As a central theme to his campaign, Senator Barack Obama has painted himself as an "agent of change," as someone who will move beyond "business as usual" in Washington, DC, who decries the "politics of the past," and who also claims he’s not in the business of telling people what they want to hear.
Since he has made his character the cornerstone of his campaign, naturally he is going to receive criticism in various circles as to whether or not he’s being upfront with the American people. There are numerous examples I can point out of where Obama has not been upfront with people and has engaged in "business as usual" and the "politics of the past" but today I’ll focus on just one.
I’m signed up on his website’s emailing list, because I know that as it gets closer to NC primary time (May) and if the delegate battle is still on, he’ll probably come here and do a little campaigning, and I want to try and attend one of his tent revivals. Imagine the grin on my face when I recieved the following email this afternoon from none other than Barack Obama himself (well, ok, we know it wasn’t really him, but it did make me feel special, all the same). The title of the email? "Major News." Here’s what that "major news" was:
We’ve crunched all the numbers and discovered that we are within striking distance of something historic: one million people donating to this campaign.
Think about that … nearly one million people taking ownership of this movement, five dollars or twenty-five dollars at a time.
We’re already more than 900,000 strong, including over half-a-million donating so far this year. This unprecedented foundation of support has built a campaign that has shaken the status quo and proven that ordinary people can compete in a political process too often dominated by special interests.
Unlike Senator Clinton or Senator McCain, we haven’t taken a dime from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs. Our campaign is responsible to no one but the people.
(emphasis added by me)
Unfortunately, Mr. "Politics of the Future" is not being truthful with the American people. I’ve referenced this October 27, 2007 piece before as it relates to Obama’s campaign slogans about his contributions, and have to do so again today:
But it turns out that both Edwards and Obama have adopted a narrow definition of the word lobbyist, which raises questions about the effectiveness of their campaign.
They still take money from state lobbyists. They make no attempt to distinguish between lobbyists for big corporations and lobbyists for small non-profits. They treat a lobbyist for Haliburton in the same way as a lobbyist for child poverty or cancer research. They accept money from former lobbyists and future lobbyists. As Clinton has pointed out, her rivals have no problem taking money from the people who pay the lobbyists, and give them their "marching orders." (ABC News debate, August 19, 2007.) They have no problem about taking money from people representing other "special interests," e.g. trial lawyers and the hedge fund industry.
So far this year, according to Opensecrets.org, Edwards has taken more than $8 million from lawyers and law firms, some of whom employ the federally-registered lobbyists whose lucre he refuses to touch. Obama is not far behind: $7.5 million. (Clinton has taken $9.2 million.)
Obama has emphasized that he does not take money from PhRMA, the powerful lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry. On the other hand, he does not seem to mind taking money from senior employees of PhRMA members, such as Pfizer and Eli Lilly. Campaign finance records show that he has raised about $250,000 in pharmaceutical-related contributions this year. (Clinton collected $269,000.) He has also not been averse to helping out Illinois-based pharmaceutical companies with "tariff suspensions."
Nor does refusing to accept money from federal lobbyists prevent the Obama and Edwards campaigns from accepting in-kind contributions from registered lobbyists in the form of volunteer work. See this Roll Call article. My colleague, Matt Mosk, recently reported that the Obama campaign is hiring a top lobbyist, Moses Mercado, as a senior adviser. Mercado’s accounts with the Ogilvy Government Relations lobbyist group included Pfizer, United Health Group, and the Blackstone Group, which paid millions of dollars to Ogilvy to defeat proposals for doubling taxes paid by private equity managers. Mercado has said he will take a "leave of absence" from Ogilvy in order to work for Obama.
In the meantime, the Obama campaign returned a $250 contribution from a small-time federal lobbyist named Gigi Sohn, who works for a non-profit organization called Public Knowledge that advocates digital consumer rights. Sohn has, however, been permitted to help the campaign as a volunteer. In an interview with Roll Call, Sohn described Obama’s position on lobbyists as "absurd." She said that the loopholes in the anti-lobbyist campaign were "big enough to drive a truck through."
With that in mind, can BO truthfully claim that his campaign is responsible to "no one but the people"? I think not.
All these little untruths and misrepresentations add up, and along with his standard fare liberal agenda, he’s really not that different from most other politicians – except he’s really good at putting a mask on liberalism and dressing it – and himself - up as something it, and he, are not. Sound familiar? Yet when critics try to point out the inconsistencies in his record, his and his campaign’s response is to – wait for it – accuse the person making the criticism as someone who is "engaging in the politics of the past." He and his campaign have done this often enough, so often that automatically people believe that the attacks on his record are mean-spirited and meant to "divide." And because he’s so likeable, people view attacks on his record as "personal attacks" and "going negative." Obama is in the unusual – and powerful – position of being able to define these terms as he sees fit for his campaign. It’s an advantage none of the other candidates have. He has the power to persuade other people into believing that even legitimate attacks on his record are a tactic of the "politics of the past."
Update – 8:18 PM: Even blowing his nose, Obama gets applause