Foreshadowed by his roots and bottle-rocket-like rise, Barack Obama’s legacy is one of betrayal and what might have been,… From the outset, he courted and was courted by the pillars of counter-revolution, his very blackness a cloak for his Manchurian mission.
by Jon Jeter
Part 5 - The Mel Reynolds mold
The year after Washington keeled over dead from a heart attack while working at his desk on Thanksgiving Eve of 1987, a Harvard-educated black Rhodes scholar named Mel Reynolds challenged a Washington ally, Gus Savage, for Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, which included a swath of Chicago’s South Side lakefront. It would take Reynolds three tries to finally unseat Savage but — as Frederick Harris wrote in his 2014 book, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics — the city’s two major daily newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times endorsed Reynolds, as did conservative Washington Post columnist George Will. The main business daily, Crain’s, did not endorse him, but went out of its way to praise him for his tendency to “downplay race as a factor in politics.”
Feted by foundations, bankrolled by wealthy campaign contributors, and championed widely by the media and the affluent Hyde Park neighborhood that is home to the University of Chicago, Reynolds’ meteoric rise led one political rival to wonder aloud how an unknown who’d never held public office could amass such campaign cash and name-recognition: “White politicians have bought and paid for a novice who wasn’t even a block captain, or community leader, or even a member of a recognized church. There’s something wrong. His whole staff comes from City Hall, which tells you they’re being supplied to get rid of Gus Savage.”
Reynold’s career would ultimately be derailed by a sex scandal involving a teenage girl, but in his three years on Capitol Hill he amassed a voting record that was solidly neoliberal, voting for the Clinton Administration’s North American Free Trade Act and the omnibus crime bill, both of which were catastrophic for Chicago’s working class and communities of color.
The same year that Reynolds won his Congressional seat, a young, 31-year-old community organizer named Barack Obama approached Lu Palmer asking for his support for a voter registration effort. As Palmer told the story, he thought the Harvard-trained lawyer both arrogant and unoriginal, and sent him on his way. But three years later, he would encounter Obama again.
An old ally in the Washington campaign, Alice Palmer (no relation) had finished third in the special election to succeed the now-disgraced Reynolds, and she wanted to return to Springfield. Palmer asked Obama to withdraw his name from the state senate race out of respect for the widely-respected Alice Palmer, but Obama refused. Palmer couldn’t recall Obama’s exact words but something about the way he spoke sounded oddly familiar. That’s when it clicked.
“Man, you sound like Mel Reynolds!” Palmer told Obama.