Man of the Moment
Oprah: I was told when I first started out to change my name to Suzie because nobody would ever…remember ["Oprah"].
Senator Obama: The same thing happened to me. A political consultant, when we first started thinking about this Senate race, said, "You can have one funny name. You can be 'Barack Smith.' Or you can be 'Joe Obama.' But 'Barack Obama'—that's not gonna work."
His mother eventually remarried and moved with Barack and her new husband to Indonesia. At 10, Barack moved back to Hawaii to live with his white grandparents and to attend a prestigious school. He struggled with his identity, and he says "ended up getting involved in drugs and drinking too much."
Despite the strikes against him, he turned his life around, graduating from Columbia University and spending years as a community organizer. He then went on to be a star at Harvard Law School, becoming the first African-American president of the renowned Harvard Law Review before returning to public service.
"All of these different strands in me—the black, the white, the African—all of that has contributed directly to my success because when I meet people, I see a piece of myself in them. And maybe they see a piece of themselves in me," Senator Barack explains.
This period in his life informs his outlook. "I think part of the reason that I put this in there," he says, "was because as I grew up and came to Chicago and was organizing in the far South Side of Chicago, I would meet so many young men—and I still meet so many young men—who are as talented as I am, have as much promise, have as much energy, but don't have opportunity. And find themselves going into these same ruts and find themselves internalizing the notion that they can't succeed."
Senator Obama: When I became a senator, for example, I noticed that people started treating me differently.
Oprah: How so?
Senator Obama: Well, you know, they're nice to me all the time. And they pretend that everything that you say makes sense. Which it doesn't, right? But they'll nod and say, "Senator, that's a great point." And so I think you [need to] have people around you who can remind you that, actually, what you just said makes no sense. …Fortunately, I have my wife to do that continually.
One of the most famous lines in the speech was: "There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America, an Asian America. There's the United States of America."
Of the speech, which he wrote himself, Senator Obama says, "All I was trying to do was just talk about the common sense things that people know when they're sitting around the kitchen table but don't somehow get into the political conversation."
Michelle says she has been trying to keep Barack's fame, derived from his Democratic National Convention speech, from turning into a liability.
Oprah: You said in Newsweek that giving a good speech does not make you Superman.
Michelle: Right, and I think that that's one of the things that I've tried to do when I've gone around to campaign for him—to sort of tamp down expectations, because that's one of the things we do with our politicians.
Senator Obama: You know, my greatest hope is to be able to pass the same dreams and hopes and vision that I've been able to enjoy in my life, on to the next generation. Not just for my children—because with a mother like [Michelle], my kids are going to be great—but for all children. There are too many children in this country for whom the American dream is so distant and the odds against them are so daunting.
For more with Senator Barack Obama, listen in to Oprah's Cut.