WITHIN THE FAMILY
In Politics, One Star Rises, Another Falls
By Alex Sachare '71
Two alumni were prominent in political news this summer, one for
a meteoric rise, the other for a stunning fall.
Barack Obama ’83, a self-described “skinny kid with
a funny name,” delivered a rousing speech at the Democratic
National Convention and emerged as one of the bright, young stars
of the Democratic Party.
Six months ago, Obama was a little-known state senator from Illinois,
a liberal with clean-cut, boyish looks and solid credentials as
a civil rights attorney and environmental activist but a household
name only in the Obama household. When he declared his candidacy
for an open U.S. Senate seat, Obama was in a pack of seven candidates,
several of whom were better-known and better-financed. When he surprised
the experts and won the March 16 primary with more votes than all
his rivals combined, people outside his immediate circle of friends
and supporters began to take notice. And when his early Republican
opponent withdrew from the Senate race because he was involved in
a messy divorce, it appeared that the Gods of Politics indeed had
anointed Obama as one to watch.
And millions watched on July 27 when Obama strode to the podium
at the FleetCenter in Boston to deliver the convention’s keynote
address. It was a heady moment as he followed in the footsteps of
such Democratic luminaries as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy
and set the table for the nominations of John Kerry and John Edwards,
calling on Americans to “participate in a politics of hope”
in a dynamic and stirring address that stole the spotlight from
the Democratic heavyweights. Truly, a political star was born.
Fewer than three weeks later, a star fell from the political firmament
when Jim McGreevey ’78 announced his resignation as governor
of New Jersey. For a man described as being consumed by politics,
walking away from the state house was a stunning decision, no matter
what the reasons or how complex they may be. After all, he had been
“one to watch” back in 1997, when, as a little-known,
small-town mayor, he came within one percentage point of unseating
New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman, a Republican of national
profile. Four years later, after Whitman had moved on to a post
in the Bush Cabinet, McGreevey easily won the governorship and seemed
about to take his place among the Democratic elite.
But fewer than three years into a troubled administration, McGreevey
gave it all up, reminding us how little we know about our public
figures, how fragile success can be and how quickly promise can
turn to disillusion in the political arena.