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Obama in NYC:
Changing the Past?

Appearing at a rally attended by thousands in Washington Square Park in New York last night, Barack Obama made sure to remind the crowd that he knew his way around downtown, from his three years in the city in the early 1980s. "It is good to be back in New York," he said, adding that he "used to hang out in Washington Square Park" and knew "a little something about Greenwich Village." He joked: "I was going to say I know some of the bars around here, but I think my communications director was trying to cut that off."

It went over well with the crowd. Interestingly, though, Obama has generally not been as eager to play up the New York chapter of his life. In his 1995 memoir Dreams of My Father, his two years at Columbia University and one year working at Business International Corporation occupy only one slender chapter of the 450-page book, which spends far more time with his upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia, time as a community organizer in Chicago, and visit to Kenya.

To the extent that Obama does describe his three years in the city, he focuses far more on his general observations of the city than on his actual experiences in it. Columbia itself barely figures in the book -- Obama spends less time describing his studies at the college than he does describing his first night in the city, when he had to sleep in a Harlem alley because he couldn't get into the apartment he was planning to stay in and "woke up to find a white hen picking at the garbage near my feet." Nor does one get much sense of the work he was doing at his Midtown job beyond that he was "checking the Reuters machine that blinked bright emerald messages from across the globe."

It is not hard to hazard a theory for his breezing past Columbia and the business job: the book seeks to describe just how unusual and in-the-trenches Obama's upbringing and political evolution were, and the Ivy League and Midtown firm don't fit that narrative.

Obama's joke last night about his familiarity with the Village bars is also somewhat at odds with the book's portrayal of his New York stint. He describes himself as having lived a fairly strait-laced existence for a college student in New York, so much so that it irked his friend and roommate, Sadik. "I stopped getting high. I ran three miles a day and fasted on Sundays," Obama writes. "For the first time in years, I applied myself to my studies and started keeping a journal of daily reflections and very bad poetry. Whenever Sadik tried to talk me into hitting a bar, I'd beg off with some tepid excuse, too much work or not enough cash. One day, before leaving the apartment in search of better company, he turned to me and offered his most scathing indictment. 'You're becoming a bore.'"

Obama concludes: "Uncertain of my ability to steer a course of moderation, fearful of falling into old habits, I took on the temperament if not the convictions of a street corner preacher, prepared to see temptation everywhere, ready to overrun a fragile will."

--Alec MacGillis

By Post Editor  |  September 28, 2007; 5:03 PM ET
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Point well taken. I know cynicism is not the most popular approach to politics, but have you considered what the Republican Party has done done to this great democracy? Oh your God! I never said that I hate democracy. I think my participation in an online debate about presidential politics clearly evidences what great interest I, myself, have invested in this democracy and how free I really am. That being said, I simply urge everyone not roll over anytime someone is able to articulate how deeply unethical this administration is. I don't dislike Obama. I'd vote for him in a general election. But don't expect politicians to change your lot. That, my friend, is only something you can do. And, if Senator Obama is the force that will generate this "change" everyone so desires, then that's a beautiful thing. But it's critical that we don't allow ourselves to be victimized. Much of my cynicism is derived from the fact that so many people, my friends included, seem to believe that their democracy only works when politicians make it work. That sort of passivity is the height of anti-democracy. Initiatives, executive orders and debates, while healthy, do little to bring about actual change. Change occurs when people like you and me commit ourselves to it. Slavery was not simply abolished by Lincoln's stroke of a pen. The Civil Rights Movement did not occur because LBJ signed some piece of legislation. We must dictate the change that this country needs. Until then, I regret to say, we're letting politicians play lip service to us.
By the way, the Vonnegut excerpt was actually intended to be ironic. After piling on all sorts of criticisms, it's okay to step back and have a laugh. Thanks for keeping me honest, though.

Posted by: legan00 | October 2, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Legan00, why are you so cynical about democracy? You invoke Kurt Vonnegut's wit but get personal about real people's true aspirations in our leaders. Kurt Vonnegut was the master of satire, not anti-democracy. Eat some breakfast and have a cup of coffee at 4:50 AM before you cast aspersions at patriots. Barck Obama represents the exact departure from the status quo that you so adamantly despise. Ron Paul and Dennis Kocinich, while very capable and sincere in their philosophies, are also politicians. It is not a sin to run for office, so back off your rhetoric and join the 21st century of freedom and fearlessness of terrorism. Real change is in the hearts and minds of true democrats. Have you considered what the Republican Party has done to this great democracy? Oh my God!

Posted by: dqjohnson1965 | October 2, 2007 8:32 AM | Report abuse

This just goes to show how silly the people in this country really are. RPhillip's comment was right on. During every election candidates promise "change," or a "new direction," or that they'll "restore honesty & integrity" to the White House. It's so embarassing having to watch half-educated adults eat this nonsense up every four years. It's okay to be excited about politics, but I can whisper all the same sweet-nothings into your ear, if you'd like. Grow up, America! Obama isn't change. Come on, folks. Stop gushing over politicians. These are politicians, folks. They are the worsttt people in our society save for rapists, violent criminals. They don't represent your interests, and they never have. They're not above partisanship and they never will be. Dennis Kucinich & Ron Paul actually represent change. The change that each represents is dramatically different, mind you. But please, stop losing your sh*t over politicians. This is the Washington Post, not the New York Post. Employ some more cynicism. Stop acting like children and start acting like adults. Voting is a process we should all be ashamed that we engage in because every November we kid ourselves into believing that our interests actually matter to this group of plutocrats on the left & right. They don't care about you, or me. And when politicians come to your town to shake your hand and make you feel "special," remember that you're an adult. You aren't special, neither are your kids. Grow up, pay your taxes and resent your elective officials the way you ought to resent your local police force. The people that get excited about politicians are the same people that actually get excited at those mind-numbing Company meetings your management forces you to stomach. You want change next year? Then stop acting like a 15 year old girl. Until then, you're not ready for change. In fact, you'd obstruct real change upon first sight.

"There's nothing funny about national security. Nothing at all funny!" - Kurt Vonnegut

Posted by: legan00 | October 2, 2007 4:50 AM | Report abuse

Senator Obama is the best of all Democratic candidates in articulating the truth about the calamity in Iraq. He does a dynamic job of forceful, honest analysis in portraying this administration's feeble attempt at foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. His understanding of America's diminishing influence abroad demonstrates his ability to focus the electorate on the leadership he will provide as president. His courage, idealism, and charisma is reminiscient of President Kennedy. We wish him the best from Indiana.

Posted by: dqjohnson1965 | October 1, 2007 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Barack Obama is generating a public following like no candidate since John Kennedy in 1960. His star is rising and HRCs will fade in his shadow. The New York campaign appearance was a brilliant decision by Obama's managers and shows that his campaign is immune from media convolutions and Clintonian deflections. This is the real deal, America. Hop on and enjoy the ride.

Posted by: dqjohnson1965 | October 1, 2007 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I hope you young, idealistic folks supporting Obama are right. But the sad fact is that so many of the younger folks who turn out to hear, and say they will support a good candidate are good at talking the talk, but fail at walking the walk. To put it bluntly, too many of you fail to vote, and too many of you even fail to register.

If you truly believe Obama is the right candidate, as I do, they you will do a whole lot more than post comments.

Yes, some of you will vote and act, but historically, it has not been enough of you to really make the difference.

DEB -- Butte, Montana

Posted by: mtmrnut | October 1, 2007 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Sheridan's comment he has been for Obama for two years is revealing. I thought this "spontaneous" campaign was less than a year old.

I'm not surprised by Obama's support in NY, or indeed anywhere else. He has a natural constituency, a lot of white folks have an opportunity to show they are not "racists" by supporting him, and a lot of people are fooled by words like "change", "hope", "unity" and so forth.

It is not those words, but the ideology and program behind them which matters. Obama ain't saying those, because msot likely the voters would reject him if he did.

Posted by: rphillips1 | October 1, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

The one thing that everyone in America wants more than anything is a change.

A change from politics as usual.

This article showed us that he came to New York, not so much to talk about his days at Columbia University, but to show HRC that he will come to spread his message and presence here.

And every time HRC talks about experience, I want each of us to remember this one thing, if HRC had all this experience that everyone from Wall Street to Main Street is rallying behind and wants to promote, why didn't she use that same experience to protect us from the most irresponsible act, as she ignored it and silently sat back and let it happened?

Everyone has tip toed around this issue and will continue to tip toe around it throughout this campaign, as the world look on and say, "Only in the USA.".

America is at a crossroads nationally and internationally to recapture the morals and values that made other countries respected America.


Posted by: vgw22 | October 1, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

The pro-Clinton media houses & the Clinton lies - By Vincent Onditi
The pro-Clinton pollsters and media houses has created despondency which is borrowed from the well-known idea that voters are likely to favour a winning than a losing side.
This is a propaganda attack on voters' culpability by pretending to confirm their insecurity through expert attribution. The pro-Clinton pollsters and media houses seek to reason to the voter through two disguised messages.
The pro-Clinton pollsters and media houses are also responsible for the circulation fear mongering, which is designed to create as much uncertainty as possible among the voters. That other contenders are not experienced and have no strength.Yes! as David Lawrence Geffen said, the Clintons has a lot of "experience in lying, lying, lying".
The second message is derived from the first and is meant to scare a section of voters and supporters that the presidential nominations are a forgone coronation for Hillary.
The other strategy of pro-Clinton pollsters and media houses is to portray presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama as a naive, inexperienced and reluctant aspirant who is not yet ready for the presidency.
The innuendo is clear: Ensure that Sen. Obama does not clinch the nomination ticket. This is in tandem with system's long held view that Hillary presents a difficult option to beat, while Sen. Obama as an African American is an easy one for the republicans.
For sometime now, we have known that Sen. Obama's possible candidature sends shivers down the spine of the republicans. A 'Stop Sen. Obama notion' seems to be unfolding into a full-blown campaign from both pro-Clinton and pro-republican media agencies.
The need to sell this perception does not surprise us, Americans. Many voters in each state hold enough grudges against the Clinton lying machine, for example, how they killed Vincent Forster and thereafter, mercilessly choreograph events, surrounding his death. It is part of the same old condescending attitude that pro-Clinton media houses have held about the Clinton opponents. What is most perplexing is that armchair analysts do not see or choose to ignore.
Another example; the country is aware that when Bill Clinton, was making $10 000 000 deal with Dubai Port Authorities, Hillary knew about it all. But, as usual, she (they) chose to go a head and "condemn" Dubai Port Authorities, as NY senator. This is one of the many examples, that, Mr. David Lawrence Geffen, meant when he said, "the Clintons lie with such ease, that it is disturbing".
It is not individuals that, we, Americans support, but an idea whose time has come and that idea are: CHANGE and HOPE. Everybody knows that Sen. Clinton's immediate lobby associates whose interests she protects even in the campaign trail, are not going to let her bring change that we dearly hope for.
We know that the pro-Clinton media house editors are paid heavily by Clintons to distort the truth about opinion polls and present Sen. Obama, negatively. This was clear to all, after the debate in SC. Tim Russert, the only journalist left showed us, that Hillary said exactly the same thing Obama said about meeting with the leaders from rogue nations.

On the Monday debate Obama was declared winner by the people, but the pro-Clinton media houses came back swinging about how Hillary "showed experience" and Obama was a "inexperienced". But what experience does Hillary have? What has she done with her experience? It is like saying; Barbara Bush has political strength and experience....!
There was a time when we thought only the so-called gutter Press sacrifices objective and ethical journalism in favour of advertiser's announcements disguised as analysis. It may be in the interest of these pro-Clinton media houses to position their support for whosoever, and publicly, for the sake of their credibility.

Posted by: vincent.onditti | October 1, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Clinton haters,eat your hearts,because she will win the nomination and the presidency,Obama is a nice, decent guy who would never win an election,the reps.know that and poured a lot of money in his campaign.

Posted by: zeldman81 | October 1, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Question: "Amazing, 24,000 cheering Obama supporters in Hillary's backyard and the reporter turns it into a "nit-picking" negative story about Barack. I don't know why some in the media desperately want Hillary to win but this article clearly illustrates it."
Anwser: Because to continue the Great facade, Bush will try to appoint Hillary, the RePubs know they can beat her.

Posted by: Patriot73 | October 1, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Amazing, 24,000 cheering Obama supporters in Hillary's backyard and the reporter turns it into a "nit-picking" negative story about Barack. I don't know why some in the media desperately want Hillary to win but this article clearly illustrates it.

Posted by: zbob99 | September 30, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Obama inspires. Hillary manipulates.

Posted by: zbob99 | September 30, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Cynicism, thy name is journalist. We don't need your lightweight collegiate scrutiny of Obama, a candidate who has the judgment and inspiring leadership needed to heal the country and set us on a path of pulling towards solving our big problems. Don't you give a free ride to Clinton, who on the big questions always seems to be wrong before she is right: on the war, on getting health care passed, on divisiveness, on stonewalling federal probes. We need a candidate who doesn't need training wheel time and gets it right without the learning curve.

Posted by: cdc9 | September 30, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

It is so clear that the media is pulling for HRC. This could only mean that HRC represent the same old Washington politics. HRC = change? my axx.

Posted by: ericc2 | September 30, 2007 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Yes, pretty lame. There's a lot more to write about in a 24k rally than fact checking whether or not Obama did or did not enter a Greenwich Village (or Washington Square Park) bar while he was a student.

It's a pity the press was much less zealous about George Bush's background and convictions.

Posted by: carringtonward | September 29, 2007 9:58 PM | Report abuse

This is not professional reporting. It's meaningless tripe and a bunch of worthless mind reading. We can only hope Mr MacGillis regrets wasting his and our time with it and will avoid this sort of trivial trash in the future. Come on people, this is serious business, quit dicking around.

Posted by: zukermand | September 29, 2007 8:25 PM | Report abuse

What a pathetic hit-piece, and rather typical of the incompetent offerings that unfortunately dominate the media anymore.

Obama brings 24,000 (and probably more) to a rally in Clinton's 'home town', and THIS is what was written about it? Fortunately there is a huge movement out in the real world that you are apparently blind to, or purposely ignoring. The media has become irrelevent and this piece is just one more example of why that is true.

Obama is overwhelmingly favored by the population, as is evident in the astronomical numbers attending his events and donating to his campaign. The media, fueled by corporate interest and lack of journalistic integrity, can continue to paint a false picture of reality, but we aren't buying. We remember how they aided and abetted this administration's call to this abominable war. We remember the 'swiftboating' of Kerry. We see the unending garbage posted day in and day out about the latest Paris Hilton/Brittany Spears/celebrity-hype- of-the-day, while important issues are totally ignored or spun into non-recognition.

People in this country are finally turning the page on the old political game-playing and corporate interests. I'd suggest the media get on board, before they are permanently relegated to the dustbin of obscurity.

Posted by: bklynsam | September 29, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

The comments above really nailed this!

We're all bored by the smarty-pants, world-weary trivialization of the campaign. We are picking a President to replace one who has gotten this country into deep trouble. Get below the surface. Enough with the fluff.

The real story of this campaign is that a new kind of candidate is consistently attracting thousands of people, many of whom have never engaged before. This isn't just in one city...New York, Austin Texas, Minneapolis, it. Everywhere Barack has gone it's the same story. No one else in this race is even close. In fact, no one in recent memory is even close.

The mainstream media continues to cover all this in the old way...seemingly repeating the conventional wisdom that someone said to someone else at some Georgetown dinner party last night. Now let's wake up and all say the same thing on the Sunday Morning Talk Shows.

Well it's not the reality of what's really happening out there.

I can tell you from being on the ground at Obama rallies here in Minnesota that every single event we have had brought out waves of new people. I've been active in politics here for several decades but most of the people I don't know. And it's the same story all over the country.

Here's the real headline of what's really happening....An America That Slept Through A Presidency That Drove This Country Off A Cliff Is Waking Up To A New Kind Of Leadership....and that's why Barack Obama is going to be the next President.

R.T. Rybak

Posted by: rt | September 29, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

you obviously dont have anything newsworthy to write. if you remain patient,im sure a decent story maybe even real news shall come along

Posted by: llnochieng | September 29, 2007 5:55 AM | Report abuse

Watch what's happening on the ground. It's easy for the press to sit on it's butt and write lazy headlines instead of being out there asking people why they're out for Obama. Dare to hope!

Posted by: thebobbob | September 29, 2007 12:54 AM | Report abuse

This is not news.

It's shallow gossip, sort of.

Whatever it is, it is lame.

Posted by: forestflyer | September 29, 2007 12:20 AM | Report abuse

This is another example of the paltry and/or denigrating coverage the MSM gives to Obama. The Clinton Machine does seem to have the mainstream media all sewn up, proof of which is the very scanty if nonexistent TV coverage of Obama's public rally in NYC with 24,000 people. That's a MAJOR EVENT to cover! And yet, neither the images of the sea of people nor the number of people was said, except for "thousands". That is dishonest!

And now we see this tripe which is OF NO CONSEQUENCE, and only serves to unduly criticize Senator Obama, and for no reason. Report on substance, for a change!

And, guess what? There IS a sea change going on in this country that has tremendous momentum, and it is the nationwide grassroots support for Obama.

I support him because I like his worldview, the fact that he's lived outside the U.S., grew up in multicultural Hawaii, his wisdom and the courage to tell the American people what they need to hear vs. what they want to hear. Who else went to Detroit and spoke of the need to increase CAFE fuel standards and was met with hostility for doing so, right in the belly of the beast? Who else went to the NEA and talked of incentive pay for teachers, which, to many, is considered traitorous? He did; he does not pander.

Most important of all, Obama spoke out vigorously against the war in 2002 when it could have jeopardized his run for U.S. Senate and was called unpatriotic by many. He did it, anyway.

And when it came time for the Senate to vote on the war, Hillary DID NOT read the 90 page NIE (National Intelligence Estimate), even though she had 10 days to read it. Her voting for the war, to send other people's kids into war to be killed or maimed, without reading this critical report, was nothing less than DERELICTION OF DUTY.

That did it for me... the simple fact that she relied on advisors' briefings and not reading a report, which, had she done so, would have seen many caveats there, as did former Senator Bob Graham of Florida. He read it and did not vote for the war.

Hillary engages in non-stop triangulating and also, this question arises: If being first lady in the governor's mansion for 8 years and another 8 years in the White House qualifies for 'experience' to be president, then why not have Laura Bush run for president on the Republican side? How preposterous does that sound? That's the magic of the Clinton Machine's spinning and manipulating of perceptions and lock on the MSM. Hopefully, voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina won't buy it.

Time served in Washington does not equate with good judgment, as so many of the other Democratic contenders, long-time Washington insiders, have proven.

In Obama, we have someone who will unite our country and yes, the world. The moment he is inaugurated, the healing begins.

Posted by: pacifica1 | September 28, 2007 11:43 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a rock star isn't he? People flock to hear the entertainment-too bad it's the future at risk- Just because someone says experience doesn't matter doesn't mean it's so-
We need more than pretty speechifying -all of the Democratic candidates have basically the same ideology- it's who has the realism and pragmatism to get it done-

Posted by: BB60 | September 28, 2007 8:57 PM | Report abuse

As a volunteer at the rally, 24,000 is a great estimate, plus there were at least a couple of thousand that left, due to the crowd.

Every age, race, sex, class came to see him, and most were more than enthusiastic. I met people who told me they donated money to him and want him to win.

Many of his supporters will be voters for the first time, do not have land lines, and do not participate in the old world way of doing things as the folk taking polls showing Hillary ahead.

Here in NY, there is strong support for him by the people, but pols representing them are scared of Hillary, A pol told me last night that men are so afraid of Hillary, that there is no way a pol who resides in NY will say they back Barack Obama.

This statement is why I will continue to volunteer to get delegates for Obama and educate young African American and Latino men on how the welfare reform bill has hurt, criminalized and virtually turned them into slaves under her husbands, the so-called black prez horrible law.

Signing up these young folk is much easier than I thought, you only need to educate them to get them registered, interested, and dedicated to voting for Barack Obama in the primary.

The polls are absolutely incorrect, and the media is asleep at the wheel!

Posted by: scheduler | September 28, 2007 8:54 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that there just was not that much to tell. I'm sure as a very young man he partied some with his friends and did try to improve himself as a person as most young people do at that age. I'm sure it just was not all that eventful. not much to write about. class, friends, some fun but, nothing to write home about.
I doubt very much happened that was not like everyone else;s experience.
Besides, his dwelling on the Community Organzier part, which was probably part why his breezed past this part in a rush to get to this part, was the defining part of his life and set his whole life path from it.

Posted by: vwcat | September 28, 2007 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to have to agree with the rest of the comments, I don't understand how this article even got published. There isn't a semblance of political insight to be found.

Posted by: dscorca | September 28, 2007 8:24 PM | Report abuse

This is foolish. What do you think college students do? Should he have told us about every party he went to in his book? WAPO your bias is showing again.

Posted by: TennGurl | September 28, 2007 8:13 PM | Report abuse

This is foolish. What do you think college students do? Should he have told us every party he went to in his book? WAPO your bias is showing again.

Posted by: TennGurl | September 28, 2007 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Is this supposed to be news? I can't believe it's relevant to delve into Obama's recollections of his time in NY and over analyze simple comments. It was his book to focus on what he wanted. Good Lord. Why isn't the same media attention focused on the myriad of hypocrisy and evasive language in HRC's remarks at every opportunity. Why not a story about a presidential candidate who stubbornly refuses to answer questions that other candidates answer directly? What not an analysis of the language HRC steals from the Obama campaign (ex: "change). As if Hillary could represent any positive change. I don't know which is worse - the media or HRC. Both make me weary.

Posted by: literate1 | September 28, 2007 6:49 PM | Report abuse

"In huge Washington Square rally, candidate hints at party-boy past. But his memoir tells a different story."

What kind of BS is that headline ? He says "I stopped getting high. I ran three miles a day and fasted on Sundays,"

That means he partied didnt he ?. Just because he saw the light does not mean he didn`t go out to a bar in the area every now and again ( like most college students) prior to his change of heart.
The real story here is the growing participation in his campaign by patriotic Americans everywhere.

Posted by: eSPO1 | September 28, 2007 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Write on, Goldie! There is an amazing video clip on YouTube showing the packed event. I have been supporting Obama for over 2 years; this is what one individual had to say about seeing him last night "He is a man of integrity...he is not running for President just for the sake of winning, but rather because he is truly committed to helping America." This kind of enthusiasm will spread and by the time the primaries come around, we will all be on the ground working to help Barack become our President in 2008!

Posted by: sheridan1 | September 28, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

What seems to be missing from this post is the numbers of the crowd in New York City, Hillary's backyard. 24,000. Maximum Huge. The biggest event yet of any campaign this year. If Hillary is the front runner, this must be embarrassing. It might mean the polls are playing tricks on us. Clinton is at the top, only because of name recognition, because people are not really paying attention. She is not the victor yet, though the media wants to proclaim it for her.

Posted by: goldie2 | September 28, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

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