Friday :: Jan 25, 2008

Sen. Obama's Politics of Distortion

by eriposte

This post is a follow-on to my post last night on "Barack Obama's Campaign Against Bill Clinton". There's been a lot of back and forth between the campaigns on Sen. Obama's comments to the Reno Gazette Journal Editorial Board earlier this month. More on that in the next post, but let me talk about a statement he made that roughly starts at the 11:50 mark (emphasis mine):

And the only way to, I think, really break the gridlock is if during this election season the voters reward candidates who aren't playing ideological games, aren't engaging in vitriolic politics, are trying to come up with common sense solutions, are presenting the other side's case fairly. And if we have a president who is elected with that mandate of bringing people together, and we have a Congress that understands it's going to be accountable to the American people, then I think you've got a chance to get something done.

In other words, part of Sen. Obama's case for why he should be the Democratic nominee and the President is that he believes in representing the other side's case fairly and that voters should reward candidates who do that. As it turns out, like many of the other Rovian fictions he has created during this campaign, the reality about Sen. Obama is the exact opposite - in some cases to the point of utter shamelessness. For a person running as a "clean" politician, on a campaign of Hope, Change and OptimismTM, his brand of politics is fundamentally ugly (something that has been evident for many months). Given that dynamic, he feels quite comfortable routinely distorting the positions or words of Sen. Clinton with impunity in order to mislead voters, because he knows that the traditional media will more often than not parrot his talking points and trash the Clintons rather than call him on his egregious behavior. In this post, I provide a handful of examples to illustrate this point (note that all emphasis in quoted portions is mine).

1. Sen. Clinton/Bill Clinton and Sen. Obama's Position on the Iraq War

2. Sen. Clinton and Diplomacy

3. Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama's Position on Single-Payer Healthcare

4. Sen. Clinton and the Bankruptcy Bill

5. Sen. Clinton and Stimulus Plan

6. Sen. Clinton and Yucca Mountain

1. Sen. Clinton/Bill Clinton and Sen. Obama's Position on the Iraq War

Sen. Obama:

So when Senator Clinton says -- or President Clinton says that I wasn't opposed to the war from the start or says it's a fairytale that I opposed the war, that is simply not true.

This is a blatant fabrication/distortion by Sen. Obama. Senator Clinton corrected him on it during the recent debate:

CLINTON: ...And I want to be just very explicit about this. We are not, neither my campaign nor anyone associated with it, are in any way saying you did not oppose the war in Iraq.

You did. You gave a great speech in 2002 opposing the war in Iraq. That was not what the point of our criticism was.

It was after having given that speech, by the next year the speech was off your Web site. By the next year, you were telling reporters that you agreed with President Bush in his conduct of the war. And by the next year, when you were in the Senate, you were voting to fund the war time after time after time.

[...] So it was more about the distinction between words and action. And I think that is a fair assessment for voters to make.

As I pointed out before President Clinton also never said that Sen. Obama never opposed the war from the start:

Here's the actual video of President Clinton (easily available through a Google search). This is what he says in the video - and you can see clearly that President Clinton was referring to the dichotomy between Sen. Obama's repeated claims that he was consistently and staunchly against the Iraq war and Sen. Obama's actual record on Iraq as being a fairy tale, and rightly so:

It is wrong that Sen. Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgement and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, well how could you say, that, when you said in 2004, you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution, you said in 2004 that there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war, and you took that speech you are now running on, off your website, in 2004, and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since. Give me a break [audience applauds]. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen...

I've previously pointed out some of these very aspects of Sen. Obama's record - the website scrubbing (in 2003, not 2004), his acknowledgement of common ground with Bush on the war, his repeated statements that he was not sure how he would have voted on the 2002 Iraq resolution if he had been in the U.S. Senate (as opposed to being in the IL Senate, where he was not privy to the intelligence reports), his voting in favor of funding the Iraq war repeatedly once in the Senate, his vocal speech in the Senate opposing Sen. John Kerry's resolution to force a timetable-based withdrawal from Iraq, and his voting virtually identically with Sen. Clinton on Iraq (these are undoubtedly some of the many reasons why Sen. Edwards, whose Senate record on Iraq is worse than Sen. Clinton's, has been touting Sen. Obama as one of the Greatest Agents of ChangeTM - that should tell you a thing or two about Sen. Edwards' own principles and portrayals of himself as a Change AgentTM). These are some of the facts that the Clinton campaign has now posted on their "Fact Hub" website - and Sen. Clinton highlighted some of these very facts in her response to Russert's fraudulent style of questioning (NOTE: see Big Tent Democrat talking about the Clinton Double Standard on this issue in some parts of the blogosphere).

Obama surrogate Robert Reich blatantly lied about this as well by simply making a groaningly mendacious claim without pointing out how Bill Clinton said something that was untrue:

...for a former President to say things that are patently untrue (such as Obama’s anti-war position is a “fairy tale”)...

2. Sen. Clinton and Diplomacy

Sen. Obama:

Above all, it must be done through tough and direct diplomacy with Iran, which I have supported, and which Sen. Clinton has called "naive and irresponsible."

This is another blatant distortion/fabrication. Sen. Clinton did not call tough and direct diplomacy "naive and irresponsible". In fact she plainly supports tough and direct diplomacy. Here's the relevant exchange:

QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since.

In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?


OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous.


COOPER: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.

I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.

And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.

And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.

COOPER: Senator Edwards, would you meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il?

EDWARDS: Yes, and I think actually Senator Clinton's right though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy, to make sure that that meeting's not going to be used for propaganda purposes, will not be used to just beat down the United States of America in the world community.

What Sen. Clinton referred to as "naive and irresponsible" was Sen. Obama's statement that he would meet those leaders without preconditions in the first year, as ABC explained:

Obama said yes, while Clinton said no, arguing that the president should only meet with world leaders who are hostile to the United States after lower-level diplomatic contacts are conducted. In an interview today with the Quad City Times, Clinton more directly criticized Obama's answer.

"I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive," Clinton said, according to a story posted on the newspaper's Web site.

3. Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama's Position on Single-Payer Healthcare

I wrote about this yesterday, so let me just reproduce a part of that post:

Unlike Marc Ambinder's somewhat "fair and balanced" summary, we should offer praise to Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal blog Washington Wire who laid out the facts clearly and didn't fall into the same "fair and balanced" trap. Let me quote at length from her blog post (emphasis mine):

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going at it over health care again, this time over whether Obama once advocated a single-payer health care plan, a system favored by the left wing of the Democratic Party.

He says he didn’t. She says he did.

But she has the proof. His comments are on video, from a speech he gave in 2003 to the AFL-CIO. It’s all on YouTube, natch.


At a Democratic debate Tuesday night, Clinton accused Obama of supporting single payer and then backing away. Obama flatly denied it: “I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single payer. What I said was that if I were starting from scratch, if we didn’t have a system in which employers had typically provided health care, I would probably go with a single-payer system. What’s evolved, Hillary, is your presentation of my positions, which is what’s happened frequently during the course of this campaign.”

But Clinton has the goods to back up her claim. In his 2003 speech, Obama said, “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 … cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody … . 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 there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, we have to take back the House.”

Challenged with the apparent contradiction, Obama spokesman Bill Burton produced three recent examples where Obama did in fact say that he would support single payer but only if we were starting from scratch. And he put out this nasty statement: “The Clinton campaign has shown itself willing to say anything, distort anything and twist anything in order to win an election.”

When asked to respond to the fact that the video shows that in 2003 Obama held a different view, Burton challenged Washington Wire to get a copy of the full Obama speech and suggested that would show his comments were taken out of context. Clinton spokesman Phil Singer provided the full video and it proved Clinton’s point.

Obama tried to use the incident as an example of Clinton manipulating the facts, but it seems clear his campaign is the one doing the twisting. Clinton wants the incident to highlight how Obama no longer supports universal coverage, which she and others believe is not possible without a mandate. On that matter, the debate goes on.

Update: Burton later said that Obama has always been consistent in arguing that single payer health care is a good idea but “is not achievable.”

Shameless is the word. As Frank James of the Baltimore Sun observed on his blog:

It's another case of, what do you want to believe, Obama's statements now or your lying eyes and ears?

What is worse is how Sen. Obama himself reacted to this yesterday. Here's Taylor Marsh discussing a quote from ARG's Dick Bennett:

[MARSH] An interview with Obama on "Today" that talks about this video ad from Clinton. Notice that during the interview Obama pretends not to be able to hear the clip, then trudges through to give his point, even though the viewers clearly saw his flip flopping. Classic Obama.

[BENNETT] Barack Obama's Groucho Marx Moment

There are times in campaigns when candidates say or do things that destroy the major premises of their campaigns in an instant. Barack Obama did that this morning in his interview with Meredith Vieira on the Today Show.

When confronted with a clip (starting at about 5 minutes into the interview) of him saying in Monday night's debate that he never supported a single-payer health care system and then a clip of him saying he was a proponent of a single-payer system, Obama uncomfortably dodged his very obvious contradiction by telling Vieira that he could not hear the clips.

By relying on the Groucho Marx defense ("Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?"), Obama reduced himself to a typical politician in front of millions of voters.

Vieira reported that the clips were prepared by the Clinton campaign, which was all the more reason for Obama to have been prepared to respond to the clips.

Voters react to demonstrated behavior. If a politician says he or she represents a new style of politics, but his or her behavior clearly demonstrates the opposite, voters will base their judgments on the behavior and not on what the politician tells them.

That behavior was of course pretty weird to say the least.

4. Sen. Clinton and the Bankruptcy Bill

Sen. Obama:

"So, Tim Russert asked, 'Well, why did you vote for this bill?' She says, 'Well, I voted for it, but I hoped it wouldn't pass.' See, that's Washington talk. Because, where I come from, if you want a bill not to pass, you don't vote for it. Maybe that's just me. You've got to say what you mean, and mean what you say."

This was an obvious distortion of Sen. Clinton's actual statement. If you look at the debate transcript, what Sen. Clinton said was that she regretted her vote and she was therefore happy that it ultimately did not become law:

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, you voted for the same 2001 bankruptcy bill that Senator Edwards just said he was wrong about. After you did that, the Consumer Federation of America said that your reversal on that bill, voting for it, was the death knell for the opponents of the bill. Do you regret that vote?

CLINTON: Sure I do, but it never became law, as you know. It got tied up. It was a bill that had some things I agreed with and other things I didn't agree with, and I was happy that it never became law. I opposed the 2005 bill as well.

5. Sen. Clinton and Stimulus Plan

Sen. Obama:

Something that concerned me when Senator Clinton first released her economic stimulus plan. She kept saying that workers and seniors needed immediate tax relief.…Five days later, the economy didn’t really change, but the politics apparently did. Because she changed her plan to look like mine.

Obama campaign memo:

In the debate the other night, the candidates spent some time talking about the economy. And one of the things Sen. Obama brought up was that when Senator Clinton first released her economic stimulus plan, she didn’t think that workers or seniors needed immediate tax relief. She thought it could wait until things got worse. Five days later, the economy didn’t really change, but the politics apparently did, because she changed her plan to look just like Obama’s.

This is another distortion of Sen. Clinton's position:

False. Hillary's $110 billion stimulus plan was released days before Sen. Obama's plan and always contained contingent tax relief. After a flood of negative economic news, she indicated that the tax provisions contained in the original plan should be triggered.

In fact, after Hillary released her plan, Sen. Obama's campaign said a stimulus plan like Hillary's was unnecessary. Paul Krugman wrote, "Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser claimed that the long-term tax-cut plan the candidate announced months ago is just what we need to keep the slump from 'morphing into a drastic decline in consumer spending.' Hmm: claiming that the candidate is all-seeing, and that a tax cut originally proposed for other reasons is also a recession-fighting measure — doesn’t that sound familiar?" Less than 48 hours later, Sen. Obama's campaign offered a new stimulus plan.

6. Sen. Clinton and Yucca Mountain

Sen. Obama:

But, you know, when I say I'm against a nuclear waste facility in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, and next thing you know Senator Clinton's running an ad saying I'm for it - and I said I was against it, never been for it, but there's an ad saying I am for it...

His claim is false. Sen. Clinton never said what he claimed she said.

There are more such examples, but this should give you a good idea about who the real Sen. Obama is and the kind of politics he really believes in.

eriposte :: 1:43 AM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!