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A year after election, Obama is still a superstar

By Michael M. Bates
web posted October 24, 2005

Even for a man who made the cover of Newsweek before he was sworn in, it's an impressive achievement. Senator Barack Obama, according to a recent Tribune/WGN-TV poll, wins the approval of 72 percent of Illinois voters. If that weren't enough, state Republicans give the new Democratic senator a 57 percent approval rating.

These results will generate more speculation about his placement on the national ticket in 2008 or 2012. They will also fuel, if more fueling were needed, the media swoon over the junior senator.

Barack ObamaHe is, we're told constantly, a star. That message has come from the New York Times, USA Today, CBS News, the Christian Science Monitor, NBC's Andrea Mitchell and many other news outlets and talking heads. OK, so the guy's gotten phenomenal press coverage and that influences public opinion to some degree. Other than that, what has Obama done since election that's made him so popular?

We know he's extremely visible, shows up at town hall meetings, provides liaison with Federal agencies to constituents and turns out reams of self-serving press releases. That's pretty typical though.

So is what he says in the Congressional Record. Statements from Obama, such as the ones he made commending the Congressional Black Caucus on its work on behalf of Afro-Colombians and congratulating Northwestern University's women's lacrosse team, are routine fare.

As is the senator's inflated ego. In Time magazine this summer, he compared himself to an American icon:

"In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat - in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles."

That's right. Lincoln's challenges remind him of not just his own struggles, but even other people's. You know, those common folks who aren't superstar senators.

Maybe the reason Barack Obama is so popular with Illinoisans is the way he's representing them in Washington. Perhaps he votes on issues the way we want him to.

When this session of Congress ends, assorted groups will compile the votes related to their special interest and issue a rating for each member of Congress. Organizations from both Left and Right and everywhere in between do this. The ratings are helpful in identifying where elected officials stand on particular issues. Mr. Obama hasn't been in Washington long enough to be ranked by most of the groups. That doesn't mean, however, that he hasn't established a record. Since the senator was sworn in, there have been 255 recorded Senate votes. He's missed seven.

Of the remainder, he's voted the same as Senator Edward Kennedy well over 90 percent of the time. I selected Kennedy's record to compare for a reason.

Say whatever you want about Teddy – and I have - there's little doubt that he is a liberal's liberal. Unlike many of his colleagues, Kennedy doesn't conduct an opinion survey to decide how he will vote. He is philosophically pure and unyieldingly dogmatic. Kennedy can afford to be. Bay Staters have repeatedly shown a willingness to keep him in the Senate no matter what. Heck, he could probably get away with murder and they'd still support him.

Teddy is a living caricature of Big Government: Fat, bloated and out of control. Most of the people in Massachusetts want that type of representation.

But is that what the people of Illinois yearn for? A liberal who votes with Kennedy more than nine times out of ten? Kerry won the state in last year's election, but that was because of the People's Republic of Chicago. Of the state's 102 counties, 88 went for George W. Bush.

Obama's voting record doesn't reflect his constituency. The Illinois electorate may not have intended to send Kennedy Lite to the Senate, but that's what it did. And today a big majority, including Republicans for heaven's sake, approve of what he's doing.

There's the story of a woman conducting a public opinion poll by telephone. One of the questions was, "Which do you thing is the greater danger to our survival, ignorance or apathy?" She called a man whose reply was, "I don't know and I don't care."

The superstar should be thankful he's blessed with so many constituents like that man.

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This essay originally appeared in the October 20, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.

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