Sunday, December 28, 2008

Former Obama Nemesis Has A Book

State Senator Rickey Hendon is an African-American lawmaker from Chicago's west side who tangled with Barack Obama on several occasions during Obama's eight years in the state legislature. Hendon used to make fun of Obama's name and complain that he wasn't "black enough." Hendon has now written a book due out in January, "Black Enough, White Enough: The Obama Dilemma," which tracks Obama's rise to power and fame through Hendon's eyes, which are a bit distorted to say the least. Nonetheless, Hendon gives his insight into a well-publicized incident on the floor of the Illinois Senate when Hendon and Obama nearly came to blows. State Journal-Register political columnist Bernie Schoenburg recounts what Hendon writes in his book:

Hendon, whose West Side district saw some horrible child neglect cases, was trying to stop the closing of a child welfare office there. He says Obama, then running for the U.S. Senate, voted against him, but Hendon later voted for Obama’s bid to keep a facility in his district open, and Hendon said on the floor that he wished Obama had reciprocated.

Obama tried to get his vote changed, but it was blocked procedurally.

Hendon wrote that Obama then “walked menacingly towards my seat” and “stuck his jagged, strained face into my space and told me in an eerie, dark voice” that if Hendon embarrassed him again, he would kick his behind.

That led to an almost-fight just off the floor where there was “a little pushing and shoving” until some others interceded to stop it, Hendon wrote. There was also “profanity too vulgar to write, from both of us. …”

As Schoenburg observes, Hendon oddly thinks the incident tells us about how Obama will react in foreign policy deliberations. “In addition to the discussion on whether he’s black enough or white enough,” Hendon wrote, his toughness was questioned. “If we were attacked by terrorists, would he pull the trigger?” Hendon asks. Because of this incident, “There’s no doubt that he would.”

This incident tells us a lot more about Obama's vanity than anything else. Hendon had the ability to get under Obama's skin and embarrass him in front of all of his Senate colleagues. Obama's reaction reflects a weakness, not a strength. Instead of apologizing to his colleague for incorrectly voting the wrong way, Obama wanted to kick his butt for drawing attention to his mistake. We can only hope as president he doesn't act as irrationally in such moments because there are bound to be many such instances when he will be tested by other foreign leaders and politicians.

The Obama-Hendon incident reminds me of a story a political science professor at Eastern Illlinois University used to tell his students from the days he worked at the State Department during the Kennedy administration. According to his story, when Kennedy first met in Vienna with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev audibly passed gas. Kennedy found it amusing and couldn't stop laughing. Khrushchev, according to this account, interpreted this as a sign of weakness and immaturity in Kennedy, sensing he lacked self-control. Khrushchev would soon thereafter test Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. Obama is not a good student of history. During the presidential campaign, he mistakenly used Kennedy's meeting with Khruschev as a rationale for his position in support of meeting with the leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. Kennedy's meeting with Khruschev occurred more than a year before the Cuban missile crisis.

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