Winning for himself

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

In the beginning, the media and even members of Barack Obama's political party blamed rookie mistakes for the president's uncanny ability to divide the country, politically and culturally — even on something as simple and ultimately meaningless as weighing in on a white suburban police officer arresting an innocent black man on suspicion of burglary.

But the “rookie mistakes” became a pattern of behavior spanning his entire first term.

They appeared in legislation that lacked public scrutiny — or anything resembling his promised bipartisan support — on such matters as the stimulus-spending package, the TARP bailout and ObamaCare.

Then there were the political shenanigans that flouted his government-transparency pledge, such as appointing political “czars” to powerful positions in order to escape Senate confirmation, or the near-absence of press conferences where he might have to answer tough questions.

Almost everything Obama did in his first term has divided the country.

And that continued with his re-election campaign that brazenly relied on a culture of class warfare and political division not seen since the days of fiery 19th-century populist William Jennings Bryan.

As distasteful as it is to many Americans, Obama achieved two historic thresholds: He was the first presidential candidate to run and win on the basis of such deep political division, and he is the first president to win re-election with fewer votes than in his first victory.

“It is something that he does almost daily and the consequences be damned, because he always comes out on top,” explained one Washington Democrat insider who asked to remain nameless.

“Nobody ever talks about how the congressional primary race between then-community organizer Barack Obama and Bobby Rush changed Obama,” said Bruce Haynes, a media expert with Purple Strategies, a Washington-based consulting firm. “But it explains why he is this way” — what Haynes sees as Obama's take-no-prisoners attitude in everything he does.

“Nothing matters in Chicago but winning, and everything in Chicago is about division and knife fights in dark alleys,” he said.

Haynes referred to Obama's crushing loss in 2000 to incumbent congressman and former Black Panther Bobby L. Rush, who was a force to be reckoned with in Chicago's predominantly black, Democrat and working-class South Side.

Haynes imagined Obama — who he described as “somebody who didn't have a whole lot of foundational principles to begin with” — looking at himself in the bathroom mirror after that bruising race against Rush and saying to himself: “OK, that is how it is going to be. Well, I am going to be the best there is at winning elections.”

According to Haynes, Obama indeed has become “the best there is at winning”: “He made a historical amount of people show up in his first election and made history by making a historical number of people not show up in his second election.”

And he won both times.

“Very few can pull off what he has,” Haynes said. “If he continues governing campaign-style, pitting folks against each other, I don't see anyone benefiting except Barack Obama.”

There is nothing wrong with believing that one can accomplish whatever one tries.

There is something unhealthy, however, with fundamentally believing in nothing but oneself.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media. (412-320-7879 or

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