Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Barack Obama a True Agent of Change?

There is no doubt that Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama has clearly inspired millions of voters in what had become an arguably depressed electorate. His words have engaged many who might have otherwise watched the primary process from the sidelines those who were resigned to the belief that change is virtually impossible within America's current political landscape.

"If we don't inspire the country to believe again, then it doesn't matter how many policies and plans we have," said Obama on February 17, according to Bloomberg News.

True, words, even if some phrases are borrowed, have the ability to inspire the electorate. But it's the enacted policy that impacts and ultimately changes American lives. And when one takes a closer look at the nuts and bolts behind Senator Obama's message, there are troubling signs that the change Obama espouses might be nothing more than beautiful rhetoric.

You'd be preaching to the choir if you wanted to harp on the Clinton machine's flaws and scars and then, there's always her yes vote that giving President Bush military authorization before the invasion of Iraq.

But, the Clinton machine has been, and continues to be picked and cleaned dry by the press, its past, its campaign tactics, its relationships questioned, blasted and torn apart by conservative as well as liberal columnists, pundits and bloggers.

The Obama camp has yet to be fully vetted by the majority of a press that seems almost shy about interrupting what many have called a movement. Those that have done their homework and posed legitimate questions about policy, relationships and other issues have often been met with arrogant, evasive and dismissive shrugs and a fiercely protective network of supporters who shoot down critiques of the anointed beacon of change.

According to a February 17 "New York Times" article by Kate Zernike called "The Charisma Mandate," accounts of the Obama campaign's volunteer training sessions have a revivalist flavor where "volunteers are urged to avoid talking about policy to potential voters, and instead tell how they came to Mr. Obama."

But it would be naïve to think that sort of tactic will work in November and it would serve Democrat's interest if the contradictions and holes in the message were pointed out now, before the Republican attack machine brings out its own weapons of destruction and doubt.

Central to Obama's message of change are claims that he is free of lobbyist influence. But in fact, he has been, and still is being funded by some of the same types of corporate interests as Clinton and other candidates through big corporate donors known as bundlers.

In fact, he's received so much funding, an estimated $30 million per month, that his campaign appears to be backpedaling on a November pledge where he said if he was the Democratic nominee, he would aggressively pursue and agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.

"The Washington Post" said in a February 16 editorial that "this kind of backtracking and parsing is't what the millions of voters who have been inspired by Mr. Obama are looking for."

More telling, a November 2006 Harpers article "The Making of a Washington Machine" by Ken Silverstein quoted an anonymous Washington lobbyist who said, "big donors would not be helping out OBama if they didn't see him as a player."

"What's the dollar value of a starry eyed idealist?" the anonymous source said according to the Harpers article.

No one can say for certain what kind of role that big money contributions would make in a future Obama administration but they deserve full airing and warrant further questions that require answers, not evasive missives from the man who might be President.

A February 3, article by "The New York Times" reported that Exelon Corp, the nation's largest nuclear plant operator is one of Obama's largest campaign donors. According to the article, Exelon's support of Obama far exceeds money given to the other candidates.

The "Times" pointed out that Exelon chairman John W. Rowe has been an Obama donor and is also chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry's largest lobbying group.

The article did not mention that Rowe, like several other powerful energy power players also sits on the influential, right wing and neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute's Board.

Alluding to the Exelon relationship, the Clinton campaign charged that Senator Obama had allowed the nuclear industry to water down a 2006 bill regulating nuclear plant safety. Her charges were met with evasiveness.

Obama spokesperson Bill Burton responded to the charges on CNN saying his campaign "doesn't need any lectures on special interests from the candidate who's taken more money from Washington lobbyists than any Republican running for president."

"Sen. Clinton may have said that attacks and distortions are the 'fun' and 'exciting' part of the campaign, but they're exactly what everyone else in America is tired of," Burton said according to CNN.

True enough, Americans are sick and tired of distortions. But unfortunately, much of the feel good rhetoric in the Obama camp has served as a convenient "distortion" for those hungry for a more forthcoming and critical examination of Obama.

For example, Senator Obama has touted his healthcare policy as part of his change we can all believe in since it would make healthcare available to everyone.

But, The Annenberg Political Fact Check, or Factheck.org said that Obama is being misleading when he says his healthcare proposal would "cover everyone."

Factcheck.org says Obama's plan would make coverage available to all, but experts that the organization consulted estimate that 15 to 26 million Americans would not take it up unless required to do so, which means, the new policy would still leave almost half the currently un-insured, still un-insured.

Another hot button topic close to any progressive's heart is how the future President will address the sub-prime mortgage crisis that has driven a recession that is still threatening world financial markets.

In his January 24 "The Nation" commentary titled "Subprime Obama" Max Fraser pointed out that predatory lenders "targeted the most vulnerable; black and latino borrowers have been twice as likely to receive sub-prime loans as whites: female homeowners, 30 percent more likely than male; black women five times more likely than white men.

But, Fraser noted that of the Democratic candidates, only Obama has not called for a moratorium and interest rate freeze. The article said "though he has been a proponent of mortgage fraud legislation in the Senate, he has remained silent on further financial regulations."

The "Nation" piece quoted Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute who said "Edwards and Clinton talk much more about regulation of the financial industry going forward, and to the extent that blame is placed, they tend to place it on lenders for steering people into loans they couldn't afford."

Senator Clinton has loudly gone after Obama on several occasions regarding his yes vote on the 2005 energy bill.

To his credit, Obama led efforts to ensure investments in renewable energy and has sponsored legislation to strip incentives from oil companies.
Still, according to an August 9, 2005 report from the "Washington Post", the final bill included around $85 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for most forms of energy.

Many charged that the policy was co-written by big oil corporations under the watch of Vice President Dick Cheney but it got a yes vote from Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has said his vote for the energy bill was reluctant.

But more telling, in the heat of campaign season 2008, when Exxon Mobil announced, at $40 billion once again the largest corporate profits ever reported by any United States corporation, it was Hillary Clinton who called for a corporate windfall profits tax on oil companies that would be reinvested into a strategic energy fund.

While the Obama campaign has called for the removal of oil company subsidies and other tax breaks, he has steered clear of a clearly populist and progressive proposal that would impose a windfall profits tax on big oil corporations.

But finally, although Obama toots the horn of change for all people, happily embracing all members of the Democratic base, just four years ago, an incident in San Francisco offered telling traits that Obama is first a politician, who in the end, is probably capable of crafting a message or image that is capable of suiting whomever he seeks to appeal to.

According to a February 5, 2008 "San Francisco Chronicle" article by C.W. Nevius, in 2004, then Illinois Senatorial Candidate Obama told former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, that "he would really appreciate if he didn't get his photo taken with my mayor," Gavin Newsome.

Newsome, San Francisco's current mayor, was then at the center of a national uproar over his decision to allow same sex marriage in San Francisco and according to the "Chronicle" report, Obama was worried about the image that would present to potential voters back in Illinois.

While things have certainly changed since then, and Obama has certainly championed LGBT individuals and issues, the incident doesn't speak well of Senator Obama as a real agent of change.

Instead, that incident along with other serious reporting beg the question, is Obama's message of change for real, or is it a carefully crafted political rhetoric that is in the business of selling an image.

NEWS UPDATE from AP 3/3/08- Political Positioning on NAFTA?
Associated Press ReportBarack Obama's senior economic policy adviser privately told Canadian officials to view the debate in Ohio over trade as "political positioning," according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press

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