Monday :: Jan 7, 2008

LIEB 103 at the University of New Hampshire: Fundamentals of Public Speaking (Professor: Sen. Barack Obama, Adjunct Professor: Sen. John Edwards)

by eriposte

[NOTE: You can find my entire campaign coverage here - including LIEB 101 and LIEB 102]

You might remember Sen. Joe "Let's send more troops to Iraq" Lieberman's famous campaign speeches during his re-election to the Senate in 2006, where he repeatedly said what he knew voters in CT wanted to hear:

No one wants the war in Iraq to end more than I do.

It was a great pitch from Sen. Lieberman (Sen. Obama's mentor). It wasn't true at all, but it helped him defeat the real progressive in the race Ned Lamont because a large number of voters in CT (some Democrats and particularly Independents) fell hook, line and sinker for that pitch. Sen. Lieberman's claim was of course widely criticized by the progressive blogosphere for misleading the voter base - and rightly so.

Yesterday, Jesse Wendel - a speech analyst - posted an analysis at Group News Blog which concludes that "Obama is breaking out now because he speaks the language of a leader". I certainly don't want to discount the importance and power of speeches (see the real JFK for example), but I have never supported a politician just based on what he or she says (especially when the person keeps making stuff up). It may be that some people are satisfied with the superficiality of great speeches to make decisions that have significant long-term consequences, but I have a different view on this. Jesse's post is well-intentioned (he has not endorsed Sen. Obama) but it ignores the #1 aspect of this campaign that few people are willing to take into account in the middle of all the paeans for Sen. Obama. Sen. Obama's real record and background have long been helpfully minimized by the media (behind their propagandistic coverage of his campaign) while they have left no stone unturned in overty and often falsely demolishing Sen. Clinton. In the U.S., the traditional media has vast, essentially unchecked power to make or break candidates (just ask George Bush, Al Gore and John Kerry) and the media made a decision months ago who they were going to make (Sen. Obama) and who they were going to break (Sen. Clinton). So, let's not get carried away with speech theory, when there are other much more simple explanations for Sen. Obama's rise. No amount of inspiring speech can match the power of the media in today's America and once Sen. Obama's credibility is destroyed by the GOP (assuming he is the eventual nominee), all this talk of his great speeches will quite possibly look embarrassing.

Some of you may have noticed Sen. Clinton is trying to get voters and the media to focus on Sen. Obama's actual record (good luck with that!) and how that compares to his history of pandering (and not delivering) to his targeted constituencies. I want to talk about that aspect just a little bit today since we have spent, by my count, at least 15 years, where big chunks of the conservative-leaning traditional media have focused on fiction, superficialities and propaganda (in favor of their politicians of choice and against the politicians they hate). If there is any point to my investing the time that I don't have in blogging, it is to at least make some attempt to focus on substance. To make this easier, I'm going to separate this post into the following sections (all emphasis is mine unless otherwise stated):

1. Iraq

2. Iran

3. Patriot Act

4. Abortion Rights

5. Lobbyists and Special Interests

6. Death Penalty

7. Healthcare

8. Taking Tough Stands


1. Iraq

Sen. Obama's favorite claim to fame - that he loves talking about in his speeches - is his opposition to the Iraq war back in 2002. Further, as he was campaigning for the Senate, this is what he said:

In video obtained by ABC News of a Winnetka, Ill., Democratic event from Sunday, Nov. 16, 2003, then-state senator Obama told a cheering crowd that it was wrong to vote to fund the war.

"Just this week, when I was asked, would I have voted for the $87 billion dollars, I said 'No,'" Obama said to applause as he referred to a bill to fund troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I said no unequivocally because, at a certain point, we have to say 'No' to George Bush," Obama said. "If we keep on getting steamrolled, we are not going to stand a chance."

Obama's campaign says that he opposed the $87 billion war supplement because a portion of the funds were to be directed toward reconstruction of Iraq, which he feared would be distributed inappropriately.

"He was against this $20 billion in no-bid contracts that was forced into the bill for reconstruction for the country of Iraq with no accountability," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

In a questionnaire he completed for the liberal group Council for a Livable World and in a 2003 press release he issued as a state senator, Obama suggested the Congress delay the $87 billion in funding "until the president provides a specific plan and timetable for ending the U.S. occupation, justifies each and every dollar to ensure it is not going to reward Bush political friends and contributors, and provides 'investment in our own schools, health care, economic development and job creation that is at least comparable' to what is going to Iraq."

That was when he was running for the Senate on a liberal platform, trying to get elected in a blue state. However, once he became a U.S. Senator - and prior to the next pandering season (i.e., prior to the start of his Presidential campaign), here is what he actually DID:

Until he ran for president, Sen. Obama supported every funding bill for Iraq.

[2005 Vote # 117, HR1268, 5/10/05; 2005 Vote # 326, S1042, 11/15/05; 2006 Vote # 112, HR4939, 5/4/06; 2006 Vote # 239; 2006 Vote # 186, S2766, 6/22/06, HR5631, 9/7/06]

In other words:

  • Before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, he SaidTM he was for complete ChangeTM on Iraq - i.e., no funding at all (or) no funding without imposing enforceable conditions on Bush. However...
  • Once he got elected to the U.S. Senate, and before he started to run for President, his actions were resoundingly in favor of what he and Sen. Edwards repeatedly describe as Status QuoTM. In fact, he was so in favor of what Sen. Edwards and he believe is Status QuoTM that he even opposed Sen. John Kerry's bill that aimed to change the course of the Iraq occupation by withdrawing troops. No wonder Sen. Edwards thinks Sen. Obama almost Walks on Water for ChangeTM!
  • Now, having started his Presidential campaign, its Pandering Time again - so, Sen. Obama is conveniently for ChangeTM again. All I can say is good timing!

It's interesting how Sen. Obama's need and promises of ChangeTM conveniently appear in impressive speeches right around the time when he is looking to be elected to higher office. However, according to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook, let's not forget that this is all about Principled LeadershipTM!

The New York Times reported on Sen. Obama's explanation for his Principled LeadershipTM:

And on his approval of Iraq funding, Senate Democrats generally supported war funding bills until President Bush vetoed a proposed timetable to withdraw troops in May – the point when both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton began voting no on war funding.

You see, he just did what many other Democrats did. Awww, isn't that the most inspiring form of Principled LeadershipTM for ChangeTM you have ever seen? (Please say yes!)

P.S. As I've noted before, Sen. Obama's voting record on Iraq once he entered the U.S. Senate was virtually identical to the voting record of Senator Clinton. So, contrary to cheap talk before he got elected, it raises the obvious question as to what exactly he did in Congress differently that distinguished him on Iraq from Sen. Clinton, whom he claims to be "fundamentally different" from on this issue. As a corollary to this, his go-forward vision on Iraq is also not significantly different from Sen. Clinton's, as Taylor Marsh has observed. The differences are mostly in nuance, not substance. [Incidentally, Sen. Edwards' record on Iraq is actually worse than Sen. Clinton's].

2. Iran

On Iran, Sen. Obama felt that he showed Principled LeadershipTM and his commitment to ChangeTM by opposing the earth-shattering (i.e., non-binding Sense of the Senate) resolution known as Kyl-Lieberman. Except he didn't actually oppose it when it came up in the Senate:

As Taylor Marsh pointed out yesterday:

But Mr. Obama has never had any trouble going to the right to attack his own. There was the "Bush-Cheney lite" slam against Clinton. Now you don't have to like Hillary Clinton to understand you don't ever use right-wing talking points to attack a fellow Democrat. There was Mr. Obama ducking out on being counted on the ad. But who can forget his ducking the Kyl-Lieberman vote? His campaign didn't even release a statement on it until late at night; then at the next debate when John Edwards went on the attack against Clinton on the vote, Obama stood absolutely mute. He didn't even bring it up until much later, when it was politically popular to attack on it. Never mind that he supported a similar piece of legislation earlier in the year.

As I pointed out here:

(a) Sen. Obama co-sponsored a Bill in early 2007 that supported the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, just like the Kyl-Lieberman "Sense of the Senate" resolution (which is much weaker than a Bill) did. Moreover, as Jeff observed here at TLC, if Kyl-Lieberman was such a defining vote that gave Bush a "blank check" to go to war against Iran (it did not), it is disappointing that Sen. Obama did not even show up in the Senate to vote on the resolution even though he said he opposed it and had sufficient notice to show up to vote.

In response, a commenter argued that the Obama campaign was not given enough notice. I responded as follows:

You said:

1. On KLA, Taylor Marsh and the "two unnamed" Democratic senators aides are wrong: check the congressional record. Reid tabled for the foreesable future on Sept. 25. On September 26th, it was brought to the floor during the afternoon session as part of a UC Agreement between Biden and Kyle-Lieberman. This was announced at 12:14. The vote on the Biden Amendment occured at 12:16. The vote on KLA occured at 12:44 (the times of the votes can be confirmed at Roll Call).

Your timeline, even if correct, does not in any way prove that the campaigning Senators were not alerted the previous night that the Bill would be brought up to a vote the next afternoon. I have a hard time believing that every other campaigning Senator, who considered it less of an earth-shattering vote than Sen. Obama did, made it a point to know when it was coming up for vote and attended the vote while Sen. Obama who considered it a radical "blank check" couldn't do the same.

Again, if there is something called triangulation, this is it: claim that you are against something after a vote has gone through but not show up to vote and make it clear exactly where you stood at the time of the vote - and worse, give interviews later (see #III in this post) that also suggest you might be thought of as supportive of the key provisions in the vote. This seems to have been a bit of a trend in some aspects of Sen. Obama's political career, as I discuss further in this post - i.e., a refusal to take a bold stand one way or the other and repeated use of calculated triangulation to preserve one's options for the future. In other words, he appears to be one of those people who are sometimes called Politicians.TM

[P.S. Also see my comments to this post providing another reason why Sen. Obama's non-vote and post-vote position on Kyl-Lieberman is significant.]

As Taylor Marsh observed:

Obama stated the "primary difference" between Clinton and himself on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards is that she wants troops in Iraq to prevent Iran from having an influence inside of Iraq, which Mr. Obama thinks "is a mistake."

[However] According to Mr. Obama, the issue of terrorism must stay on the table, with "incursions into Iraq that are affecting the safety of our troops" needing to be -- say it with me -- "on the table." So what is he going to do about those "incursions" if Iran refuses to do anything about them? Will he need U.S. troops to deal with them? If not, how's he going to stop Iran's incursion that is affecting our troops, fairy dust?

So, when the issue of Iran was not a major controversial campaign talking point, Sen. Obama co-sponsored a Bill to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Then, all of a sudden, along came a non-binding Sense of the Senate resolution (not a Bill - not something that passed in the House) that did not in any way provide any Congressional authorization for Bush to attack Iran. Rather than vote yes or no on this resolution, Sen. Obama switch to Pandering Mode, wherein he skipped the vote to avoid taking a stand on it, and later, once it became clear this resolution could be used to pull the wool over the head of voters, he claimed to have the Principled LeadershipTM and JudgmentTM to oppose it. Except, he didn't quite oppose the provisions when people were not paying attention to what he was saying.

In short - Sen. Obama took a dovish view on Iran when it was time to campaign in front of adoring crowds. But, in the background, he took a hawkish view knowing that, thanks to the media's adoring coverage of him, hardly anyone would notice. Predictably, Sen. Edwards obediently went along with Sen. Obama's act, by focusing his criticism almost entirely on Sen. Clinton for her support of labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization - something that Sen. Obama had also explicitly supported. The tag-team of Principled LeadershipTM for ChangeTM at work!

3. Patriot Act

In 2003, Sen. Obama responded to a questionnaire from Illinois NOW (via Jake Tapper at ABC's Political Punch):

4. Would you vote to repeal the U.S. Patriot Act?

[Obama's response]: Yes, I would vote to repeal the U.S. Patriot Act, although I would consider replacing that shoddy and dangerous law with a new, carefully crafted proposal that addressed in a much more limited fashion the legitimate needs of law enforcement in combating terrorism (for example, permitting a warrant for the interception of cell phone calls, and not just land-based phones, to accommodate changes in technology.)

What happened when it came time to vote against a reauthorization of the Patriot Act? As Sarah Lai Stirland notes at Wired's blog Threat Level:

Ultimately everyone in the senate (apart from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin) voted "for" for the PATRIOT Act and most senators voted for its subsequent re-authorization. The disagreement was in the details, as the the readers of THREAT LEVEL well know.


Here's a link to what Obama said on the senate floor in February 2006 when Congress once again took up debate over the re-authorization of the legislation:

Mr. OBAMA: Mr. President, 4 years ago, following one of the most devastating attacks in our Nation's history, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act to give our Nation's law enforcement the tools they needed to track down terrorists who plot and lurk within our own borders and all over the world--terrorists who, right now, are looking to exploit weaknesses in our laws and our security to carry out even deadlier attacks than we saw on September 11th.   

We all agreed that we needed legislation to make it harder for suspected terrorists to go undetected in this country. Americans everywhere wanted that.   

But soon after the PATRIOT Act passed, a few years before I ever arrived in the Senate, I began hearing concerns from people of every background and political leaning that this law didn't just provide law enforcement the powers it needed to keep us safe, but powers it didn't need to invade our privacy without cause or suspicion.   Now, at times this issue has tended to degenerate into an ``either- or'' type of debate. Either we protect our people from terror or we protect our most cherished principles. But that is a false choice. It asks too little of us and assumes too little about America.

Let me be clear: this compromise is not as good as the Senate version of the bill, nor is it as good as the SAFE Act that I have cosponsored. I suspect the vast majority of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle feel the same way. But, it's still better than what the House originally proposed. 

This compromise does modestly improve the PATRIOT Act by strengthening civil liberties protections without sacrificing the tools that law enforcement needs to keep us safe.


I would have liked to see stronger judicial review of national security letters and shorter time limits on sneak and peak searches, among other things

Senator Feingold has proposed several sensible amendments--that I support--to address these issues. Unfortunately, the Majority Leader is preventing Senator Feingold from offering these amendments through procedural tactics. That is regrettable because it flies in the face of the bipartisan cooperation that allowed the Senate to pass unanimously its version of the Patriot Act--a version that balanced security and civil liberty, partisanship and patriotism.

The Majority Leader's tactics are even more troubling because we will  need to work on a bipartisan basis to address national security challenges in the weeks and months to come. In particular, members on both sides of the aisle will need to take a careful look at President Bush's use of warrantless wiretaps and determine the right balance between protecting our security and safeguarding our civil liberties.

This is a complex issue. But only by working together and avoiding election-year politicking will we be able to give our government the necessary tools to wage the war on terror without sacrificing the rule of law.

So, I will be supporting the PATRIOT Act compromise. But I urge my colleagues to continue working on ways to improve the civil liberties protections in the PATRIOT Act after it is reauthorized.

In other words, the Senator who is campaigning on his Supreme PowerTM to get people of all ideologies together on the table to create the Major ChangeTM he is fighting for, voted just like someone that he and Sen. Edwards accused of representing Status QuoTM. After saying during his U.S. Senate election campaign that he would vote to repeal the Patriot Act, once he became part of the Washington Establishment where he established much bipartisan wonderfulness with his Republican colleagues, he was not able to fix the Patriot Act the way he really believed it should be fixed - and rather than vote against its renewal, he voted to renew it. In short, it was a time to pander during his Senate election race - a time for talking about ChangeTM - and then once in the Senate he voted just like Sen. Clinton, who is allegedly for the Status QuoTM. Again, Principled LeadershipTM for ChangeTM of the kind that Sen. Edwards is in a tizzy about.

4. Abortion Rights

The story on abortion rights is best summarized using my previous post:

You can see how, unlike the Precocious and BrilliantTM writings of Frank Rich, this article is so highly biased against Saint ObamaTM. They dare ask him for an explanation (an explanation!) on why he did not just vote no against a Bill that he disagreed with and whose effectiveness he thought was questionable! What has news reporting come to these days? On top of that they insinuate that political reasons may have been behind his "present" votes, even though they provide No EvidenceTM for this theory!

Pam Sutherland, president of Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, said Mr. Obama was one of the senators with a strong stand for abortion rights whom the organization approached about using the strategy. Ms. Sutherland said the Republicans were trying to force Democrats from conservative districts to register politically controversial no votes.

Ms. Sutherland said Mr. Obama had initially resisted the strategy because he wanted to vote against the anti-abortion measures.

“He said, ‘I’m opposed to this,’” she recalled.

But the organization argued that a present vote would be difficult for Republicans to use in campaign literature against Democrats from moderate and conservative districts who favored abortion rights.

...[Sarcasm aside, I am glad I am not contributing to Planned Parenthood. If this is the kind of stuff they actually encourage politicians to do - i.e., vote "present" as if that will prevent bad bills from passing, then this is the kind of organization that doesn't particularly deserve my support. Stated another way, what is the point of having allegedly pro-choice candidates in the Legislature if they are afraid to vote pro-choice out of the fear that they will be defeated, and what is the reason for existence of an allegedly pro-choice organization that proudly encourages Democrats to not vote pro-choice so that they can stay in power?]

If you are not impressed enough by that Cornucopia of PrincipleTM, rest assured that there's more:

Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general who was in the Illinois Senate with Mr. Obama from 1998 through 2002, said she and Mr. Obama voted present on the anti-abortion bills.

“It’s just plain wrong to imply that voting present reflected a lack of leadership,” Ms. Madigan said. “In fact, it was the exact opposite.”

Yay! This is the kind of leadership that an Attorney General should be displaying - in fact, she should be pleading with juries, asking them to vote "Present" on the cases she is prosecuting everyday to show their LeadershipTM! Someone has to say this, so here goes - three cheers for Principled LeaderTM Lisa - Lisa Madigan for President! You can bet she will be "Present" for Bill signing ceremonies but you will never have to worry about any unconstitutional signing statements from her because she won't sign or veto the bills. She will be "Present" to look at it though, before she BoldlyTM returns to her office. That's the kind of Principled LeadershipTM we need at a time like this.

Needless to say, Illinois Planned Parenthood, obviously an organization that has become politically corrupted - so much so that they have made their reason for existence the defense of politicians who are allegedly pro-choice but refuse to vote that way - is running to the defense of Sen. Obama's Principled LeadershipTM for ChangeTM on abortion rights - the kind of leadership and change manifested by his avoiding voting pro-choice despite his commitment to always vote pro-choice. I can just visualize Sen. Edwards celebrating his friend's campaign for ChangeTM against the Status QuoTM of political gamesmanship!

5. PACs and Lobbyists

One of Sen. Obama's main criticisms of Sen. Clinton's record has been on the topic of "special interests":

Second, the influence of lobbyists and special interests, who control too much of the agenda in Washington, must be reduced and the voices of the American people must be heard again. Barack Obama has a history of taking on the special interests and winning. He has a track record of leading the way on reform and disclosure. Barack Obama will be beholden to no one but the American people when he wins. Senator Clinton embraces the current system in Washington and is the anointed candidate of Washington, raising more money from PACs and Washington lobbyists than any candidate in either party...Opening up and reforming government has been a primary cause in Obama’s life, not just a convenient set of issues in a political campaign.

In fact, I've pointed out earlier that Sen. Obama is also a shameless hypocrite on this, especially since he has taken around $1.3M from "special interest" groups including the kind of groups that he outrageously and hypocritically criticized in Iowa. As I mentioned:

Here we are in Campaign 2008. I already pointed out in a previous post that although Sen. Obama has declined to take money from PACs now, he has a past history of raising a fair amount of money from PACs. He was also recently criticized for distributing funds in a questionable manner from his Hopefund PAC - a PAC for which the infamous Norman Hsu was one of the fundraisers (which, by the way, the media doesn't reveal much - another similarity to the positive media coverage received by Bradley). What's more, his "reluctance" to receive PAC $ has not been absolute:

Obama's presidential campaign takes donations from state-level lobbyists and from the families and business partners of federal lobbyists. And Obama didn't adopt the ban until he ran for president. His Hopefund political committee accepted about $125,000 from PACs after he began serving in the U.S. Senate, and his Senate campaign committee also continued to accept PAC contributions until this year.

Not to mention:

About 40 percent of the money he raised as a state senator came from PACs, corporations and unions, including organizations with a financial stake in legislation he was sponsoring.

For instance, Obama, who often sponsored legislation on health care and prescription drugs, took $5,650 from health-related groups, $8,900 from insurance groups and $3,000 from a lobbyist representing drug companies.

Meanwhile, PACs contributed 3.2 percent of the $490,285 he raised for an unsuccessful congressional bid in 2000, and 8 percent of the $15 million he raised for his U.S. Senate race in 2004.

In other words, just as Bradley exited the Senate and adopted the "reformer" mantle in the Presidential election by renouncing PAC funds, Sen. Obama did something very similar as he entered the Presidential race after having enjoyed liberal use of PAC funds during his IL State Senate and U.S. Senate campaigns. So, there are two important observations I want to make from all this data.

...Sen. Clinton has been repeatedly attacked by Sen. Obama for doing something he did routinely for most of his political life and something that he only conveniently "gave up" as he entered the Presidential campaign, to arm himself with the Bradleyesque attack sound-bites that he could use against his opponent. This is one more item in the long list of similarities between his campaign and that of Bill Bradley.

As I also pointed out in the same post, Sen. Obama has long had a close working relationship with many lobbyists, has often socialized with them and even worked with them to write legislation. So, it should be no surprise then to find out that he's playing games about his alleged aversion for lobbyists. Not only is one of the co-chairs of his NH campaign (Jim Demers) a lobbyist, so is a co-chair of his SC campaign (Jim Hodges). Worse, Sen. Obama falsely denied - during the NH debate - that Jim Demers is a lobbyist. As Mark Halperin (Time) points out (emphasis in original):

During Saturday’s debate, in the face of an explicit charge from Clinton, Obama denied that his New Hampshire co-chair Jim Demers is a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry: “That’s not so.” Watch the exchange here.

In fact, as you can see here, it is a true fact that Demers is registered to lobby for Pfizer and PhRMA.

Obama campaign repeatedly declined Sunday to explain his debate denial.

As you can expect, after having been caught being completely hypocritical and making an inaccurate statement to the public, the Obama campaign has been trying to say it is OK to have Jim Demers as co-chair of his NH campaign because he is only a state lobbyist for Big Pharma. Gee, I didn't realize that lobbyists and "special interests" are only "bad" if they operate at the Federal level! At the state level, they are obviously Pinnacles of VirtueTM. As it turns out, the Obama camp doesn't go scot free even with that kind of nonsensical, self-serving argument:

Obama's campaign proudly announced today the endorsement of former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges who will join his campaign as a national co-chair.

But the endorsement of Hodges may raise eyebrows among those who support Obama because he strongly decries lobbyists on the stump, frequently saying that he will not let them work in his White House or set the agenda in Washington.

Hodges is the founder of Hodges Consulting Group, a state-based lobbying firm he started in 2003. The firm is a subsidiary of Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman, L.L.P, a law firm that represents clients in North Carolina and South Carolina.
"Because I have no power in this state, so I'm not influenced in any way by somebody who's lobbying at the state level,” he told NBC's Sacramento affiliate in August. “The main thing that we're trying to avoid is any perception that somehow those who are doing business in Washington have an influence on my agenda."

...NBC's Domenico Montanaro adds that Hodges is, in fact, a registered federal lobbyist, a search of the Senate Office of Public Records Lobbying Disclosure Act Database shows. He registered as such on June 1, 2007.

Let's just say that Sen. Obama's Principled Leadership for ChangeTM is rather enlightening. Of course, this is never complete without a reference to Sen. Edwards who has been repeatedly tying his own great campaign for ChangeTM to Sen. Obama's:

Earlier this week, after Edwards vowed that no lobbyists would work in his administration, he was criticized because a key supporter and fundraiser was a state lobbyist.

I can see why Sen. Edwards likes Sen. Obama so much. After all, he is also in the hypocritical position of running a campaign for the Senate that was almost identical to the campaign he is running today (including his repeated emphasis on not talking any "special interest" money) - except, once he got into the U.S. Senate he voted, in several cases, in direct contradiction to the promises in his populist campaign. In other words, he, like Sen. Obama, has perfected the art of Talking about ChangeTM.

6. Death Penalty

By now, it should be clear that Sen. Obama's campaign for ChangeTM is based on saying what his supporters want to hear in order to get elected. So, it shouldn't be a surprise to note that he ran against the death penalty during his campaign for IL State Senate and then, when his actual record, turned out to be not as black and white (i.e., "Obama says he supports the death penalty in limited circumstances, such as an especially heinous crime"), the campaign issued one of the most ridiculous responses ever:

As Taylor Marsh observed, the next statement makes no sense whatsoever.

The campaign responds within the Allen-Smith article:

For instance, Obama says he supports the death penalty in limited circumstances, such as an especially heinous crime. The campaign says Obama has consistently supported the death penalty "in principle" and opposed it "in practice."

Delicious. Mr. Obama "consistently supported the death penalty 'IN PRINCIPLE' and opposed it 'IN PRACTICE.' How clear. How perfectly, well, groovy for the the other guys.

This is deeply embarrassing and much worse than what Sen. John Kerry got completely trashed over. It just gets worse from there on. This is the kind of stuff that will very likely derail his quest for the Presidency from day one, if he wins the Democratic nomination. This has Titanic written all over it, especially given that Sen. Obama has never been really tested in the past with strong Republican opposition and what we are seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg.

To summarize, Sen. Obama again ran on a platform of Dramatic ChangeTM but once he became an Establishment Politician, he changed his mind and decided to vote differently. So, much for being the most trusted agent of ChangeTM. Not to mention, the Obama campaign denied he actually signed off on the questionnaire where he mentioned his opposition to the death penalty - it wasn't quite convincing to some people.

7. Healthcare

When Sen. Obama was running for the Senate, he claimed that he was in favor of single-payer healthcare:

“So the challenge is, how do we get federal government to take care of this business? I happen to be a proponent of a single payer health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14% of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. And as all of you know, we may not get their immediately. Because firs[t] we have to take back the white house, we have to take back the senate, we have to take back the house.”

[VIDEO: Obama remarks at AFL-CIO, 6/30/03]

The Clinton campaign has correctly pointed out that "Today, he opposes single payer health care, and attacks Sen. Clinton for proposing a plan that covers everyone." This has in fact been one of the issues that progressive icon Paul Krugman has discussed at some length in the New York Times - namely, Sen. Obama's attack on Sen. Clinton (and Sen. Edwards) from the right on healthcare. See, for example, here, here and here.

This is one of the worst examples of Sen. Obama's tendency to say he is for dramatic ChangeTM and act in ways that sabotage the very change that he claims he wants.

8. Taking Tough Stands

As it turns out Sen. Obama has a long history of talking ToughTM and claiming to be for ChangeTM and acting in ways that are hypocritical and contradictory to his rhetoric. For example:

  • He claims to be in favor of telling the truth, and then does otherwise - especially when it comes to Sen. Clinton
  • He claims to be against "special interests" and lobbyists, and it turns out that's NOT quite the case
  • He claims to be against "triangulation", and it turns out that is exactly what he's in favor of
  • He claims to be in favor of making tough choices, and it turns out that is exactly what he is NOT in favor of - not just from the examples shown in this post, but from his record of avoiding tough votes.

As I highlighted in my post on his "present" votes in Illinois:

And here's what he recently said in his op-ed in the Des Moines Register (which endorsed Sen. Clinton):

We can't avoid tough questions and tell everyone what we think they want to hear - we have to tell people what they need to hear. We can't afford to triangulate and poll-test every position because we're afraid of what Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani might say.

The Democratic Party has made the most difference in people's lives when we've led not by polls, but by principle; not by calculation, but by conviction; when we've had leaders who could summon the entire nation to a common purpose.

That's why I'm running for president.

I'm giddy already - why didn't we just have this guy appointed President yesterday?! It's not worth waiting for a billion dollar election - let's just email his statements to all the youth in all of our colleges! I'm so impressed with everything he SaysTM that rather than support him in the Primaries, I will do one better. I will highlight - thanks to Raymond Hernandez and Christopher Drew of the NYT - how Sen. Obama has been living up to his amazing, larger-than-life principles (almost Godly one might say!):

In 1999, Barack Obama was faced with a difficult vote in the Illinois legislature — to support a bill that would let some juveniles be tried as adults, a position that risked drawing fire from African-Americans, or to oppose it, possibly undermining his image as a tough-on-crime moderate.

In the end, Mr. Obama chose neither to vote for nor against the bill. He voted “present,” effectively sidestepping the issue, an option he invoked nearly 130 times as a state senator.

Sometimes the “present’ votes were in line with instructions from Democratic leaders or because he objected to provisions in bills that he might otherwise support. At other times, Mr. Obama voted present on questions that had overwhelming bipartisan support. In at least a few cases, the issue was politically sensitive.

...Although a present vote is not unusual in Illinois, Mr. Obama’s use of it is being raised as he tries to distinguish himself as a leader who will take on the tough issues, even if it means telling people the “hard truths” they do not want to hear.

What does all of this highly irrelevant and distracting stuff mean?

Well, if you read the comments from Saint ObamaTM supporters in the article, you will discover that the Anti-DuckingTM (cf. Kyl-Lieberman, Move.Org, abortion, etc.) and Anti-TriangulationTM (too many items to list) candidate was really taking a Principled StandTM in favor of against Bills through his "present" votes. However, I need to translate their words into non-campaign speak for the benefit of our readers:

  • Sometimes it was a Principled StandTM that he should not lose the next election
  • At other times it was a Principled StandTM that he should help his colleagues not lose the next election
  • At yet other times the Principled StandTM was that he would vote how the party leadership told him to vote as part of a "broader legislative strategy"
  • Sometimes it was just a Principled StandTM that he so liked and disliked the Bill that he couldn't make up his mind
  • Let's not forget, there was also the most important Principled StandTM - that a Bill was allegedly unconstitutional and therefore required neither a yes nor a no vote. Well, you can certainly trust that Saint ObamaTM can be entrusted with protecting the Constitution!

I can already see the PrincipledTM President Obama waiting to sign legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, discovering that it is unconstitutional, and making the Tough ChoiceTM to not sign or veto the Bill. I imagine he might appear in the White House signing room, BoldlyTM register himself as "Present" (giving Chris Matthews, Frank Rich, Jonathan Alter and the Boston Globe editorial board goosepimples) and BoldlyTM head back to his office. Hey, that's much better than Bush's signing statements, so whom am I to complain!


Unfortunately, rather than realize that, the reporters at the New York Times, continued their biased tirade against Saint ObamaTM:

Mr. Obama did not vote yes or no on a bill that would allow certain victims of sexual crimes to petition judges to seal court records relating to their cases. He also voted present on a bill to impose stricter standards for evidence a judge is permitted to consider in imposing a criminal sentence.

On the sex crime bill, Mr. Obama cast the lone present vote in a 58-to-0 vote.

Mr. Obama’s campaign said he believed that the bill violated the First Amendment. The bill passed 112-0-0 in the House and 58-0-1 in the Senate.

In 2000, Mr. Obama was one of two senators who voted present on a bill on whether facts not presented to a jury could later be the basis for increasing an offender’s sentence beyond the ordinary maximum.

State Representative Jim Durkin, a Republican who was a co-sponsor of the bill, said it was intended to bring state law in line with a United States Supreme Court decision that nullified a practice of introducing new evidence to a judge in the sentencing phase of the trial, after a jury conviction on other charges.

The bill sailed through both chambers. Out of 174 votes cast in the House and Senate, two were against and two were present, including Mr. Obama’s.

“I don’t understand why you would oppose it,” Mr. Durkin said. “But I am more confused by a present vote.”

All I can say is, this is as good time a time as any to recall why Sen. Obama doesn't believe in voting yes or no:

Obama spokesman Bill Burton issued an even tougher rebuke of the Democratic front-runner. "It's absurd to compare a simple yes or no question about immigration that Senator Clinton still won't answer seven days after the debate to the despicable Republican attacks against John Kerry and Max Cleland's patriotism," he said. "Senator Obama believes that to truly stand up to the Republican attack machine, we have to be honest and straightforward about where we stand on the major issues facing America."

I agree. Sen. Obama is a truly remarkable and PrincipledTM candidate who clearly believes in saying yes or no except on those numerous occasions when he believes in not saying yes or no.


It's easy to give feel-good speeches about ChangeTM and PrincipleTM and ToughnessTM and BipartisanshipTM, but Sen. Obama' record makes it pretty clear that he's a politician like many other progressive Democrats - who panders heavily at the stump to make people believe what they want to believe and hear what they want to hear. His statements reflect a stunning record of hypocrisy and an inability to deliver on some of the major changes he has promised or proposed. This does not mean he is not a good Democratic candidate, but it does mean that a "reality check" is very much needed in assessing what he says and what he can actually deliver.

eriposte :: 7:42 AM :: Comments (16) :: Digg It!