Obama’s Policy Positions and Voting Record as State Senator, U.S. Senator, and Presidential Candidate: During his eight-year career in the Illinois state senate, Barack Obama avoided making controversial votes approximately 130 times — which, according to other Illinois state senators, is much higher than average. Rather than vote “yea” or “nay” on the legislation in […]
Obama’s Policy Positions and Voting Record as State Senator, U.S. Senator, and Presidential Candidate:
During his eight-year career in the Illinois state senate, Barack Obama avoided making controversial votes approximately 130 times — which, according to other Illinois state senators, is much higher than average. Rather than vote “yea” or “nay” on the legislation in question, Obama on those occasions simply voted “present.” In the Illinois state senate, this was the equivalent of a “nay” vote when tallying up support or opposition to a given bill. But, as David Freddoso points out:
“[F]or rhetorical purposes, a ‘present’ vote is different in that critics and journalists must discuss it differently. For example, Barack Obama did not vote against a bill to prevent pornographic book and video stores and strip clubs from setting up within 1,000 feet of schools and churches — he just voted ‘present.’ Obama voted ‘present’ on an almost unanimously passed bill to prosecute students as adults if they fire guns on schol grounds. He voted ‘present’ on the partial-birth abortion ban and other contentious issues …”
During his time teaching at the University of Chicago, Obama told then-colleague John Lott directly: “I don’t believe people should be able to own guns.”
As a candidate for the Illinois State Senate in 1996, Obama promised to support a ban on “the manufacture, sale & possession of handguns.”
While running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama spoke in favor of federal legislation to block citizens nationwide from receiving concealed-carry permits. “National legislation will prevent other states’ flawed concealed-weapons laws from threatening the safety of Illinois residents,” he said.
Senator Obama supported Washington, DC’s comprehensive gun ban, which prevented district residents from possessing handguns even in their own homes; required that long guns be kept locked and disassembled; and lacked a provision allowing the guns to be reassembled in the event of an emergency.
Obama favors racial preferences for minorities in university admissions, public employment, and state contracting. “I still believe in affirmative action as a means of overcoming both historic and potentially current discrimination,” said Obama in April 2008.
In the wake of a May 2008 California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in that state (similar to a 2003 decision by the high court of Massachusetts), Obama issued a call to “fully repeal” the Defense of Marriage Act (signed into law by President Clinton in 1996) — a move that would have the effect of legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. The Defense of Marriage Act currently protects states from having to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. Said Obama’s campaign website: “Obama also believes we need to fully repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally recognized unions.”
Notably, no Congress or state legislature had ever voted to define homosexual unions as marriages. And wherever proposals for same-sex marriage had been put up for popular vote, they had been rejected by the American people. In the 13 states where gay marriage was on the ballot in 2004, for example, it was defeated by majorities ranging in size from 58 percent to 85 percent of the voters.
Obama has consistently, without a single exception, voted in favor of expanding abortion rights and the funding of abortion services with taxpayer dollars. In July 2006 he voted “No” to requiring physicians to notify parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. In March 2008 he voted “No” on a bill prohibiting minors from crossing state lines to gain access to abortion services. Also in March 2008, he voted “No” on defining an unborn child as eligible for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which was designed to cover the medical-care costs of uninsured children in families whose incomes were modest but too high to qualify for Medicaid.
When Obama was a state senator, two separate partial-birth abortion bans came up for vote in 1997. Obama voted “present” on both occasions, the functional equivalent of a vote against the ban. In The Audacity of Hope, he explained that his opposition to the ban was rooted in the fact that the bill contained no exception for cases where a mother’s “health” might require the procedure.
In 2000 Obama voted against a bill that would have ended state funding of partial-birth abortions.
In 2001 he voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act, which was intended to protect babies that survived late-term abortions from being permitted to die from intentional neglect. He explained his vote as follows:
“[W]henever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a — a child, a nine-month-old — child that was delivered to term. That determination, then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place…. For that reason, I think it would probably be found unconstitutional.”
As David Freddoso observes, Obama’s argument:
“implies that babies born prematurely without abortions might not be ‘persons.’ They might have to be ‘nine months old’ before they count…. [O]ne might even conclude from [his words] that he actually does think they are persons. But, he argues, we cannot legally recognize them as ‘persons.’ Because if we do, then somewhere down the road it might threaten someone’s right to an abortion…. Barack Obama’s actions indicate he thinks that before any other rights are granted to ‘persons,’ the Constitution exists to guarantee abortion rights.
Though it did not in any way conflict with, or compromise, Roe v. Wade, Obama voted against this same legislation in 2003. As chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, he blocked another attempt to bring the bill to the floor of the Illinois Senate.
On April 4, 2002, Obama challenged the sponsor of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, a bill designed to protect infants who had been intended for abortion but had not died (prior to exiting the mother’s body) as expected, as follows:
“As I understand it, this [bill] puts the burden on the attending physician who has determined, since they were performing this procedure, that, in fact, this is a nonviable fetus; that if that fetus, or child — however way you want to describe it — is now outside the mother’s womb and the doctor continues to think that it’s nonviable but there’s, let’s say, movement or some indication that, in fact, they’re not just coming out limp and dead, that, in fact, they would then have to call a second physician to monitor and check off and make sure that this is not a live child that could be saved….
“Let me just go to the bill, very quickly. Essentially, I think as — as this emerged during debate and during committee, the only plausible rationale, to my mind, for this legislation would be if you had a suspicion that a doctor, the attending physician, who has made an assessment that this is a nonviable fetus and that, let’s say for the purpose of the mother’s health, is being — that — that — labor is being induced, that that physician (a) is going to make the wrong assessment and (b) if the physician discovered, after the labor had been induced, that, in fact, he made an error, or she made an error, and, in fact, that this was not a nonviable fetus but, in fact, a live child, that that physician, of his own accord or her own accord, would not try to exercise the sort of medical measures and practices that would be involved in saving that child. Now, it — if you think there are possibilities that doctors would not do that, then maybe this bill makes sense, but I — I suspect and my impression is, is that the Medical Society suspects as well that doctors feel that they would be under that obligation, that they would already be making these determinations and that, essentially, adding a — an additional doctor who then has to be called in an emergency situation to come in and make these assessments is really designed simply to burden the original decision of the woman and the physician to induce labor and perform an abortion. Now, if that’s the case — and — and I know that some of us feel very strongly one way or another on that issue — that’s fine, but I think it’s important to understand that this issue ultimately is about abortion and not live births. Because if these are children who are being born alive, I, at least, have confidence that a doctor who is in that room is going to make sure that they’re looked after.”
But Obama knew quite well that children were being born alive and were not looked after by the abortion doctors; that in 10 to 20 percent of the cases where induced labor abortion was practiced, the infants survived and were then being left, uncared for, to die; and that these facts were precisely what had prompted the legislation in the first place.
Jill Stanek, a nurse and pro-life activist, said the following about Obama in August 2008:
“In committee he took the opinion of the ACLU attorney and said that he thought that this would be something that would overturn Roe v. Wade, and he opposed it in committee, and then he took a leadership role opposing this to go on and be the sole senator to speak against this bill on the Senate floor, not once, but two years in a row.
And he brags on his Web site now that he strategized with Planned Parenthood to defeat this bill…. He said on the Senate floor as a matter of fact that he thought that this would ultimately be considered unconstitutional, and he said that he strategized with Planned Parenthood to vote present because in Illinois a present vote is the same as a no vote. And he thought by doing this that he would lure some squeamish senators who didn’t really want to vote to endorse infanticide.”
In 2006 Obama voted “Yes” on a Senate Budget amendment allocating $100 million to: “increas[e] funding and access to family planning services”; “fun[d] legislation that requires equitable prescription coverage for contraceptives under health plans”; and “fun[d] legislation that would create and expand teen pregnancy prevention programs and education programs concerning emergency contraceptives.”
Obama’s voting record in the foregoing matters earned him a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2005, 2006, and 2007. He also received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood in 2006, and a zero percent rating from the National Right-to-Life Committee (an anti-abortion group) in 2005 and 2006. Says David Freddoso, “I could find no instance in his entire career in which he voted for any regulation or restriction on the practice of abortion.”
On July 17, 2007, Obama declared, “The first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” This bill would effectively terminate all state restrictions on government funding for abortions. It would also invalidate state laws that currently protect medical personnel from losing their jobs if they refuse to particpate in abortion procedures.
In an August 17, 2008 interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Obama stated that abortion rates had not declined over the previous eight years. But this was untrue. Abortion rates had actually decreased rather dramatically during that period, reaching a three-decade low.
Rev. Warren asked Obama directly:”Now, let’s deal with abortion … [A]t what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” To this, Obama replied:
“Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.
“… I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade, and I come to that conclusion not because I’m pro-abortion, but because, ultimately, I don’t think women make these decisions casually…. And so, for me, the goal right now should be — and this is where I think we can find common ground. And by the way, I’ve now inserted this into the Democratic party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions? The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down and that is something we have to address….
“I am in favor, for example, of limits on late-term abortions, if there is an exception for the mother’s health. From the perspective of those who are pro-life, I think they would consider that inadequate, and I respect their views….
“What I can do is say, are there ways that we can work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, so that we actually are reducing the sense that women are seeking out abortions. And as an example of that, one of the things that I’ve talked about is how do we provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child. You know, have we given them the health care that they need? Have we given them the support services that they need? Have we given them the options of adoption that are necessary? That can make a genuine difference.”
Obama as a lawmaker opposed the death penalty and authored legislation requiring police to keep records of the race of everyone questioned, detained or arrested.
Obama promised that as President, he would work to ban racial profiling and eliminate racial disparities in criminal sentencing. “The criminal justice system is not color blind,” he said, “It does not work for all people equally, and that is why it’s critical to have a president who sends a signal that we are going to have a system of justice that is not just us, but is everybody.”
According to Obama: “[W]e know that in our criminal justice system, African-Americans and whites, for the same crime … are arrested at very different rates, are convicted at very different rates, receive very different sentences. That is something that we have to talk about. But that’s a substantive issue and it has to do with how … we pursue racial justice. If I am president, I will have a civil rights division that is working with local law enforcement so that they are enforcing laws fairly and justly.”
Obama stated that the much harsher penalties for crimes involving crack cocaine as opposed to powder-based cocaine — the former disproportionately involve black offenders, whereas the latter involve mostly white offenders — were wrong and needed to be completely eliminated.
He also pledged to “provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that [ex-convicts] are successfully re-integrated into society.” Moreover, he vowed to create “a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.”
In Obama’s calculus, many young black men engage in street-level drug dealing not because they seek to profit handsomely from it, but because they are unable to find legitimate jobs anywhere. Said Obama: “For many inner-city men, what prevents gainful employment is not simply the absence of motivation to get off the streets but the absence of a job history or any marketable skills — and, increasingly, the stigma of a prison record. We can assume that with lawful work available for young men now in the drug trade, crime in any community would drop.”
During his years as a legislator, Obama voted against a proposal to criminalize contact with gang members for any convicts who were free on probation or on bail. In 2001 he opposed, for reasons of racial equity, making gang membership a consideration in determining whether or not a killer may be eligible for capital punishment. “There’s a strong overlap between gang affiliation and young men of color,” said Obama. “… I think it’s problematic for them [nonwhites] to be singled out as more likely to receive the death penalty for carrying out certain acts than are others who do the same thing.”
In 1999 Obama was the only state senator to oppose a bill prohibiting early prison release for offenders convicted of sex crimes.
Obama has occasionally attacked special interests in the Democratic Party. In the past, for instance, he was prepared to help students escape from bad public schools by considering school vouchers. But he now toes the anti-voucher party line and thus the special interest of the Democratic Party’s biggest funding and activist base, the National Education Association.
In his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama stressed the importance of increasing government expenditures on public education. “We’re going to put more money into education than we have,” he said. “We have to invest in human capital.”
Obama’s education plan called for “investing” $10 billion annually in a comprehensive “Zero to Five” plan that would “provide critical supports to young children and their parents.” These funds were to be used to “create or expand high-quality early care and education programs for pregnant women and children from birth to age five”; to “quadruple the number of eligible children for Early Head Start”; to “ensure [that] all children have access to pre-school”; to “provide affordable and high-quality child care that will … ease the burden on working families”; to allow “more money” to be funneled “into after-school programs”; and to fund “home visiting programs [by health-care personnel] to all low-income, first-time mothers.”
In Obama’s view, virtually all schooling-related problems can be ameliorated or solved with an infusion of additional cash. Consider, for instance, his perspective on the low graduation rate of nonwhite minorities:
“Latinos have such a high dropout rate. What you see consistently are children at a very early age are starting school already behind. That’s why I’ve said that I’m going to put billions of dollars into early childhood education that makes sure that our African-American youth, Latino youth, poor youth of every race, are getting the kind of help that they need so that they know their numbers, their colors, their letters.”
Obama opposed the Supreme Court’s 2007 split decision that invalidated programs in Seattle and Louisville (Kentucky) which sought to maintain “diversity” in local schools by factoring race into decisions about which students could be admitted to any particular school, or which students could be allowed to transfer from one school to another. Under these programs, parents were not free to send their children to the schools of their choice. Instead they were obliged to abide by the quotas preordained by bureaucrats who had never met any of the children whose educational lives they sought to micromanage. Both the Seattle and Louisville programs were representative of similar plans in hundreds of other school districts nationwide.
In Obama’s opinion, the Court’s “wrong-headed” ruling was “but the latest in a string of decisions by this conservative bloc of Justices that turn back the clock on decades of advancement and progress in the struggle for equality.” “The Supreme Court was wrong,” Obama added. “These were local school districts that had voluntarily made a determination that all children would be better off if they learned together. The notion that this Supreme Court would equate that with the segregation as tasked would make Thurgood Marshall turn in his grave.”
Viewing racial mixing as an educational objective compelling enough to warrant the use of quotas and bussing for its attainment, Obama stated that “a racially diverse learning environment has a profoundly positive educational impact on all students,” and thus he remains “devoted to working toward this goal.”
In 1997 Obama opposed an Illinois welfare-reform bill, proposed by Republican senator Dave Syverson, which sought to move as many people as possible off the state welfare rolls and into paying jobs. He tried to weaken the legislation by calling for exceptions not only to the requirement that welfare recipients make an effort to find employment, but also to the bill’s proposed five-year limit on benefits.
Two months after Svyerson’s bill was first proposed, Obama added his name to it. The legislation ultimately would slash welfare rolls by some 80 percent. As David Freddoso points out, “It was a bill that the Senate had to pass in order to conform to the federal welfare-reform laws. It passed with only one senator voting against it.”
Presidential candidate Obama said many times, “I am going to give health insurance to 47 million Americans who are now without coverage.” But as political analyst Dick Morris points out, the 47 million statistic included at least 12 million illegal immigrants who were uninsured. Another 15 million uninsured were eligible for Medicaid but had not yet registered for it — primarily because they had not yet been ill. When they would enroll eventually, they would receive inexpensive health care, courtesy of American taxpayers. Then there were uninsured children, almost all of whom were eligible for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — even if their parents had not yet enrolled them therein. That left fewer than 20 million uninsured adults who were either American citizens or legal immigrant non-citizens. To address this situation, Obama proposed to dramatically restructure the country’s health-care system.
At an AFL-CIO conference in 2003, Obama said: “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care plan…. ‘Everybody in. Nobody out.’ A single payer health care credit–universal healthcare credit. That’s what I’d like to see, but as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House and we’ve got to take back the Senate and we’ve got to take back the House.”
At an SEIU Health Care Forum on March 24, 2007, Obama said:
“My commitment is to make sure that we’ve got universal healthcare for all Americans by the end of my first term as President…. I would hope that we can set up a system that allows those who can go through their employer to access a federal system or a state pool of some sort. But I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately. There’s going to be, potentially, some transition process. I can envision a decade out, or 15 years out, or 20 years out…”
On April 3, 2007, Obama said:
“Let’s say that I proposed a plan that moved to a single payer system. Let’s say Medicare Plus. It’d be essentially everybody can buy into Medicare for example…. Transitioning a system is a very difficult and costly and lengthy enterprise. It’s not like you can turn on a switch and you go from one system to another. So it’s possible that upfront you would need not just, I mean, you might need an additional $90 or $100 billion a year.”
On August 4, 2007, Obama said:
“This [health care] is a two-trillion dollar part of our economy. And it is my belief that, not just politically but also economically, it’s better for us to start getting a system in place, a universal health care system signed into law by the end of my first term as president, and build off that system to further, to make it more rational…. By the way, Canada did not start off immediately with a single payer system. They had a similar transition step.”
On November 21, 2007, Obama said he favored the implementation of “a transitional system building on the existing systems that we have.” He elaborated:
“[T]ransitional hopefully because the system currently is so, such a patchwork of inefficiency that over time I would want to see Medicaid, Medicare, the children’s health insurance program, SCHIP — all those integrated more effectively.”
In the summer of 2008, when asked by a campaign audience about single-payer healthcare, Obama said, “If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer [government-run] system … my attitude is let’s build up the system we got, let’s make it more efficient, we maybe over time … decide that there are other ways for us to provide care more effectively.” (Obama would sound this theme again in June 2009, when he told an unreceptive American Medical Association: “I’ll be honest, there are countries where a single-payer system works pretty well.”)
The Obama campaign asserted that gender-based “discrimination on the job” was a big problem in America. “For every $1.00 earned by a man, the average woman receives only 77 cents,” said the campaign website. “A recent study estimates it will take another 47 years for women to close the wage gap with men.” To rectify this, Obama “believes the government needs to take steps to better enforce the Equal Pay Act, fight job discrimination, and improve child care options and family medical leave to give women equal footing in the workplace.”
But Obama’s claim that women were underpaid (in comparison to men) by American employers was untrue. As longtime employment lawyer William Farrell, who served as a board member of the National Organization for Women from 1970 to 1973, explains in his 2005 book Why Men Earn More, the gender pay gap is actually 20 cents per dollar, not 23 cents. And that gap can be explained entirely by the fact that women as a group tend, to a much greater degree than men, to make employment choices that involve certain tradeoffs; i.e., choices that suppress incomes but, by the same token, afford tangible lifestyle advantages that are highly valued.
For example, women tend to pursue careers in fields that are non-technical and do not involve the hard (as opposed to the social) sciences; fields that do not require a large amount of continuing education in order to keep pace with new developments or innovations; fields that offer a high level of physical safety; fields where the work is performed indoors as opposed to outdoors (where bad weather can make working conditions poor); fields that offer a pleasant and socially dynamic working environment; fields typified by lower levels of emotional strife; fields that offer desirable shifts or flexible working hours; fields or jobs that require fewer working hours per week or fewer working days per year; and fields where employees can “check out” at the end of the day and not need to “take their jobs home with them.”
Moreover, Farrell notes, women as a group tend to be less willing to commute long distances, to travel extensively for work-related duties, or to relocate geographically in order to take a job. In addition, they tend to have fewer years of uninterrupted experience in their current jobs, and they are far more likely to leave the work force for extended periods in order to attend to family-related matters such as raising children.
When all of the above variables are factored into the equation, the gender pay gap disappears entirely. When men and women work at jobs where their titles and their responsibilities are equivalent, they are paid exactly the same.
Obama voted against permitting the U.S. to drill for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Said Obama:
“It is hard to overstate the degree to which our addiction to oil undermines our future…. A large portion of the $800 million we spend on foreign oil every day goes to some of the world’s most volatile regimes. And there are the environmental consequences. Just about every scientist outside the White House believes climate change is real. We cannot drill our way out of the problem. Instead of subsidizing the oil industry, we should end every single tax break the industry currently receives and demand that 1% of the revenues from oil companies with over $1 billion in quarterly profits go toward financing alternative energy research and infrastructure.”
At a July 30, 2008 campaign stop in Missouri, Obama said: “There are things that you can do individually … to save energy; making sure your tires are properly inflated, simple thing, but we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off [from] drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much.”
Obama is a staunch supporter of federal ethanol subsidies; in 2006 he himself inserted an ethanol subsidy into proposed tax legislation. In his book The Audacity of Hope, he characterized “alternative fuels like E85, a fuel formulated with 85 percent ethanol” as “the future of the auto industry.” But as David Freddoso explains, by 2008 ethanol “was contributing to record-high food prices and causing food riots in the developing world … exhausting water supplies, driving up gasoline prices, and exacerbating smog.” Freddoso examines what he calls “the physics of ethanol” as follows:
“To produce five gallons of ethanol from corn, one must spend the energy equivalent of roughly four galons of ethanol for farming, shipping, and processing. (In other words, ethanol has a 25 percent net energy yield.) … America’s entire 6.5 billion gallon ethanol production created the net energy equivalent of 2.2 days’ worth of American gasoline consumption.” (Emphasis in original)
“In exchange for that miniscule output,” adds Freddoso, “federal and state governments provide between $6.3 billion and $8.7 billion in annual direct and indirect subsidies…. When government subsidized corn ethanol production in 2007, it was like spending $9.00 to create a gallon of gasoline, and doing it 853 million times.”
In January 2008 Obama said the following about the future of the coal industry, which currently accounts for half of all the electricity produced in America: “If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they will be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” Added Obama:
“When I was asked earlier about the issue of coal, you know, under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad. Because I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, you know, natural gas, you name it, whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, uh, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers.”
Obama’s position on the issue of global warming is unambiguous. His campaign website declared:
“Global warming is real, is happening now and is the result of human activities. The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years. Glaciers are melting faster; the polar ice caps are shrinking; trees are blooming earlier; oceans are becoming more acidic, threatening marine life; people are dying in heat waves; species are migrating, and eventually many will become extinct. Scientists predict that absent major emission reductions, climate change will worsen famine and drought in some of the poorest places in the world and wreak havoc across the globe. In the U.S., sea-level rise threatens to cause massive economic and ecological damage to our populated coastal areas.”
During a 2008 campaign stop in Oregon, Obama called on the United States to “lead by example” on global warming. “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” he said. “That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen.”
Homeland Security / War on Terror:
In 2004 Obama spoke out against the Republican-led Congress’ budgets generally, and against the 2001 anti-terrorism bill known as the Patriot Act specifically, suggesting that the Act infringed upon Americans’ civil liberties. Said Obama:
“When you rush these budgets that are a foot high, and nobody has any idea what’s in them and nobody has read them … It gets rushed through without any clear deliberation or debate, then these kind of things happen, and I think this is in some ways what happened to the Patriot Act. I mean, you remember, there was no real debate about that. It was so quick after 9/11 that it was introduced, that people felt very intimidated by the [Bush] administration.”
Obama voted “No” on a bill to remove the need for a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant before the government may proceed with wiretapping in terrorism-related investigations of suspects in other countries. “Warrantless surveillance of American citizens, in defiance of FISA, is unlawful and unconstitutional,” said Obama.
In Obama’s view, “the creation of military commissions” to try terror suspects captured in the War on Terror was, from its inception, “a bad idea.”
Such commissions are designed to adjudicate the cases of so-called “unlawful combatants” — as distinguished from “lawful combatants” — who are captured in battle. The former are entitled to prisoner-of-war status and its accompanying Geneva Convention protections; the latter are entitled to none of those things. Article IV of the Geneva Convention defines lawful combatants as those whose military organization meets four very specific criteria: “(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign [a uniform or emblem] recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; [and] (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.” Al Qaeda, for one, fails even to come close to satisfying these conditions. Obama opposes the distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants, and has called for the repeal of any separate standards regulating the treatment of each.
Obama also voted in favor of preserving habeas corpus — the notion that the government may not detain a prisoner without filing specific charges that can expeditiously be brought before a court — for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. U.S. officials consider these prisoners — captured mostly on the battlefields of the Middle East — to be of the highest value for intelligence purposes, or to constitute, in their own persons, a great threat to the United States. Said Obama:
“Why don’t we close Guantanamo and restore the right of habeas corpus, because that’s how we lead, not with the might of our military, but the power of our ideals and the power of our values. It’s time to show the world we’re not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries.”
On June 19, 2008, political analyst Dick Morris described Obama’s prescription for dealing with terrorism as follows:
“[Obama has] urged us to go back to the era of criminal-justice prosecution of terror suspects, citing the successful efforts to imprison those who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. [He said] ‘It is my firm belief that we can crack down on threats against the United States, but we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution…. In previous terrorist attacks — for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated.’
“This is big — because that prosecution, and the ground rules for it, had more to do with our inability to avert 9/11 than any other single factor. Because we treated the 1993 WTC bombing as simply a crime, our investigation was slow, sluggish and constrained by the need to acquire admissible evidence to convict the terrorists.
“As a result, we didn’t know that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were responsible for the attack until 1997 — too late for us to grab Osama when Sudan offered to send him to us in 1996. Clinton and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger turned down the offer, saying we had no grounds on which to hold him or to order his kidnapping or death.
“Obama’s embrace of the post-’93 approach shows a blindness to the key distinction that has kept us safe since 9/11 — the difference between prosecution and protection.”
The War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War:
In August 2007, Obama suggested that as a result of President Bush’s poor military leadership, U.S. troops in Afghanistan had done a disservice to their mission by “just air raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.”
Vis a vis the war in Iraq, Obama, as noted earlier, was an outspoken opponent of the invasion at the outset. Over time, however, he made a number of statements that seemed to indicate vacillation in terms of his views about the war. During the November 11, 2007 airing of Meet The Press, newsman Tim Russert reminded him of some of those statements:
“In July of ’04 [you said]: ‘I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don’t know,’ in terms of how you would have voted on the war [in 2002].
“And then this: ‘There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage.’ That was July of ’04.
“And this: ‘I think’ there’s ‘some room for disagreement in that initial decision to vote for authorization of the war.’
“It doesn’t seem that you are firmly wedded against the war, and that you left some wiggle room that, if you had been in the Senate, you may have voted for it.”
In June 2006 Obama spoke out against the idea of setting a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops in Iraq. Immediately after the midterm election five months later, however, Obama declared that it was vital “to change our policy” and to bring home all American troops. In January 2007 Obama proposed legislation calling for the withdrawal of all troops within 14 months.
In early 2008, the Obama campaign website declared that Obama, as President:
“… would immediately begin to pull out troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of . He would call for a new constitutional convention in Iraq, convened with the United Nations, which would not adjourn until Iraq’s leaders reach a new accord on reconciliation. He would use presidential leadership to surge our diplomacy with all of the nations of the region on behalf of a new regional security compact. And he would take immediate steps to confront the humanitarian disaster in Iraq, and to hold accountable any perpetrators of potential war crimes.”
Claiming that the U.S. presence in Iraq was “illegal,” Obama campaigned publicly in 2007 and 2008 for a speedy withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. But in a July 2008 discussion he held with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad, Obama privately tried to persuade them to delay an agreement on a timetable for such a withdrawal until after the November elections. According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, “He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the U.S. elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington…. However, as an Iraqi, I prefer to have a security agreement that regulates the activities of foreign troops, rather than keeping the matter open.”
The political implications of delaying the troop withdrawal were clear: If Obama were to win the election and subsequently set the withdrawal in motion, he could claim credit for doing what President Bush allegedly had been unable or unwilling to do.
Obama also vowed to “fulfill America’s obligation to accept refugees” from Iraq. “The State Department pledged to allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees into America,” said the Obama campaign, “but has only let 190 into the United States. [President] Obama would expedite the Department of Homeland Security’s review of Iraqi asylum applicants.”
After President Bush announced in January 2007 that he would send a “surge” of some 21,500 additional troops to Iraq in an effort to quell the insurgency there, Obama said: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” Throughout 2007, Obama continued to argue that the surge was ill-advised.
Three weeks after President Bush had announced the surge, Senator Obama introduced the “Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007,” which, if it had passed, would have removed all U.S. troops from Iraq by March 2008. “I don’t know any expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground,” said Obama.
In July 2007, Obama said: “Here’s what we know. The surge has not worked.”
In July 2008, by which time the surge had proven to be extremely effective in reducing the violence in Iraq, newscaster Katie Couric asked Obama: “But yet you’re saying … given what you know now, you still wouldn’t support [the surge] … so I’m just trying to understand this.” Obama replied:
“Because … it’s pretty straightforward. By us putting $10 billion to $12 billion a month, $200 billion, that’s money that could have gone into Afghanistan. Those additional troops could have gone into Afghanistan. That money also could have been used to shore up a declining economic situation in the United States. That money could have been applied to having a serious energy security plan so that we were reducing our demand on oil, which is helping to fund the insurgents in many countries. So those are all factors that would be taken into consideration in my decision — to deal with a specific tactic or strategy inside of Iraq.”
In mid-July 2008, the portions of Obama’s campaign website that had emphasized his opposition to the troop surge and his statement that more troops would not change the course of the war, were suddenly removed.
On the matter of using enhanced interrogation techniques (such as waterboarding) on high-level terrorist suspects, Obama emphatically pledged to end that practice: “This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of law…. That will be my position as president. That includes renditions.”
Obama also condemned the “flawed military-commission system that has failed to convict anyone of a terrorist act since the 9/11 attacks and that has been embroiled in legal challenges.” He preferred to try terror suspects and unlawfal combatants in civilian courts rather than in military tribunals.
Moreover, Obama criticized the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps of terror suspects: “This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not.”
Obama commonly accused the Bush administration of trampling on the Constitution: “I taught constitutional law for ten years at the University of Chicago, so . . . um . . . your next president will actually believe in the Constitution, which you can’t say about your current president.”
While running for Congress in 2000, Obama prepared a position paper on Israel in which he stated, “Jerusalem should remain united and should be recognized as Israel’s capital.”
Along the same lines, in January 2008 Obama wrote, in response to a question about how he foresaw “the likely final status of Jerusalem,” that “Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital, and no one should want or expect it to be re-divided.”
Similarly, in a June 4, 2008 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama said, “Let me be clear…. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
The next day, after a number of Arab sources criticized Obama’s comments, an unnamed Obama adviser tried to “clarify” the candidate’s statement by suggesting that it left room for Palestinian sovereignty. Soon thereafter, Obama said: “[T]he truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech” and a reminder of the need to be “careful in terms of our syntax.” He said his point had been “simply” that “we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war.”
Military/Missile Defense/Weapons Systems:
In 2006, Obama, speaking to an audience about the interplay between faith and politics, said:
“Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith. Or should we just stick to Sermon on the Mount, a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.”
Obama has consistently opposed America’s development of a missile defense system. In a February 2008 campaign ad, he stated:
“I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems. I will institute an independent Defense Priorities Board to ensure that the Quadrennial Defense Review is not used to justify unnecessary defense spending…. I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal, I will not develop new nuclear weapons. I will seek a global ban on the production of fissile material….”
Redistribution of Wealth:
During a call-in program on Chicago’s WBEZ public radio in 2001, state senator Barack Obama said the following (click here for audio):
“You know, if you look at the victories and failures of the civil-rights movement, and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples. So that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it, I’d be okay, but the Supreme Court never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.
“And uh, to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution — at least as it’s been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties: [It] says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.
“And that hasn’t shifted, and one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil-rights movement was because the civil-rights movement became so court-focused, uh, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change. And in some ways we still suffer from that.”
A caller then asked: “The gentleman [Obama] made the point that the Warren Court wasn’t terribly radical. My question is (with economic changes) … my question is, is it too late for that kind of reparative work, economically, and is that the appropriate place for reparative economic work to change place?”
“You know, I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way…. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, you know, in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time. You know, the court is just not very good at it, and politically, it’s just very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard.
“So I think that, although you can craft theoretical justifications for it, legally, you know, I think any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts.”
In October 2008, Bill Whittle of National Review Online analyzed Obama’s words (from 2001) as follows:
“There is nothing vague or ambiguous about this. Nothing.
“From the top: ‘…The Supreme Court never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And uh, to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical.’
“If the second highlighted phrase had been there without the first, Obama’s defenders would have bent over backwards trying to spin the meaning of ‘political and economic justice.’ We all know what political and economic justice means, because Barack Obama has already made it crystal clear a second earlier: It means redistribution of wealth. Not the creation of wealth and certainly not the creation of opportunity, but simply taking money from the successful and hard-working and distributing it to those whom the government decides ‘deserve’ it.
“This redistribution of wealth, he states, ‘essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.’It is an administrative task. Not suitable for the courts. More suitable for the chief executive.
“Now that’s just garden-variety socialism … [C]onsider this next statement with as much care as you can possibly bring to bear: ‘And uh, to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution — at least as it’s been interpreted, and [the] Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties: [it] says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state governmentmust do on your behalf.’
“The United States of America — five percent of the world’s population — leads the world economically, militarily, scientifically, and culturally — and by a spectacular margin. Any one of these achievements, taken alone, would be cause for enormous pride. To dominate as we do in all four arenas has no historical precedent. That we have achieved so much in so many areas is due — due entirely — to the structure of our society as outlined in the Constitution of the United States.
“The entire purpose of the Constitution was to limit government. That limitation of powers is what has unlocked in America the vast human potential available in any population.
“Barack Obama sees that limiting of government not as a lynchpin but rather as a fatal flaw: “…One of the, I think, thetragediesof the Civil Rights movement was because the Civil Rights movement became so court-focused, uh, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of thepolitical andcommunity organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actualcoalitions of powerthrough which you bring aboutredistributive change. And in some ways we still suffer from that.’
“There is no room for wiggle or misunderstanding here. This is not edited copy. There is nothing out of context; for the entire thing is context — the context of what Barack Obama believes. You and I do not have to guess at what he believes or try to interpret what he believes. He says what he believes.
“We have, in our storied history, elected Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and moderates. We have fought, and will continue to fight, pitched battles about how best to govern this nation. But we have never, everin our 232-year history, elected a president who so completely and openly opposed the idea of limited government, the absolute cornerstone of makes the United States of America unique and exceptional.”
Obama generally favors significant increases in the tax rates paid by Americans. In 2001 he said, “I consider the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to be both fiscally irresponsible and morally troubling.”
Obama has been known to characterize high-earners’ reluctance to pay more money in taxes as evidence of their racial insensitivity or bigotry. In a 1995 interview, for instance, he made a disparaging reference to a hypothetical “white executive living out in the suburbs, who doesn’t want to pay taxes to inner-city children for them to go to school.” In the same interview, he condemned the widespread “tendency,” both in the U.S. and elsewhere, “for one group to try to suppress another group in the interest of power or greed or resources or what have you.”
During a June 28, 2007 primary debate at Howard University, Obama was asked, “Do you agree that the rich aren’t paying their fair share of taxes?” He replied, “There’s no doubt that the tax system has been skewed. And the Bush tax cuts — people didn’t need them, and they weren’t even asking for them, and that’s why they need to be less, so that we can pay for universal health care and other initiatives.”
In 1999 Obama voted “No” on a bill to create an income tax credit for the families of all full-time K-12 pupils. In 2003 he voted “Yes” on a bill to retain the Illinois Estate Tax. He also supported raising taxes on insurance premiums and levying a new tax on businesses. In his keynote address at a 2006 “Building a Covenant for a New America” conference, he urged Americans of all faiths to convene on Capitol Hill and give it an “injection of morality” by opposing a repeal of the estate tax.
In the U.S. Senate, Obama voted several dozen times in favor of tax increases.
In June 2008, Rea Hederman and Patrick Tyrell of the Heritage Foundation summarized presidential candidate Obama’s tax proposals as follows:
“His plan would boost the top marginal [income tax] rate to well over 55 percent—before the inclusion of state and local taxes—resulting in many individuals seeing their marginal tax rate double…. Senator Obama would end the Bush tax cuts and allow the top two tax rates to return to 36 and 39.6 percent. He also would allow personal exemptions and deductions to be phased out for those with income over $250,000 … [and] would end the Social Security payroll tax cap for those over $250,000 in earnings. (The cap is currently set at $102,000.) These individuals will then face a tax rate of 15.65 percent from payroll taxes and the top income tax rate of 39.6 percent for a combined top rate of over 56 percent on each additional dollar earned.
“High-income individuals will be forced to pay even more if they live in cities or states with high taxes such as New York City, California, or Maryland. These unlucky people would pay over two-thirds of each new dollar in earnings to the federal government…. Senator Obama’s new tax rate would give the United States one of the highest tax rates among developed countries. Currently only six of the top 30 industrial nations have a tax rate for all levels of government combined of over 55 percent. Under this tax plan, the United States would join this group and have a higher top rate than such high-tax nations as Sweden and Denmark. The top marginal rate would exceed 60 percent with the inclusion of state and local taxes, which means that only Hungary would exceed Senator Obama’s new proposed top tax rate.”
In an April 2008 Democratic primary debate, Obama was asked, by journalist Charlie Gibson, a question about his proposal to nearly double the capital gains tax (from 15 percent to 28 percent). Said Gibson: “… In each instance when the rate dropped [in the 1990s], revenues from the tax increased. The government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the [capital gains] tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down. So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?”
Obama replied that he wished to raise the tax “for purposes of fairness.” “We saw an article today,” he explained, “which showed that the top 50 hedge fund managers made $29 billion last year…. [T]hose who are able to work the stock market and amass huge fortunes on capital gains are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That’s not fair.”
In a September 2008 Fox News Channel television interview, Obama pledged to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, while raising taxes on those who earn more than $250,000. Political commentator Bill O’Reilly objected, “That’s class warfare. You’re taking the wealthy in America, the big earners … you’re taking money away from them and you’re giving it to people who don’t. That’s called income redistribution. It’s a socialist tenet. Come on, you know that.”
Obama replied, “Teddy Roosevelt supported a progressive income tax…. If I am sitting pretty and you’ve got a waitress who is making minimum wage plus tips, and I can afford it and she can’t, what’s the big deal for me to say, I’m going to pay a little bit more? That is neighborliness.”
In October 2008, CNS News provided the following analysis of the Obama tax plan, which, according to Obama, would feature the aforementioned tax cut for all those earning less than $250,000 per year, or 95 percent of American taxpayers:
“Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s plan to cut taxes on 95 percent of taxpayers would effectively increase government spending by an average of $64.8 billion a year and effectively raise income tax rates for many Americans, even on some earning $20-$50,000 per year, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center.
“The heart of Obama’s tax cut proposal is in his use of refundable tax credits, which the Center describes as ‘credits available to eligible households even if they have no income tax liability’ — in short, refunds available even to those who don’t pay taxes. These refunds are claimed on tax returns and are paid to all taxpayers who qualify for them, regardless of whether they owe taxes or not. These refunds have the ability of reducing a taxpayer’s liability below zero, meaning they can get a refund without actually paying taxes.
“In real numbers, 60.7 million people who have no tax burden at all will receive refunds from Obama, while only 33.8 million people, who pay approximately 40 percent of income taxes, will get any kind of refund. Twenty percent of taxpayers, who pay 87.5 percent of total income taxes, will actually see after-tax income decline under Obama by nearly two percent, according to the Center.
“By using these refunds, Obama is able to claim that he is giving a tax cut to 95 percent of households, although only 62 percent of households pay any income taxes at all. This means that Obama’s tax plan calls for giving money to some households that do not pay taxes, including a plan to make community college ‘essentially free’ and pay 10 percent of the interest on all mortgages.
“The problem with Obama’s characterization that his proposals are tax cuts is that refundable credits are calculated as outlays, or direct spending, not as reductions in tax rates, according to the Center. This means that, in budgetary terms, some of Obama’s tax cuts are actually spending increases.
“The Tax Policy Center estimates that Obama’s spending proposals will be so large that they effectively eliminate income taxes for 15 million households, increasing the percentage of households that pay no taxes from 37.8 percent to 48.1 percent….
“When compared with current law, people earning $20,000-$50,000 a year will see their effective tax rates — the amount of money the taxpayer actually ends up paying the government — increase on average under Obama’s plan, according to Tax Policy Center figures.
“Most households making $30,000-$75,000 will not see a reduction in their taxes under Obama’s plan relative to current law, according to the Center. In fact, the only strata that will see a majority of its effective tax burden reduced under Obama are those making less than $30,000 per year and those making $75,000-$200,000 per year.”
The net result of the tax plan, according to the figures above, will be to increase by more than 25 percent the number of households that pay no taxes at all, thereby effectively increasing the size of the welfare state.
At an October 2008 campaign appearance in Ohio, Obama was approached by a man named Joe Wurzelbacher (who thereafter would become widely known in the media as “Joe the plumber”). Wurzelbacher told Obama that he was planning to purchase a business which was projected to earn in excess of $250,000 per hear, and that Obama’s tax plan, which would raise taxes (by 8.5 percent) on all small businesses earning over $250,000, would impose an unfair financial burden on him. Obama replied that the tax increase on businesses like his was justified because it would enable the government to give tax breaks to people earning considerably less than $250,000. “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” said Obama.
The National Taxpayers Union — an organization that “seeks to reduce government spending, cut taxes, and protect the rights of taxpayers” — gave Obama ratings of zero percent, 16 percent, and “F” in 2005, 2006, and 2007, respectively.
Americans for Tax Reform — which “believes in a system in which taxes are simpler, fairer, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today” — gave Obama a zero percent rating in 2005 and a 15 percent rating in 2006.
The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council — which “works to influence legislation and policies that help to create a favorable and productive environment for small businesses and entrepreneurship” — gave Obama a rating of 9 percent in 2005.
The National Federation of Independent Business — which seeks “to impact public policy at the state and federal level and be a key business resource for small and independent business in America” — gave Obama a rating of 12 percent in 2005-2006.
The Business-Industry Political Action Committee — which “supports pro-business candidates who have demonstrated the skill and leadership necessary to fuel a pro-business Congress” — rated Obama 15 percent in 2005 and 10 percent in 2006.
“Earmarking” refers to the commonplace congressional practice of directing federal tax dollars to local projects which are often frivolous and of extremely limited utility. In fiscal year 2008, Obama was the sole Senate sponsor of 29 earmarks whose aggregate sum was $10.7 million. Earmarks are often informal quid pro quo arrangements, where recipients show gratitude by giving money to the political official who steered the earmarks their way. For example, after Obama inserted earmarks into a 2008 defense appropriations bill, the recipients sent $16,000 in contributions to Obama’s presidential campaign.
Sometimes the quid pro quo works in the other direction, where the senator earmarks money for recipients after they have taken action that is in some way beneficial to the senator. For example, in 2007 Obama earmarked $1 million for the University of Chicago Medical Center, where his wife, who served as vice president of the Center, had received a $200,000 pay raise immediately after Obama took office as senator in early 2005.
In 1998 Obama proposed the creation of a study panel to examine the feasibility of having the government regulate and cap automobile insurance rates. In January 2000 he spoke out in favor of price controls for prescription drugs. A year later he called for the establishment of a five-person government “review board” to place a cap on drug prices in Illinois. To read economist Thomas Sowell’s explanation of why price controls have historically failed to lower costs or improve products and services, click here.
In September 2005, Obama sponsored “Senate Concurrent Resolution 53,” which expressed “the sense of Congress that any effort to impose photo identification requirements for voting should be rejected.”
Obama’s voting record clearly reflects his desire to expand entitlements for illegal aliens.
Obama opposes immigration raids designed to identify illegal aliens in workplaces or housing units. He says the U.S. should “allow undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.” “When I was a state senator in Illinois,” Obama has said, “I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention. The problem we have here is not driver’s licenses. Undocumented workers do not come here to drive. They’re here to work.” In short, he is in favor of permitting illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses.
Obama voted in favor of allowing former illegal aliens who had previously worked at jobs under phony or stolen Social Security numbers, to someday reap the benefits of whatever Social Security contributions they may have made while they were so employed.
He voted in favor of an amendment placing an expiration date on a point-based immigration system (i.e., a system that seeks to ensure that people with skills that society needs are given preference for entry into the United States). Obama instead advocates a system focusing on the reunification of family members, even if that means permitting the relatives of illegal aliens to join the latter in America.
Obama seeks to delineate a “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens, so as to “bring people out of the shadows” and allow them to “to fully embrace our values and become full members of our democracy.” Said the Obama campaign in 2008: “America has always been a nation of immigrants…. For the millions living here illegally but otherwise playing by the rules, we must encourage them to come out of hiding and get right with the law.”
As a U.S. senator, Obama was a supporter of the DREAM Act, intended to allow illegal aliens to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents. He helped to pass a state version of such a law in Illinois during his years as a state senator. Said the Obama campaign, the DREAM Act “would allow undocumented children brought to the United states the opportunity to pursue higher education or serve in our military, and eventually becoming legalized citizens…. [I]nstead of driving thousands of children who were on the right path into the shadows, we need to giver those who play by the rules the opportunity to succeed.”
In September 2008, Obama told the North Carolina Public Radio station WUNC that the children of illegal immigrants should be permitted to attend community colleges. “For us to deny them access to community college, even though they’ve never lived in Mexico, as least as far as they can tell, is to deny that this is how we’ve always built this country up,” said Obama.
According to Dick Morris, the political strategist who formerly advised President Bill Clinton, Obama’s plan for universal health care would include coverage for illegal immigrants.
In March 2008, Obama voted to table a Senate amendment calling for the withdrawal of federal assistance “to sanctuary cities that ignore the immigration laws of the United States and create safe havens for illegal aliens and potential terrorists.”
In July 2007 Obama was a featured speaker at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza, an open-borders group that lobbies for racial preferences, mass immigration, and amnesty for illegal aliens. Among his remarks were the following:
“I will never walk away from the 12 million undocumented immigrants who live, work, and contribute to our country every single day.
“There are few better examples of how broken, bitter, and divisive our politics has become than the immigration debate that played out in Washington a few weeks ago. So many of us — Democrats and Republicans — were willing to compromise in order to pass comprehensive reform that would secure our borders while giving the undocumented a chance to earn their citizenship….
“[W]e are a nation of immigrants — a nation that has always been willing to give weary travelers from around the world the chance to come here and reach for the dream that so many of us have reached for. That’s the America that answered my father’s letters and his prayers and brought him here from Kenya so long ago. That’s the America we believe in.
“But that’s the America that the President and too many Republicans walked away from when the politics got tough…. [W]e saw parts of the immigration debate took a turn that was both ugly and racist in a way we haven’t seen since the struggle for civil rights….
“We don’t expect our government to guarantee success and happiness, but when millions of children start the race of life so far behind only because of race, only because of class, that’s a betrayal of our ideals. That’s not just a Latino problem or an African-American problem; that is an American problem that we have to solve….
“It’s an American problem when one in four Latinos cannot communicate well with their doctor about what’s wrong or fill out medical forms because there are language barriers we refuse to break down….”
In July 2008, Obama again spoke to NCLR. Among his remarks were the following:
“The theme of this [La Raza] conference is the work of your lives: strengthening America together. It’s been the work of this organization for four decades –lifting up families and transforming communities across America. And for that, I honor you, I congratulate you, I thank you, and I wish you another forty years as extraordinary as your last….
“The system isn’t working when a child in a crumbling school graduates without learning to read or doesn’t graduate at all. Or when a young person at the top of her class — a young person with so much to offer this country — can’t attend a public college.
“The system isn’t working when Hispanics are losing their jobs faster than almost anybody else, or working jobs that pay less, and come with fewer benefits than almost anybody else.
“The system isn’t working when 12 million people live in hiding, and hundreds of thousands cross our borders illegally each year; when companies hire undocumented immigrants instead of legal citizens to avoid paying overtime or to avoid a union; when communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids — when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel….
“[W]e’ll make the system work again for everyone. By living up to the ideals that this organization has always embodied the ideals reflected in your name, ‘Raza,’ the people. [Actually, a literal translation is “the race.”] … And together, we won’t just win an election; we will transform this nation.”
The U.S. Border Control (USBC), a nonprofit citizen’s lobby dedicated to ending illegal immigration and securing America’s borders, reports that Obama’s immigration-related votes are consistent with USBC’s values only 8 percent of the time. By USBC’s definition, Obama’s stance on immigration qualifies him as an “open borders” advocate.
Obama voted against a bill to declare English the official language of the U.S. government. Under this bill, no person would be entitled to have the government communicate with him (or provide materials for him) in any language other than English. Nothing in the bill, however, prohibited the use of a language other than English.
Constitution / Supreme Court:
In his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope, Obama expresses his belief that the U.S. Constitution is a living document (subject to reinterpretation and change), and states that, as President, he would not appoint a strict constructionist (a Justice who seeks to apply the text as it is written and without further inference) to the Supreme Court:
“When we get in a tussle, we appeal to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution’s ratifiers to give direction. Some, like Justice Scalia, conclude that the original understanding must be followed and if we obey this rule, democracy is respected. Others, like Justice Breyer, insist that sometimes the original understanding can take you only so far — that on the truly big arguments, we have to take context, history, and the practical outcomes of a decision into account. I have to side with Justice Breyer’s view of the Constitution — that it is not a static but rather a living document and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.”
When President Bush in 2005 nominated John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Obama stated that few Supreme Court cases involve any controversy at all, “so that both a [conservative like] Scalia and a [leftist like] Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of cases.” In the other 5 percent, he said, “the critical ingredient” was neither the law nor the Constitution says, but rather “what is in the judge’s heart.”
Obama said in a floor speech on September 22, 2005:
“[W]hen I examined Judge Roberts’ record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak. In his work in the White House and the Solicitor General’s Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.”
Obama was also “deeply troubled” by “the philosophy, ideology and record” of yet another Bush nominee to the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito. “There is no indication that he [Alito] is not a man of fine character,” Obama said in a floor speech on January 26, 2006. “But when you look at his record, when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I found that in almost every case he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless.”
Columnist Terrence Jeffrey observed in February 2008:
“In contrast to his soaring campaign rhetoric about bringing America together, Obama’s Senate speeches against Roberts and Alito revealed a polarizing vision of America. Minorities, women, employees and criminal defendants were among the weak; majorities, men, employers and prosecutors were among the strong.”
In April 2007, newsman Wolf Blitzer asked Obama, “Are there … Justices right now upon whom you would model [appointments to the Supreme Court]?” Obama replied, “Well, you know, I think actually Justice [Stephen] Breyer, Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg are very sensible judges. I think that Justice [David] Souter … is a sensible judge.”
In an August 2008 symposium, Obama was asked which, if any, of the current Supreme Court Justices he would not have nominated if he had been President at the time. He replied that he would not have nominated Clarence Thomas, because “I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation. Setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretation of a lot of the Constitution.”
On another occasion, Obama criticized Justice Antonin Scalia for believing “that the original understanding [of the Constitution] must be followed, and that if we strictly obey this rule, then Democracy is respected…. [I]t is unrealistic to believe that a judge, two hundred years later, can somehow discern the original intent of the Founders or ratifiers.”
Explaining the criteria by which he would appoint judges to the federal bench, Obama declared:
“We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old–and that’s the criterion by which I’ll be selecting my judges.”
Obama has extremely close ties to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). At a September 2007 SEIU event, he shouted:
“I’ve spent my entire adult life working with SEIU. I’m not a newcomer to this. I didn’t just suddenly discover SEIU…. Your agenda’s been my agenda in the United States Senate. Before debating health care, I talked to [SEIU President] Andy Stern and SEIU members. Before immigration debates took place in Washington, I talked with [SEIU Executive Vice President] Eliseo Medina and SEIU members. Before the EFCA [Employee Free Choice Act], I talked to SEIU.
Obama supports an initiative known as the Global Poverty Act (GPA), which, if signed into law, would compel the U.S. President to develop “and implement” a policy to “cut extreme global poverty in half by 2015 through aid, trade, debt relief,” and other means.
Said Obama in February 2008:
“With billions of people living on just dollars a day around the world, global poverty remains one of the greatest challenges and tragedies the international community faces. It must be a priority of American foreign policy to commit to eliminating extreme poverty and ensuring every child has food, shelter, and clean drinking water. As we strive to rebuild America’s standing in the world, this important bill will demonstrate our promise and commitment to those in the developing world…. Our commitment to the global economy must extend beyond trade agreements that are more about increasing profits than about helping workers and small farmers everywhere.”
According to a February 2008 report by Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid, the adoption of the GPA could “result in the imposition of a global tax on the United States” and would make levels “of U.S. foreign aid spending subservient to the dictates of the United Nations.” Kincaid stated that the legislation would earmark some 0.7 percent of the U.S. gross national product to foreign aid, which over a 13-year period would amount to roughly $845 billion “over and above what the U.S. already spends.”
During a July 2007 Democrat primary debate, Obama was asked: “[W]ould you be willing to meet separately, without preconditions, during the first year of your administration, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?”
He replied: “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.”
Notwithstanding subsequent criticisms from Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and numerous other Democrats as well as political commentators — all of whom contended that some preconditions were essential — Obama initially did not change his position.
Over time, however, he and his campaign staffers sought to quietly, incrementally reframe Obama’s position. For instance, his senior policy advisor Susan Rice in early 2008 said Obama would “meet with the appropriate … leaders” of such countries, specifying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In May 2008, Obama further parsed his words of the previous year: “What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.”
When he was asked to explain how preconditions differed from preparation, Obama replied: There’s a huge difference … There are a whole series of steps that need to be taken before you have a presidential meeting but that doesn’t mean you expect the other side to agree to every item on your list.”
During a May 18, 2008 campaign event, Obama said: “Iran, Cuba, Venezuela — these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us…. Iran may spend one-one hundredth of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn’t stand a chance.” Two days later, he told another audience: “Iran is a grave threat. It has an illicit nuclear program. It supports terrorism across the regions and militias in Iraq. It threatens Israel’s existence. It denies the holocaust….”
Obama’s Overall Record:
In January 2008 the National Journal published its rankings of all U.S. senators — based on how they had voted on a host of foreign and domestic policy bills — and rated Barack Obama “the most liberal Senator of 2007.” “Obama’s [foreign policy] liberal score of 92 and conservative score of 7 indicate that he was more liberal in that issue area than 92 percent of the senators and more conservative than 7 percent,” the researchers explained. In the area of domestic policy voting, the study found that “Obama voted the liberal position on 65 of the 66 key votes on which he voted … [and] garnered perfect liberal scores in both the economic and social categories.”
The leftist organization Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) similarly rated Obama’s Senate voting record at 97.5 percent. By contrast, the American Conservative Union (the ADA’s ideological antithesis) gave Obama a rating of 8 percent.
After declaring his presidential candidacy in early 2007, Obama clearly became far more focused on campaigning for his White House run than on performing the legislative duties for which he had been elected to the U.S. Senate. From January 2007 through September 2008, he missed 303 votes (a total of 46 percent of all votes that came before the Senate.