Opting Out On Obamania
Source Jim Devine
Date 08/03/01/10:27

The Obama Craze: Count Me Out

by Matt Gonzalez, 2008-02-27

[Matt Gonzalez is a former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.]

PART OF ME SHARES the enthusiasm for Barack Obama. After all, how
could someone calling themself a progressive not sense the importance
of what it means to have an African-American so close to the
presidency? But as his campaign has unfolded, and I heard that we are
not red states or blue states for the 6th or 7th time, I realized I
knew virtually nothing about him.

Like most, I know he gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National
Convention in 2004. I know he defeated Alan Keyes in the Illinois
Senate race; although it wasn't much of a contest (Keyes was living in
Maryland when he announced). Recently, I started looking into Obama's
voting record, and I'm afraid to say I'm not just uninspired: I'm
downright fearful. Here's why:

This is a candidate who says he's going to usher in change; that he is
a different kind of politician who has the skills to get things done.
He reminds us again and again that he had the foresight to oppose the
war in Iraq. And he seems to have a genuine interest in lifting up the

But his record suggests that he is incapable of ushering in any kind
of change I'd like to see. It is one of accommodation and concession
to the very political powers that we need to reign in and oppose if we
are to make truly lasting advances.


Let's start with his signature position against the Iraq war. Obama
has sent mixed messages at best.

First, he opposed the war in Iraq while in the Illinois state
legislature. Once he was running for US Senate though, when public
opinion and support for the war was at its highest, he was quoted in
the July 27, 2004 Chicago Tribune as saying, "There's not that much
difference between my position and George Bush's position at this
stage. The difference, in my mind, is who's in a position to execute."
The Tribune went on to say that Obama, "now believes US forces must
remain to stabilize the war-ravaged nation a policy not dissimilar
to the current approach of the Bush administration."

Obama's campaign says he was referring to the ongoing occupation and
how best to stabilize the region. But why wouldn't he have taken the
opportunity to urge withdrawal if he truly opposed the war? Was he
trying to signal to conservative voters that he would subjugate his
anti-war position if elected to the US Senate and perhaps support a
lengthy occupation? Well as it turns out, he's done just that.

Since taking office in January 2005 he has voted to approve every war
appropriation the Republicans have put forward, totaling over $300
billion. He also voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of
State despite her complicity in the Bush Administration's various
false justifications for going to war in Iraq. Why would he vote to
make one of the architects of "Operation Iraqi Liberation" the head of
US foreign policy? Curiously, he lacked the courage of 13 of his
colleagues who voted against her confirmation.

And though he often cites his background as a civil rights lawyer,
Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in July 2005, easily the
worse attack on civil liberties in the last half-century. It allows
for wholesale eavesdropping on American citizens under the guise of
anti-terrorism efforts.

And in March 2006, Obama went out of his way to travel to Connecticut
to campaign for Senator Joseph Lieberman who faced a tough challenge
by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. At a Democratic Party dinner
attended by Lamont, Obama called Lieberman "his mentor" and urged
those in attendance to vote and give financial contributions to him.
This is the same Lieberman who Alexander Cockburn [who's not a good
source these days -- JD] called "Bush's closest Democratic ally on the
Iraq War." Why would Obama have done that if he was truly against the

Recently, with anti-war sentiment on the rise, Obama declared he will
get our combat troops out of Iraq in 2009. But Obama isn't actually
saying he wants to get all of our troops out of Iraq. At a September
2007 debate before the New Hampshire primary, moderated by Tim
Russert, Obama refused to commit to getting our troops out of Iraq by
January 2013 and, on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly stated his
desire to add 100,000 combat troops to the military.

At the same event, Obama committed to keeping enough soldiers in Iraq
to "carry out our counter-terrorism activities there" which includes
"striking at al Qaeda in Iraq." What he didn't say is this continued
warfare will require an estimated 60,000 troops to remain in Iraq
according to a May 2006 report prepared by the Center for American
Progress. Moreover, it appears he intends to "redeploy" the troops he
takes out of the unpopular war in Iraq and send them to Afghanistan.
So it appears that under Obama's plan the US will remain heavily
engaged in war.

This is hardly a position to get excited about.


In 2005, Obama joined Republicans in passing a law dubiously called
the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) that would shut down state courts
as a venue to hear many class action lawsuits. Long a desired
objective of large corporations and President George Bush, Obama in
effect voted to deny redress in many of the courts where these kinds
of cases have the best chance of surviving corporate legal challenges.
Instead, it forces them into the backlogged Republican-judge dominated
federal courts.

By contrast, Senators Clinton, Edwards and Kerry joined 23 others to
vote against CAFA, noting the "reform" was a thinly-veiled "special
interest extravaganza" that favored banking, creditors and other
corporate interests. David Sirota, the former spokesman for Democrats
on the House Appropriations Committee, commented on CAFA in the June
26, 2006 issue of The Nation, "Opposed by most major civil rights and
consumer watchdog groups, this Big Business-backed legislation was
sold to the public as a way to stop 'frivolous' lawsuits. But everyone
in Washington knew the bill's real objective was to protect corporate

Nation contributor Dan Zegart noted further: "On its face, the
class-action bill is mere procedural tinkering, transferring from
state to federal court actions involving more than $5 million where
any plaintiff is from a different state from the defendant company.
But federal courts are much more hostile to class actions than their
state counterparts; such cases tend to be rooted in the finer points
of state law, in which federal judges are reluctant to dabble. And
even if federal judges do take on these suits, with only 678 of them
on the bench (compared with 9,200 state judges), already overburdened
dockets will grow. Thus, the bill will make class actions most of
which involve discrimination, consumer fraud and wage-and-hour
violations all but impossible. One example: After forty lawsuits
were filed against Wal-Mart for allegedly forcing employees to work
'off the clock,' four state courts certified these suits as class
actions. Not a single federal court did so, although the practice
probably involves hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide."

Why would a civil rights lawyer knowingly make it harder for
working-class people to have their day in court, in effect shutting
off avenues of redress?


Obama has a way of ducking hard votes or explaining away his bad votes
by trying to blame poorly-written statutes. Case in point: an
amendment he voted on as part of a recent bankruptcy bill before the
US Senate would have capped credit card interest rates at 30 percent.
Inexplicably, Obama voted against it, although it would have been the
beginning of setting these predatory lending rates under federal
control. Even Senator Hillary Clinton supported it.

Now Obama explains his vote by saying the amendment was poorly written
or set the ceiling too high. His explanation isn't credible as Obama
offered no lower number as an alternative, and didn't put forward his
own amendment clarifying whatever language he found objectionable.

Why wouldn't Obama have voted to create the first federal ceiling on
predatory credit card interest rates, particularly as he calls himself
a champion of the poor and middle classes? Perhaps he was signaling to
the corporate establishment that they need not fear him. For all of
his dynamic rhetoric about lifting up the masses, it seems Obama has
little intention of doing anything concrete to reverse the cycle of
poverty many struggle to overcome.


These seemingly unusual votes wherein Obama aligns himself with
Republican Party interests aren't new. While in the Illinois Senate,
Obama voted to limit the recovery that victims of medical malpractice
could obtain through the courts. Capping non-economic damages in
medical malpractice cases means a victim cannot fully recover for pain
and suffering or for punitive damages. Moreover, it ignored that
courts were already empowered to adjust awards when appropriate, and
that the Illinois Supreme Court had previously ruled such limits on
tort reform violated the state constitution.

In the US Senate, Obama continued interfering with patients' full
recovery for tortious conduct. He was a sponsor of the National
Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation Act of 2005. The bill
requires hospitals to disclose errors to patients and has a mechanism
whereby disclosure, coupled with apologies, is rewarded by limiting
patients' economic recovery. Rather than simply mandating disclosure,
Obama's solution is to trade what should be mandated for something
that should never be given away: namely, full recovery for the injured


In November 2007, Obama came out against a bill that would have
reformed the notorious Mining Law of 1872. The current statute, signed
into law by Ulysses Grant, allows mining companies to pay a nominal
fee, as little as $2.50 an acre, to mine for hardrock minerals like
gold, silver, and copper without paying royalties. Yearly profits for
mining hardrock on public lands is estimated to be in excess of $1
billion a year according to Earthworks, a group that monitors the
industry. Not surprisingly, the industry spends freely when it comes
to lobbying: an estimated $60 million between 1998-2004 according to
The Center on Public Integrity. And it appears to be paying off, yet

The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 would have finally
overhauled the law and allowed American taxpayers to reap part of the
royalties (4 percent of gross revenue on existing mining operations
and 8 percent on new ones). The bill provided a revenue source to
cleanup abandoned hardrock mines, which is likely to cost taxpayers
over $50 million, and addressed health and safety concerns in the 11
affected western states.

Later it came to light that one of Obama's key advisors in Nevada is a
Nevada-based lobbyist in the employ of various mining companies (CBS
News "Obama's Position On Mining Law Questioned. Democrat Shares
Position with Mining Executives Who Employ Lobbyist Advising Him,"
November 14, 2007).


The New York Times reported that, while campaigning in Iowa in
December 2007, Obama boasted that he had passed a bill requiring
nuclear plants to promptly report radioactive leaks. This came after
residents of his home state of Illinois complained they were not told
of leaks that occurred at a nuclear plant operated by Exelon

The truth, however, was that Obama allowed the bill to be amended in
Committee by Senate Republicans, replacing language mandating
reporting with verbiage that merely offered guidance to regulators on
how to address unreported leaks. The story noted that even this
version of Obama's bill failed to pass the Senate, so it was unclear
why Obama was claiming to have passed the legislation. The February 3,
2008 The New York Times article titled "Nuclear Leaks and Response
Tested Obama in Senate" by Mike McIntire also noted the opinion of one
of Obama's constituents, which was hardly enthusiastic about Obama's
legislative efforts:

"Senator Obama's staff was sending us copies of the bill to review,
and we could see it weakening with each successive draft," said Joe
Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Ill., where
low-level radioactive runoff had turned up in groundwater. "The teeth
were just taken out of it."

As it turns out, the New York Times story noted: "Since 2003,
executives and employees of Exelon, which is based in Illinois, have
contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama's campaigns for the United
States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M.
Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director,
are among his largest fund-raisers."


On energy policy, it turns out Obama is a big supporter of corn-based
ethanol which is well known for being an energy-intensive crop to
grow. It is estimated that seven barrels of oil are required to
produce eight barrels of corn ethanol, according to research by the
Cato Institute. Ethanol's impact on climate change is nominal and
isn't "green" according to Alisa Gravitz, Co-op America executive
director. "It simply isn't a major improvement over gasoline when it
comes to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions." A 2006 University of
Minnesota study by Jason Hill and David Tilman, and an earlier study
published in BioScience in 2005, concur. (There's even concern that a
reliance on corn-based ethanol would lead to higher food prices.)

So why would Obama be touting this as a solution to our oil
dependency? Could it have something to do with the fact that the first
presidential primary is located in Iowa, corn capitol of the country?
In legislative terms this means Obama voted in favor of $8 billion
worth of corn subsidies in 2006 alone, when most of that money should
have been committed to alternative energy sources such as solar, tidal
and wind.


Obama opposed single-payer bill HR676, sponsored by Congressmen Dennis
Kucinich and John Conyers in 2006, although at least 75 members of
Congress supported it. Single-payer works by trying to diminish the
administrative costs that comprise somewhere around one-third of every
health care dollar spent, by eliminating the duplicative nature of
these services. The expected $300 billion in annual savings such a
system would produce would go directly to cover the uninsured and
expand coverage to those who already have insurance, according to Dr.
Stephanie Woolhandler, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard
Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health

Obama's own plan has been widely criticized for leaving health care
industry administrative costs in place and for allowing millions of
people to remain uninsured. "Sicko" filmmaker Michael Moore ridiculed
it saying, "Obama wants the insurance companies to help us develop a
new health care plan-the same companies who have created the mess in
the first place."


Regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, Obama recently
boasted, "I don't think NAFTA has been good for Americans, and I never
have." Yet, Calvin Woodward reviewed Obama's record on NAFTA in a
February 26, 2008 Associated Press article and found that comment to
be misleading: "In his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama said the US should
pursue more deals such as NAFTA, and argued more broadly that his
opponent's call for tariffs would spark a trade war. AP reported then
that the Illinois senator had spoken of enormous benefits having
accrued to his state from NAFTA, while adding that he also called for
more aggressive trade protections for US workers."

Putting aside campaign rhetoric, when actually given an opportunity to
protect workers from unfair trade agreements, Obama cast the deciding
vote against an amendment to a September 2005 Commerce Appropriations
Bill, proposed by North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, that would have
prohibited US trade negotiators from weakening US laws that provide
safeguards from unfair foreign trade practices. The bill would have
been a vital tool to combat the outsourcing of jobs to foreign workers
and would have ended a common corporate practice known as
"pole-vaulting" over regulations, which allows companies doing foreign
business to avoid "right to organize," "minimum wage," and other
worker protections.


On March 2, 2007 Obama gave a speech at AIPAC, America's pro-Israeli
government lobby, wherein he disavowed his previous support for the
plight of the Palestinians. In what appears to be a troubling pattern,
Obama told his audience what they wanted to hear. [This "troubling
pattern," it should be noted, is a major characteristic of all
politicians.] He recounted a one-sided history of the region and
called for continued military support for Israel, rather than taking
the opportunity to promote the various peace movements in and outside
of Israel.

Why should we believe Obama has courage to bring about change? He
wouldn't have his picture taken with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom
when visiting San Francisco for a fundraiser in his honor because
Obama was scared voters might think he supports gay marriage (Newsom
acknowledged this to Reuters on January 26, 2007 and former Mayor
Willie Brown admitted to the San Francisco Chronicle on February 5,
2008 that Obama told him he wanted to avoid Newsom for that reason.)

Obama acknowledges the disproportionate impact the death penalty has
on blacks, but still supports it, while other politicians are fighting
to stop it. (On December 17, 2007 New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine
signed a bill banning the death penalty after it was passed by the New
Jersey Assembly.)

On September 29, 2006, Obama joined Republicans in voting to build 700
miles of double fencing on the Mexican border (The Secure Fence Act of
2006), abandoning 19 of his colleagues who had the courage to oppose
it. But now that he's campaigning in Texas and eager to win over
Mexican-American voters, he says he'd employ a different border

It is shocking how frequently and consistently Obama is willing to
subjugate good decision making for his personal and political benefit.

Obama aggressively opposed initiating impeachment proceedings against
the president ("Obama: Impeachment is not acceptable," USA Today, June
28, 2007) and he wouldn't even support Wisconsin Senator Russ
Feingold's effort to censure the Bush administration for illegally
wiretapping American citizens in violation of the 1978 Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act. In Feingold's words "I'm amazed at
Democrats cowering with this president's number's so low." Once
again, it's troubling that Obama would take these positions and miss
the opportunity to document the abuses of the Bush regime.


Once I started looking at the votes Obama actually cast, I began to
hear his rhetoric differently. The principal conclusion I draw about
"change" and Barack Obama is that Obama needs to change his voting
habits and stop pandering to win votes. If he does this he might
someday make a decent candidate who could earn my support. For now
Obama has fallen into a dangerous pattern of capitulation that he
cannot reconcile with his growing popularity as an agent of change.

I remain impressed by the enthusiasm generated by Obama's style and
skill as an orator. But I remain more loyal to my values, and I'm glad
to say that I want no part in the Obama craze sweeping our country.

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