Barack Hussein Obama was born in the US state of Hawaii on August 4, 1961, to a Kenyan father and an American mother from the US Midwest. His parents divorced three years later, and Obama would eventually move to Indonesia after his mother married a man from the mainly Muslim nation.
Obama returned to Hawaii in 1971 to live with his maternal grandparents. He attended the prestigious Punahou high school in the island state’s capital, Honolulu, and went on to graduate from Columbia University in New York City in 1983, majoring in political science with a focus on international relations.
After college, Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago, helping residents of the city’s poorer areas find jobs, prepare for college, and defend their rights as tenants. In 1988, he enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he became the first African-American to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review.
Obama subsequently taught law at the University of Chicago and practiced at a Chicago firm that specialized in civil rights law. He also published a memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” in 1995.
Obama first pursued public office in 1996, when he was elected a state senator in Illinois. He was reelected to the state senate in 1998, and two years later he made a bid for an Illinois seat in the US Congress, though he was crushed by his opponent in the Democratic primary. Obama was again reelected to the Illinois senate in 2002.
A seminal moment in Obama’s political career came in 2004, when, as a candidate for the US Senate, he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. His national star began to rise in the wake of the televised speech, and he was elected to represent Illinois in the US Senate later that year.
During his time in the US Senate, Obama served on the upper chamber’s committees for foreign relations, environment and public works, veterans’ affairs, and homeland security and governmental affairs. He announced his candidacy for the US presidency in February 2007.
Promising “hope” and “change” following the polarizing presidency of George W. Bush, Obama defeated New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, in a fierce Democratic primary. He went on to win the 2008 US presidential election against Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, becoming America’s first black president.
Obama’s supporters widely saw him as a potentially transformative political figure able to rise above paralyzing partisan rancor. His presidency, however, has seen a continuation of the bitter partisan tone of the Bush years. He nonetheless managed to enact his signature health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act, signing the bill into law in 2010. His political opponents, including Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, have vowed to overturn the law.
Obama’s campaign says his first term has been replete with successes beyond the health care law, including: the ending of the Iraq war, a conflict Obama opposed from the beginning; the winding down of US-led operations in Afghanistan; increased attacks on Al-Qaeda’s leadership, including the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011; and preventing a collapse of the US economy following the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008.
Obama’s opponents say he has failed to turn around the US economy and employment situation as he had promised. They also accuse him of promoting redistributionist tax policies that punish entrepreneurship.
Obama has also come under fire recently for his Middle East and national security policies after a US embassy compound in Benghazi, Libya, was ransacked by armed insurgents in an attack that left four American diplomats dead, including Christopher Stevens, Obama’s ambassador to Libya.