Rush had just lost a race to be mayor. To Obama, he looked vulnerable.
BOBBY RUSH, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: So I have lost this election, but I want you to know that I don't consider myself a loser.
MENDELL: So Obama thought that he could probably knock him off.
MALVEAUX: But Rush was a neighborhood favorite.
RUSH: Senator Barack, he represents a part of Inglewood. His district has always been in Inglewood. What has he done? Let me -- let me...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman.
MALVEAUX: In the debate, Rush dominated the political rookie.
OBAMA: I don't think Congressman Rush in this situation has a pass. I don't think the mayor should have a pass. I don't get a pass for my state senate seat.
RUSH: I certainly disagree with the senator, Senator Obama. He did get a pass in his first effort out in terms of running for the Senate. He and others knocked his predecessor, Senator Alice Palmer, off the ballot.
MALVEAUX: The race got personal. Jones remembers what people said at the time.
JONES: He's not black enough. Or he's from Harvard. He thinks he's better.
MALVEAUX: Obama got a political drubbing. Rush beat him nearly two to one.
MENDELL: Losing that congressional race was the first time in his life that he experienced just utter failure at something that he had tried and pursued with vigor.
MALVEAUX: When we return, Obama finds a political godfather. JONES: I said, "Tell me anyone you know of that I could make a United States senator."
And he said, "Me."
MALVEAUX: Barack Obama had just experienced his first major defeat, a humiliating loss to Congressman Bobby Rush. Biographer David Mendell says Obama was doing a lot of soul searching.
MENDELL: He thought that he was just such a charismatic figure and that he had a message that people would gravitate to and would embrace. And when they rejected him, that was a humbling experience for him. And he's not someone who had been humbled a whole lot in his life.
MALVEAUX: Mendell says he looked for another way onto the national political stage. His first move, try to network with leaders at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. But when he arrived, he did not have enough clout to get a floor pass. He left the convention early.
SEN. TERRY LINK: I think that, you know, Senator Obama maybe underestimated or overestimated his abilities.
MALVEAUX: Friend and fellow legislator Terry Link says Obama had to learn that politics was as much about people as policy.
LINK: He had to get down into the race and talk to people in a different way.
MALVEAUX: The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a mentor, told him the same thing.
MENDELL: "Come on, Barack, you need to get into the real world here, that these -- you need to understand what politics is about. It's a lot about frivolous things, and you have to engage people in that manner sometimes."
OBAMA: How are you? Good to see you.
MALVEAUX: So Obama, learning from his defeat, plunged into the people side of politics.
MENDELL: And so he picked up playing golf and picked up playing poker and became one of the boys.
MALVEAUX: Senator Terry Link hosted the poker nights. He had one rule.
LINK: The politics stayed out. As I always said, you left the guns at the door.
MALVEAUX: But spending so much time at the Illinois State Senate caused tension at home. (on camera) What was the most difficult thing that you've gone through as a couple?
MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: I was -- spent a lot of those years, you know, without him by my side. Just home on the weekends, not there most of the week. You know, that created stress and tension that, I think, a lot of couples find themselves in, and we had to really work through that -- that time in our lives.
MALVEAUX: But Obama's extra time in Springfield paid off.
JONES: I don't care how smart, how brilliant you are. If you don't have those relationships, you're not going to be successful.
MALVEAUX: Emil Jones was one of those relationships.
SHOMAN: President Jones was the godfather, and he likes that role. He relishes that role.
MALVEAUX: In 2002, Democrats took over the state senate. Jones, a former sewer inspector, was now the president of the Senate. Obama went to Jones with a proposal.
JONES: You have a lot of power. Tell me what kind of power I got, Barack. He said, you have the power to make a United States senator. I said, that sounds very interesting. I said, "If I got that kind of power, tell me anyone you know of that I could make a United States senator."
And he said, "Me."
HENDON: He owes it all. He owes everything to President Jones. I never let Barack forget that. And we shouldn't let Barack forget that.
MALVEAUX: With help from on high, Obama got his name on hundreds of bills that he pushed through.
OBAMA: This is a nationwide problem.
MALVEAUX: A bill that monitored racial profiling by police. A law mandating that police interrogations be videotaped in murder cases.
OBAMA: But we have to start preparing for that now.
MALVEAUX: Tax rebates for the working poor. But there was also something else on his political resume.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those in favor, vote aye. Opposed vote nay. The voting is open.
MALVEAUX: Obama had a high number of "present" votes. It's a technique many legislators used on politically sensitive issues to indicate they were present for a vote without committing for or against. Obama did it 129 times in his eight years in the Senate. His critics charged he wouldn't commit on controversial votes.
HENDON: Some people would also say that that's smart politics.
OBAMA: How are you?
MALVEAUX: In 2002, Obama started to test the waters for a Senate race.
OBAMA: Thank you, man. I appreciate you.
MALVEAUX: Weighing into a national political debate.
OBAMA: I don't oppose war. What I do oppose is a dumb war.
MALVEAUX: He won influential supporters among Chicago's moneyed elite. But friends and family worried. A loss would be politically devastating.
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: If you lose another race so quickly, what's that going to do to your political career?
MALVEAUX: But Obama was determined.
OBAMA: We are going to need to register as many voters as we can.
MALVEAUX: When he announced his run for the Senate, he was a clear underdog.
OBAMA: I had no money. I had no organization. And nobody could pronounce my name.
MENDELL: Well, that Democratic primary is the craziest political race I've ever witnessed.
MALVEAUX: Crazy, but for Obama lucky. Scandal and unsealed court papers would derail the campaigns of both the Democratic front- runner, Blair Hall, and the Republican nominee, Jack Ryan.
OBAMA: I welcome Mr. Keyes to this Senate race.
MALVEAUX: Failing to find local talent to replace their fallen candidate, Illinois Republicans picked Alan Keyes, a Maryland conservative, for the race.
ALAN KEYES, FORMER ILLINOIS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.
MENDELL: Enter this bombastic figure of Alan Keyes to run against him. I mean, it's a -- it's a script that, you know, a screenwriter couldn't write.
OBAMA: And Cody, I want to congratulate you for doing just an outstanding job raising this steer. So thank you very much.
MALVEAUX: Obama's only challenge now was to win enough voters in conservative down state Illinois.
OBAMA: I just want you to know that everybody running on the Democratic slate is a meat eater. We have no vegetarians.
MALVEAUX: Then Obama got an even bigger break, something more than a floor pass to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He got an invitation to give the keynote speech. Obama's good friend, Marty Nesbit, noticed Obama was connecting with young people.
MARTY NESBIT, FRIEND OF OBAMA: We were walking down the street, and there was this crowd building behind us, kind of like Tiger Woods at the masters. And I turned to him, and I said, "You know, man, you are really turning into a rock star."
And he said, "You think it's bad today, wait until tomorrow."
And I said, "Well, what do you mean?"
And he said, "My speech is pretty good."
OBAMA: Now, even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin-masters, the negative ad peddlers, who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.
MALVEAUX: Barack Obama became an instant star for the Democrats. Political consultant David Axelrod.
DAVID AXELROD, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: I said to myself, "His life is never going to be the same."
JONES: The tears was running down my eyes, and I felt embarrassed. And I turned around, and I looked at Terry link. We all felt so proud, so good.
MALVEAUX: Barack Obama won his Senate race by a landslide.
When we return, how a freshman senator from Illinois became the Democratic nominee for president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Obama of Illinois.
MALVEAUX: The freshman senator, at 44 years old, was already a political star.
OBAMA: I do.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congratulations.
MALVEAUX: Only the third African-American elected to the U.S. Senate. SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Barack Obama's arrival in the United States Senate was unprecedented. It never happened before. Here was a brand-new United States Senator who was known by everybody because of the speech.
OBAMA: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.
MALVEAUX: But Obama was quick to remind the press he was still a freshman senator with little clout and part of the minority party in Washington.
OBAMA: I'm looking forward to my service here.
MALVEAUX: He soon found his way in, reaching across the aisle to pass legislation on nuclear nonproliferation and to revamp federal contracts awarded after Hurricane Katrina.
When Democrats gained control of the Senate, party leaders made Obama the point person on an ethics overhaul. But like most freshmen senators, his legislative record is thin. With an eye on his future career, he was cautious and pragmatic.
Immigration reform has long been a political football. Obama joined a bipartisan group, which included John McCain. They came up with a compromise plan to reform immigration and agreed to stick with it. But when the bill reached the floor, Obama distanced himself from the bipartisan coalition, voting for amendments favored by labor groups whose support could be useful to him in a presidential run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do hereby move to bring to a close debate on...
MALVEAUX: The bill died in the Senate. Obama defended his vote.
OBAMA: It simply says that we should examine after five years whether the program is working. The notion that somehow that guts the bill or destroys the bill is simply disingenuous.
MALVEAUX: Critics said Obama put partisan politics above bipartisan reform.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people, when it comes to the tough decisions, back away.
MALVEAUX: After Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope," became a best seller. His audience grew bigger. The political buzz surrounding him grew louder.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we recruit you to run for president?
OBAMA: Well, I don't know about all that.
MALVEAUX: Although Obama had less than three years on the job, he was being courted by powerful Democrats to run for president. David Axelrod, his chief strategist and close friend. AXELROD: This was as close to a draft as anything that I've seen in my lifetime. We had no intention on making this race, and then he went on the road in the spring of 2006, barnstorming for other Democratic candidates around the country. Wherever he went, there were these enormous crowds, and almost always, people were there to exhort him to consider running.
OBAMA: Obviously, it's flattering to get a lot of attention.
DURBIN: I just watched what was going on. And I watched the reaction to this man, and I said, you know, in this business of politics, sometimes you pick the time, and sometime the time will pick you. This is your time.
OBAMA: I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.
MALVEAUX: But he was up against a powerful force: former first lady, Senator Hillary Clinton, who was favored to win the nomination. The race soon got ugly.
OBAMA: While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shipped overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart. I was fighting these fights. I was fighting these fights.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.
OBAMA: No, no, no, no.
MALVEAUX: Developer Tony Rezko was Obama's friend and one of his top political contributors when Obama was an Illinois state senator.
MENDELL: He had gotten too close to this guy to see the problems that were swirling around him.
MALVEAUX: Obama wanted to buy a house in Chicago's exclusive Hyde Park neighborhood, but the seller was only willing to sell the house with the vacant lot next to it, and Obama couldn't afford to buy both. Rezko's wife bought the vacant lot, enabling Obama to buy his house at $300,000 below the asking price. It had the appearance of influence buying.
Rezko was later convicted of fraud, money laundering, and bribery, charges unconnected to Obama.
OBAMA: But there's no allegations that I was involved with anything, that there was -- that any of his problems were related to me. I did show -- I did make a mistake in entering into a real estate with him that was completely separate from the topic of his trial, and I've said it was a mistake.
MENDELL: Obama is a guy who's generally a pretty good judge of character, I think, but in this instance, he was off.
OBAMA: Hoping to distance himself, Obama gave Rezko's political donations to charity. But then came an unexpected blow that would cause far more damage.
REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FORMER PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: No, no, no, not God bless America, God damn America. That's in the Bible.
MALVEAUX: Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor and friend of 20 years. Inflammatory excerpts from his sermons began to surface on the Internet.
WRIGHT: And they will not only attack you if you try to point out what's going on in white America, U.S. of K.K.K.A.
MALVEAUX: Casting a shadow over Obama's campaign. At first he stood by his pastor.
OBAMA: As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reverend Wright, the floor is now yours.
MALVEAUX: But Jeremiah Wright would not stop.
WRIGHT: You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are not biblical principals, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.
MALVEAUX: His provocative statements at the National Press Club in April fueled the flames of the controversy.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He chose this church. He chose this hate-monger as a spiritual leader.
MALVEAUX: The reverend had, in effect, made his longtime friend a target. A visibly anguished Obama, in the fight of his political life, finally severed the relationship.
OBAMA: The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate. They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs.
MALVEAUX (on camera): How hard was that for him?
NESBIT: I think it was very tough.
MALVEAUX: He seemed angry when he was giving that speech about Reverend Wright, when he dismissed him.
NESBIT: I think he was.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): A personal loss in the middle of a pitched battle with Hillary Clinton. CLINTON: Well, I'm here. He's not.
OBAMA: Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.
MALVEAUX: That would not end until June, in one of the closest primary contest in history. Barack Obama, the one-time underdog candidate, came out on top.
OBAMA: Thank you, Iowa. Thank you, Minnesota. Thank you, North Carolina. May God bless.
MALVEAUX: Obama's campaign message of hope and change has resonated with many young voters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
DURBIN: Look what he's done so far. The fact that we have four million new voters in the Democratic Party. These are people, many of whom never voted before.
MALVEAUX: But to others he seems a blank slate, his time in office too short to know how he would deal with the pressures and the problems of the White House.
For Barack Obama, it has been an extraordinary journey.
OBAMA: For as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.
MALVEAUX: An improbable journey, from a boy trying to find his place to a man trying to be president, fueled by, in his words, the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name, who believes that America has a place for him, too.
OBAMA: We are ready to change. We are ready to come together. And in this election, we are ready to believe again. God bless you. God bless America.
MALVEAUX (on camera): At 47 he is one of the youngest candidates to run for the presidency, nearly a quarter of a century younger than his rival, John McCain. Some see him as untested, others as the hope of a new generation. Either way, Barack Obama has changed the face of American politics.