Obama’s Foursquare Politics, With a Dab of Dijon
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By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: October 17, 2006
Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois and the Democratic Party’s new rock star, is that rare politician who can actually write — and write movingly and genuinely about himself.
THE AUDACITY OF HOPE
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
By Barack Obama
375 pages. Crown Publishers. $25.
Forum: Book News and Reviews
His 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” written before Mr. Obama entered politics, provided a revealing, introspective account of his efforts to trace his family’s tangled roots and his attempts to come to terms with his absent father, who left home when he was still a toddler. That book did an evocative job of conjuring the author’s multicultural childhood: his father was from Kenya, his mother was from Kansas, and the young Mr. Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia.
And it was equally candid about his youthful struggles: pot, booze and “maybe a little blow,” he wrote, could “push questions of who I was out of my mind,” flatten “out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory.” Most memorably, the book gave the reader a heartfelt sense of what it was like to grow up in the 1960’s and 70’s, straddling America’s color lines: the sense of knowing two worlds and belonging to neither, the sense of having to forge an identity of his own.
Mr. Obama’s new book, “The Audacity of Hope” — the phrase comes from his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address, which made him the party’s rising young hope — is much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama’s policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq.
But while Mr. Obama occasionally slips into the flabby platitudes favored by politicians, enough of the narrative voice in this volume is recognizably similar to the one in “Dreams From My Father,” an elastic, personable voice that is capable of accommodating everything from dense discussions of foreign policy to streetwise reminiscences, incisive comments on constitutional law to New-Agey personal asides. The reader comes away with a feeling that Mr. Obama has not reinvented himself as he has moved from job to job (community organizer in Chicago, editor of The Harvard Law Review, professor of constitutional law, civil rights lawyer, state senator) but has instead internalized all those roles, embracing rather than shrugging off whatever contradictions they might have produced.
Reporters and politicians continually use the word authenticity to describe Mr. Obama, pointing to his ability to come across to voters as a regular person, not a prepackaged pol. And in these pages he often speaks to the reader as if he were an old friend from back in the day, salting policy recommendations with colorful asides about the absurdities of political life.
He recalls a meet-and-greet encounter at the White House with George W. Bush, who warmly shook his hand, then “turned to an aide nearby, who squirted a big dollop of hand sanitizer in the president’s hand.” (“Good stuff,” he quotes the president as saying, as he offered his guest some. “Keeps you from getting colds.”) And he recounts a trip he took through Illinois with an aide, who scolded him for asking for Dijon mustard at a T.G.I. Friday’s, worried the senator would come across as an elitist; the confused waitress, he adds, simply said: “We got Dijon if you want it.”
In his 2004 keynote address Mr. Obama spoke of the common ground Americans share: “There is not a Black America and White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.” And the same message — rooted in his own youthful efforts to grapple with racial stereotypes, racial loyalty and class resentments — threads its way through the pages of this book. Despite the red state-blue state divide, despite racial, religious and economic divisions, Mr. Obama writes, “we are becoming more, not less, alike” beneath the surface: “Most Republican strongholds are 40 percent Democrat, and vice versa. The political labels of liberal and conservative rarely track people’s personal attributes.”
Mr. Obama eschews the Manichean language that has come to inform political discourse, and he rejects what he sees as the either-or formulations of his elders who came of age in the 60’s: “In the back-and-forth between Clinton and Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004,” he writes, “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage. The victories that the 60’s generation brought about — the admission of minorities and women into full citizenship, the strengthening of individual liberties and the healthy willingness to question authority — have made America a far better place for all its citizens. But what has been lost in the process, and has yet to be replaced, are those shared assumptions — that quality of trust and fellow feeling — that bring us together as Americans.”
His thoughts on domestic and foreign policy try to hew to this consensus-building line. Some of his recommendations devolve into little more than fuzzy statements of the obvious: i.e., that America’s “addiction to oil” is affecting the economy and undermining national security, or that the education system needs to be revamped and improved. Others echo Bill Clinton’s “third way,” methodically triangulating between traditionally conservative and traditionally liberal ideas.
Mr. Obama writes that “conservatives — and Bill Clinton — were right about welfare as it was previously structured: By detaching income from work and by making no demands on welfare recipients other than a tolerance for intrusive bureaucracy and an assurance that no man lived in the same house as the mother of his children, the old A.F.D.C. program sapped people of their initiative and eroded their self respect.”
He uses the Bush administration’s tough language to talk about national security in the age of terrorism (“if we have to go it alone, the American people stand ready to pay any price and bear any burden to protect our country”) but adds, crucially, that “once we get beyond matters of self-defense,” he is “convinced that it will almost always be in our strategic interest to act multilaterally rather than unilaterally when we use force around the world.”
He assails President Bush for waging an unnecessary and misguided war in Iraq and for promoting an “Ownership Society” that “magnifies the uneven risks and rewards of today’s winner-take-all economy.” Yet he also takes the Democrats to task for becoming “the party of reaction”: “In reaction to a war that is ill-conceived, we appear suspicious of all military action. In reaction to those who proclaim the market can cure all ills, we resist efforts to use market principles to tackle pressing problems. In reaction to religious overreach, we equate tolerance with secularism and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our policies with a larger meaning. We lose elections and hope for the courts to foil Republican plans. We lose the courts and wait for a White House scandal.”
This volume does not possess the searching candor of the author’s first book. But Mr. Obama strives in these pages to ground his policy thinking in simple common sense — be it “growing the size of our armed forces to maintain reasonable rotation schedules” or reining in spending and rethinking tax policy to bring down the nation’s huge deficit — while articulating these ideas in level-headed, nonpartisan prose. That, in itself, is something unusual, not only in these venomous pre-election days, but also in these increasingly polarized and polarizing times.
Glenn Beck: Strong case against Obama
September 18, 2008 – 4:10 ET
The Case Against Barack Obama
GLENN: We have David Freddoso on. He is the author of a book, The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate. He is a reporter for the National Review Online. WGN in Chicago getting heat for having him on. The Obama campaign does not want this man on. There’s another guest that they had on that they also went through the roof and just did everything they could to scare WGN into not having these guests on. Why? What is it that the Obama campaign doesn’t want? They say smears. David Freddoso is somebody that, believe me, I have had on my program and on my program, to get it on CNN, it better be right. If you’re a conservative, it better be right. David Freddoso is somebody that we have checked out ourself to make sure what he’s saying is right, and let’s go to the abortion thing. I played the ad. It’s a 527 now against Barack Obama that says please, Barack Obama, please don’t allow babies to die from botched abortions. That’s a pretty outrageous claim.
David, where does that claim come from? What is this story?
FREDDOSO: Well, this is the story of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act and it goes back to a hospital in the southwest suburbs of Chicago called Christ Hospital where they were performing on a regular basis induced labor abortions and these are late second, early third trimester abortions in which the drugs are given to the mother to induce violent labor and the baby is usually killed in the contractions and comes out. But about 15 to 20% of the time this produces a a live baby is born, I should say. And sometimes the babies will live just for a few minutes, sometimes for several hours. But this hospital was not giving any thought to medical treatment for them when they survived and could have potentially lived on and saved in incubator under whatever sort of medical technology we have to keep premature babies alive. They were simply shelving them and
GLENN: Hang on just a second. I just, I don’t care how you feel about abortion. If you think abortion is a right, you know, a woman’s right to choose, et cetera, et cetera, fine. I disagree with you. We’re going now to a step of partial birth abortion. Now people are not for partial birth abortion. The vast majority of people. They are pro choice but they are saying you can’t take the baby and have them birthed all the way except for the head and then suck the brains out while the head is still in the mother. That is a that is a step way beyond. And Republicans and Democrats agree on that. This is something further than that. This is a baby that survives an abortion and is living outside of the mother, is now just neglected and dies from neglect. Right or wrong, David?
FREDDOSO: This is what yeah, that is exactly what was happening and, in fact, that fact isn’t even in dispute. What is in dispute is exactly what condition that they were being left to die in. According to the nurse, Jill Stanek whom I interviewed for the kids against Barack Obama, they were one of the places they would put these babies to die while they were struggling is the utility closet where medical waste goes. According to the hospital they were putting them into comfort rooms where they would just simply leave them to die with a blanket or something. So that was the practice. And the attorney general of Illinois told Jill Stanek, this nurse, that this was not violating the law, that they couldn’t do anything about it and, you know, all protestations to the contrary, there wasn’t any law protecting these babies because the attorney general of Illinois wasn’t you know, he absolutely said, you know, no, you would need a new law if you wanted to do this.
GLENN: David, why couldn’t you, why couldn’t the doctor just kill the baby once the baby was born?
FREDDOSO: Well, I mean, I would say that’s murder. I mean, I’m also pro life.
GLENN: Got it. No, I’m not talking about your opinion. I’m talking about the law. It would indeed be murder if they would have killed the baby once the baby was born.
FREDDOSO: Well, of course, and even this practice itself strikes me as murder because you don’t actually have to stab someone through the heart to commit murder.
GLENN: I understand that.
FREDDOSO: You can certainly leave them, there’s such a thing as negligent homicide as well. But in any case, there wasn’t a law protecting them and that was what they went to the Illinois legislature to do was to pass a law that would define anyone who is already born and alive as a person. And that would have made the laws of the State of Illinois apply to these premature babies.
GLENN: How did Barack Obama stop it?
FREDDOSO: Barack Obama was the only state senator to speak against this law and
GLENN: Sorry. Repeat that, please.
FREDDOSO: He was the only state senator to speak against this law on the floor of the Illinois Senate.
FREDDOSO: In all the times it came up, in fact, he was the only one to speak against it. And his speech that he gave is very interesting, and I’ve given it in full in Chapter 10 of The Case Against Barack Obama because the argument is basically this, that if we go and recognize premature babies born alive in what some people call a previable condition, although they were clearly living for a while, if we do this, then it might down the road affect the right to abortion. It might cause it might create some kind of
GLENN: Slippery slope that they always say doesn’t exist.
FREDDOSO: I’m sorry?
GLENN: A slippery slope that liberals always say doesn’t exist.
GLENN: He was using that argument.
FREDDOSO: And that was his argument was essentially a slippery slope argument. His argument on the floor, it had a few contradictions in it, didn’t quite make sense. I mean, he used the word “Fetus” to describe a premature baby for a moment and then corrected himself.
GLENN: All right.
FREDDOSO: But, you know, by his argument you could also say that a premature baby who wasn’t born in an abortion, who was just simply born premature. I have a friend who recently gave birth to a premature baby and by his argument you would have to question or deny their personhood as well, as though they are somehow less persons than babies carried nine months.
GLENN: So the first time did he sign the bill?
FREDDOSO: The first time he voted present on the bill, which is in the Illinois legislature is equivalent to no. And it was part of a strategy that he had devised with Planned Parenthood lobbyists.
GLENN: Stand by. Stand by. We’re going to come get the rest of the story in just a second.
GLENN: I can tell you why Barack Obama did not want David Freddoso on WGN, because these are the most powerful arguments I have ever heard against Barack Obama. Well stated, well documented and so unbelievably damning. David, we are quickly running out of time. May I invite you for another hour tomorrow?
FREDDOSO: I would love to do it again tomorrow, absolutely.
GLENN: Okay. So let’s finish the abortion story, please.
FREDDOSO: Yes. Senator Obama voted he voted present on that bill. It was part of a strategy that he devised, that he and some Planned Parenthood lobbyists had devised that basically everyone would vote present instead of voting no. And just to you know, it came up the following year; he did it again. The bill, by the way, it passed the state senate and died in the state house committee. In 2003, though, Democrats had taken over the state senate and Obama was now the chairman of the Senate health committee. And as chairman he presided as they made the reason that Obama has ever since said he voted against this bill in committee is that it didn’t contain the same language that the federal board of live infants protection act contained. Sort of redundant protection against this law ever effecting the right to abortion. What he didn’t realize, didn’t or was misleading people about is that, in fact, in 2003 the bill that he voted against in his committee did contain that language, was exactly the same as the bill that had gone to the U.S. Senate floor, that Barbara Boxer had stood up and said, “I support this bill, everyone should vote for this bill.” Obama voted against it and that puts him on the very fringes when it comes to issues of human life at its very beginning.
GLENN: So wait a minute. He is Barbara Boxer was on the other side of this issue?
FREDDOSO: Yes, that’s right. Hillary Clinton was also on the other side. The vote was 98 0 and the two guys who weren’t there to vote were pro life Republicans. So basically every abortion proponent in the United States Senate is more protective of human life in its early stages than Senator Obama.
GLENN: Say that again, please.
FREDDOSO: Every single abortion proponent in the United States Senate at the time they voted on this the roll call vote was in 2001 every single one is more protective of human life in its early stages and more respectful of human life in its early stages than is Senator Obama based on his voting record.
GLENN: Now, Barack Obama will say, no, that’s not true, I wasn’t I was of course for this. He seems to have an ever evolving but he does believe in evolution an ever evolving story on this.
FREDDOSO: Yes. Because at first his story for the next three years or actually four years was that it didn’t contain the language if it had just contained the federal bill language, then he would have voted for it. In fact, it did contain that language and he voted against it. This year when National Right to Life found the records this is just a few weeks ago, found the records of the committee hearing and they found the bill was exactly the same and Obama voted against it in a party line vote in his committee, changed his explanation to say now the thing was there was already a law protecting these babies. And there is an old abortion statute on the books in Illinois and it’s a bill that Obama has repeatedly argued that every element of it is unconstitutional. It was enjoined from in most of its aspects it was enjoined from enforcement precisely because of the Roe versus Wade decision. And the decision they clinged it to last as each part of it is being knocked down is a provision that would require a second doctor to be present when such an abortion is performed in order to save the baby that the first doctor is trying to kill. And that’s something Obama has specifically argued is unconstitutional because it creates an undue burden on the woman and so that is basically, Senator Obama is grasping at straws when it comes to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. He’s making arguments now that don’t make sense and arguments, by the way, that he was never making at the time when he voted against it.
GLENN: I would just like to point out to anybody who doesn’t understand the rhetoric of politicians, I’m a recovering alcoholic. So I speak bullcrap for most of my life. So I speak it fluently. I can translate political speak into English. When anybody says that they are worried about that they want the condition of the mother’s health, let’s make sure that we have an exception for the mother’s health, there has never once been a case where a doctor says, in the case of let’s say partial birth abortion or where they are performing the abortion late term and they would birth the child, that it is better for the mother if they kill the baby. What they’re talking about, there have been cases on mental health, yet her mental health matters if she has the baby, but they deny any kind of mental health stress if she has had the abortion. It doesn’t make any sense. It is a game that they play. You cannot tell me that mainstream America you know, I’m not even going to say that. You cannot tell me that 98% of America, pro choice, pro life believe that we should leave a baby to die through neglect. There is no way to make the mental hurdles in your own head to say that this child should die from neglect, this fetus should die from neglect. There is no person within the sound of my voice of 98% of the population of this country that thinks that that is reasonable. This is the kind of guy that you have to understand you’re dealing with. He’s not somebody who’s kind of on the left. He’s not somebody who’s kind of out of pace with the mainstream. This guy is as far left as you can get and this is just one example.
David, on tomorrow’s program can you give us more examples of how incredibly out of step with the mainstream he is?
FREDDOSO: Oh, absolutely. Just about every issue you can find Obama taking stands during his career that are, you know, whether it’s guns, babies, taxes and national security as well, stances that members of his own party think are completely wrong. He is the most liberal senator in the United States Senate for a reason, and I’m not the one saying it. That’s National Journal, which is a highly respected $2,000 a year publication here in Washington.
GLENN: Tomorrow, tomorrow I would like to go a little bit into and I don’t even know if you did this, David, but his mom, he always is saying “My mom from Kansas, my mom from Kansas, my mom.” It’s like I see Auntie Em every time he says “My mom from Kansas.” His mom from Kansas was leftist as well. He’s not coming from a background of people that are Auntie Em and, oh, quick, get into the root cellar. There is the roots of Barack Obama are from the left. Tomorrow can you go into a little bit of “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future” and just give me the absolutely best well documented cases that this guy’s judgment on friends, if you take him at his word that, “Well, these guys aren’t the people we know; well, I can’t really answer for my friends or my family or whatever,” that his judgment is off.
FREDDOSO: Oh, absolutely.
GLENN: And I don’t believe it’s his judgment. I believe he is choosing to surround himself with these people.
FREDDOSO: Well, right. And that’s just the thing. You know, I have spoken with many people about this question of guilt by association. This isn’t about guilt by association. This is about looking at the actual choices that Barack Obama has made in his life. And that’s the best sort of gauge we can have. And if you give it the most charitable interpretation and we look at some of these relationships and that’s the only conclusion you can come to is that his judgment in picking friends is rather suspect.
GLENN: Name of the book is The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate . The author is David Freddoso. He will join us again tomorrow and all of this will be available online at GlennBeck.com soon.
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