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Published: Saturday, 1/15/2005

Obama's style is all his own

BY ROSE RUSSELL

BARACK Obama's widespread appeal aside, inevitably he will be embraced by some more than others.

Those apt to embrace the junior U.S. senator from Illinois are whites, and blacks who no longer use the same methods employed by our forerunners to obtain civil rights.

But quite frankly, I don't believe Senator Obama much cares what anybody thinks about his style. He has a job to do, and he won't be distracted by anyone angling to force him into one mold or another.

And it appears that not even the Congressional Black Caucus could convince him to make black America the sole focus of his senatorial career.

None of this means that the biracial son of a white Kansas woman who was a teacher and a black African man who was an economist from Kenya has leanings that could earn him the Uncle Tom label. His desire to work for all Americans almost suggests he's before his time, because America still has a host of racial hang-ups that need addressing.

Yet the senator, 43, has not rejected his roots. He knows who he is. We got a glimpse of him last summer during his stellar speech at the Democratic National Convention, a speech that hurled him to stardom.

Now, Senator Obama has joined a short list of black American U.S. senators. Two Republicans from Mississippi were in the Senate during Reconstruction: Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce, from 1870 to 1871, and 1875 to 1881, respectively. Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts, served from 1967 to 1979. Carol Moseley Braun is a Democrat and was the first black female senator, from 1993 to 1999.

Mr. Obama is the first black male Democrat to hold a U.S. Senate seat.

He knows that if he gets too starry-eyed, he could wind up at the bottom a lot faster than he rose to the top. He also knows that a good dose of humor is necessary.

Speaking at the Gridiron Club dinner last month in Washington, he said, "I'm so overexposed I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse. I figure there's nowhere to go from here but down, so tonight I'm announcing my retirement from the United States Senate."

The senator says he'll be "sharpening pencils" as he learns from senior senators. He also knows that talk about him as a national Democratic leader is way too premature, too.

His genuine humility makes him very likable.

As for making history, "I haven't done anything yet," he said at his swearing-in. "When you start talking about history, that's measured, you know, over decades and over a lifetime of accomplishment. It's not measured by making a speech or getting elected to something."

Although he is accomplished, he shuns talk about being a candidate for president in 2008.

"I'm not running for national office. I am here to be sworn in as the United States senator from the state of Illinois. I will not be running for president in '08."

He could change his mind, but he's not easily persuaded. The man has appeal, but he is not conceited.

And if the father of two young daughters ever lets his party's desperate need for leadership instill in him a bit of vanity, his wife Michelle Obama will yank him from cloud nine quicker than gravity can plunge a lead balloon to the ground. She was quoted in Newsweek as telling him, "Giving a good speech doesn't make you Superman."

So Senator Obama, keep your feet on the ground, and please, take out the garbage.



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