He's Black, Took Cocaine and Has the Middle Name Hussein. Yet Barack Obama Is the Dream Presidential Candidate. Alas, in U.S. Elections, Fairytales Seldom Come True

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HE ADMITS to taking cocaine. He went to school in Indonesia.

He is a political novice. And if the mood in Washington is to be believed, he could be the next President of the United States. Yes, Barack Obama is the unlikeliest star of American politics for years. Whether he's the best thing, is another matter.

Despite all the hoopla and fanfare that has greeted Obama's declaration, a week ago, that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2008 presidential elections, he remains something of a political enigma.

Indeed, the secret of his success so far has been that he is a blank sheet of paper on to which Americans can write their hopes and dreams.

So who can this 45 year old junior Senator from Illinois possibly be to deserve so many rave reviews? What has he done to be compared to: John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and even Abraham Lincoln?

The truth is, not much. It is not what Obama has done which sets American hearts beating.

It is what he is. And what he is, is different.

His extraordinary life story, background, talents and charisma seem to separate him from conventional American politics.

One of the puzzles of American life is that a nation of people who are so practical in every field of human endeavour should become so skittish and sentimental over any hint of a political fairy tale.

Hard-headed Americans who would never choose a dentist without a fist full of references have an unquenchable enthusiasm to vote for any political leader supposedly untainted by too much actual experience in the field.

Barack Obama is the latest in a long line of supposed political 'outsiders' who pander to the American hatred of the Washington status quo and the desire to find someone incorruptible and better.

Obama may well be The One. But some of what he says sounds all too familiar.

'I recognise there is a certain presumptuousness, a certain audacity, to this announcement,' Senator Obama said this week when he confirmed he was seeking the Democratic nomination. 'I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.' Cue applause all over America. Nothing stirs American audiences more than the idea that someone, at last, is going to stand up for the little guy and teach the Washington elite a lesson.

Jimmy Carter promised change in 1976.

Reagan promised change in 1980. Bill Clinton

promised to change 'the brain-dead politics' of Washington in 1992. And even George Bush promised to bring about change in 2000.

Yes, promising to change Washington is America's oldest political tradition.

Failing to deliver that change is the second oldest.

So who is this Obama? Is he really the man who could transform Washington, or - in the words of one American proverb - is he just 'all sizzle and no steak?'

WELL, the start has been promising. Stellar, in fact.

Obama is electable, articulate, educated, funny, and young, a kind of American version of David Cameron. He's the kind of thoughtful black male that white Americans desperately want to like.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate just over two years ago in the pivotal Midwest state of Illinois and sworn in on January 4, 2005.

Since then his achievements, not surprisingly for a new Senator, have been slim. But that's not the point.

His story is so compelling, Obama has become the modern update of the American Dream: a kid who survived a difficult childhood, went off the rails, then found himself on the road to the most powerful job in the world.

Barack Hussein Obama - yes, you will hear a lot more of that middle name, especially from Obama's enemies - was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961.

His father, Barack Hussein Obama Senior, came from a village called Alego in the Nyanza province of Kenya, and was gifted enough to be accepted as a foreign student at the University of Hawaii. …