Friday, April 11, 2008

Questions for Obama - courtesy of John Hawkins

There is a good bit from John Hawkins on this morning - a list of 20 questions for Barack Obama. Hawkins is certainly correct that Obama has gotten nothing but softballs from the press so far. I'm not sure I agree that that asking him tough questions would force him to reveal any more specfics than he already has (to the extent that he has, I mean, which isn't saying much), nor do I think that backing him into a corner on substantive issues would do much to break his stride with his followers - many of whom don't seem to mind that they can't think of a good reason for supporting him. But it would certainly be entertaining for the rest of us, and would probably hurt him with the B voters (technical talk for "swing" voters).

So here they are (largely paraphrased):

(1) The first asks Obama - who frequently talks about unity - what sort of compromises in his positions he would be willing to make to "unite" the American people behind him. Nice one! I'm really sick of this line from Obama too. You can't call yourself a "uniter" if your voting record is well to the left of what you know the public in general stands for. If what you have to offer is a better way than the status quo, then say THAT rather than that you are America made flesh, or whatever. Of course, this one could be problematic since ... does anyone actually know what Obama's positions on issues are? All I can gather so far is "welfare, hope, audacity, welfare, free money, hope." FDR redux.

(2) A restatement of the first question - this time asking why McCain, who actually does do bipartisan legislation, isn't more of a "uniter" than Obama? A fun score - maybe not the most substantive thing we could ask, though.

(3) The next two are about Jeremiah Wright. Agree - there are more questions to answer here. I'm satisfied with Obama's explanation for why he continued his assocation with Wright, actually. But I think I'd like to hear a clearer condemnation of "Black Liberation Theology." Black Liberation Theology is nothing if not racist, after all - so I think we the public have an interest in hearing a clear condemnation of it from this man who wants to be President.

(4) In a related note - a question about slavery reparations. Would Obama support a bill paying slavery reparations? Yes, for similar reasons to the above, I think we the public have an interest in knowing his intentions here. Slavery reparations are one of the great political absurdities of our time; we deserve to know what the presidential candidates think about them before casting our votes, and there are reasons to believe Obama would hedge on this issue.

(5) A question about Obama's support for the Global Poverty Act. Hear, hear! It is indeed disturbing that someone as tax-and-spend friendly as Obama is talking about shipping American wealth wholesale overseas to pay for ineffective, feelgood international development programs. There are better, and less expensive, ways to address the issues of poverty. Obama needs to state clearly that he will take care of the tax money we work hard to send the government.

(6) A question about Obama's opposition to the "Defense of Marriage Act." I'm definitely on Obama's side on this one. Yes, I'm touchy about gay marriage, mostly because I see clearly that gay rights activists are only interested in this as a way of forcing official endorsement of their lifestyles. Lifestyle is, or should be, a personal choice, and if large portions of the US public are disgusted by homosexuality, then sorry, but it is their right to be so, and "tolerance" demands that both sides afford each other rights while respecting their differences. There is little more "intolerant" than attempts by gay rights activists to obtain public endorsement by fiat in the form of legal gay marriage (especially when so many of them are hypocritically opposed to extending the same recognition to polygamists). That said, respecting the rights of members of the gay community demands, I think, that we "devolve" marriage in general. It is a private issue to be decided by private individuals - taking whatever form (among consenting adults, of course - I'm not condoning marriage with those not of legal age) they and their lawyers see fit. The federal government should never have been involved. And for this reason, Obama is right to oppose the "Defense of Marriage Act" - because "defending marriage" is definitely NOT in the goernment's job description. Marriage, in the legal sense, should be nothing more than a system of private contracts.

(7) A question about partial birth abortion that doesn't need to be asked. Of course Obama is in favor of overturning the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.

(8) A question as to what Obama's position on the 2nd Amendment really is. Yes, he definitely needs this one put to him straight. He's said so many conflicting things on this, and the public very definitely does have a right to know where their prospective president stands with regard to constitutional issues. This is a "trigger issue" (no pun intended) for me, for example. I find it difficult, bordering on impossible, to support politicians who don't recognize my gun rights. I'm not voting for Obama regardless, but there are certainly swing voters who rate this issue as highly as I do, and they deserve an honest answer.

(9) Two concerning the negative consequences of a pullout from Iraq - which Obama favors. Clearly, this is the kind of thing he should have been asked point-blank a long time ago, and I myself am very interested in an answer. I'm agnostic on the war myself - but I'm definitely what you would call "anti-anti-war." It's fine to oppose the war if you have good reasons and a realistic grasp of the international situation, but so few anti-war activists seem to. They're against it, primarily, because "peace" is always a virtue word and it's Bush's war after all. Obama gets the sop vote from this crowd - which is fine, he's their natural candidate (now that Kucinich has crawled back into his briar patch). But I think the rest of us would be interested in a reasoned justification for his position, and so far I've heard none. For most of us, this isn't a case that makes itself.

(10) The next concerns Barack Obama's association with two former members of the Weather Underground. THey helped launch his political career by giving him an early platform, and he remains friends with them today. Damning? I'm personally inclined to let this one go. Yes, yes, the left really DOES need to be held more to account for its romanticism about marxist terrorists. But I don't think there's any evidence here that Obama approves of guerilla warfare. The two people in question were never prosecuted for their crimes owing to improper FBI surveillance - so they're emblematic of both sides of the problem, really. Yes, there are concerns about terrorism, but there are also non-trivial concerns about the authorities overstepping their bounds in the name of "national security." If Weather Underground members can't be arrested legally, then they can't be arrested. It's true that they're unrepentant about their past, but the evidence Hawkins cites for this is a 2001 interview, and Obama was closely associated with them in 1996. Talk is cheap - and if what we're talking about is some miguided has-been 60s radicals reliving their glory days, and Obama just happened to speak at one of their living room gatherings when he was just starting out ... well, sorry, but I don't see much call for concern. Not unless we have reason to believe that they are giving moral and material support to modern-day Weather Undergraound analgues, I mean - and I've heard no grounds for such a suspicion. Certainly this is evidence of the rampant pro-leftist bias in the media. After all, Bush giving one campaign speech at Bob Jones University was a major media event, so it's a bit, shall we say, "unbalanced" that Obama's friendship with known terrorists doesn't raise any eyebrows. But I think it's equally fair to ask that conservatives make up their minds about how they want this to work. If they don't want their candidates held to account for speaking at places like Bob Jones, then it's only right to ask them to give leeway to Obama for being friends with 60s has beens. After all, Bob Jones University was no longer racist at the time Bush spoke there. So I guess I think of this one as more of a trump card - something to hold for the day that the press gives McCain unfair grief about some of his associates. Then, and only then, can we reasonably ask that they give Obama grief in equal portions.

(11) The one after that has to do with an incident from 2007 where Obama failed to hold his hand over his heart for the national anthem. Again, it's more than a little petty to try to read too much into this. Yes, it's true that Obama once stood for the national anthem at a campaign stop without putting his hand over his heart, but this is scant cause to question his patriotism. I myself am sometimes uncomfortable with the ritual, and I consider myself a patriot. If Obama regularly failed to salute the flag, that would be one thing - because there would be no doubt he intended to send a symbolic, probably anti-patriotic, message through his abstention. But as it stands, there is only this one incident from a year ago, and I'm over it. As for why he doesn't wear a flag pin - well, I'm right with him on that one. Flag pins are patriotic when they're spontaneous, but when it becomes part of the politician's expected dress code, they're creepy. Far from worrying about Obama's patriotism for not wearing one, I find it a refreshing bit of bravery on his part, and I wish more politicians would follow his lead.

(12) Then comes the question about why his campaign apparently thinks he should get half the delegates from Michigan even though his name wasn't on the ballot. That should be an easy one for a conservative to answer: because including Michigan delegates is obviously a cynical power play by the Clinton campaign. Obama asking to get half the delegates without a revote is no more "hypocritical" than Clinton demanding her illegal delegates be counted.

(13) Next is a question about whether Obama would submit to drug tests given his history with cocaine. I have a mixed opinion about this one. On the one hand, please! No one asked this of Bush, who also has a history of cocaine - why should it be an issue with Obama? On the other hand, to the extent that politicians support the War on Drugs, which very definitely DOES foster a "guilty-until-proven-innocent" climate on large sections of the nation by, among other things, encouraging companies to perform regular drug tests on employees they have no reason to suspect are guilty of anything, then those politicians probably should be forced to undergo regular drug testing themselves, yes. But why limit this to Obama? Let's require it for all drug warrior politicians (which is to say, about 9 in 10 of them).

(14) A question about a questionnaire from an Illinois voter group that Obama lied about never having seen. It turns out he gave some leftist answers on it that he now wants to disown, so he lied and said he never saw it. Yes - this definitely should be more of a media event than it is. Politicians should not be allowed to "forget" important details of the past relevant to their qualifications for office.

(15) A question about consistent misquoting of McCain - allowing his voters to form the impression that McCain wants a 100-year war in Iraq when what he's actually said is that he foresees stationing troops there indefinitely the same way we do in Japan and Korea. Eh. It's an underhanded trick, and we can drag this one out if Obama ever gets an image as a man of intergrity - but this seems the kind of thing he's unlikely to continue saying after he gets the nomination. The supporters who lap this up probably don't really care whether McCain is talking about fighting a protracted war or merely stationing troops in Iraq indefinitely - they're against McCain for irrational reasons regardless, and Obama is just telling them what they want to hear. If the press continues to let him get away with this after he wins the nomination, Hawkins has a case, but for now I think it's harmless.

(16) The next two questions concern Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko, a corrupt Illinois lawyer. I would like to see more questions along these lines in the press too, but not necessarily the kinds of questions Hawkins is proposing. As far as the scandal angle goes, Obama has returned Rezko's campaign contributions and apologized for his involvement with Rezko. It's not enough by any standards of human decency, but for the political world I think it is. The Clintons were involved with Rezko too, after all, as was George W. Bush, and there isn't too much of a stink about that. No - the questions I want asked concern the inevitability of this kind of corruption in ALL welfare states. Obama supports, after all, the kind of public housing projects that Rezko mishandled for financial gain. I think it's worth putting a couple of questions to him about why he thinks it's OK to steal money from taxpayers to pay for ineffective projects that are mostly successful at allowing scum like Rezko to skim bread for himself? These programs are virtually NEVER effective, and they're ALWAYS rife with this kind of corruption. Let's ask some questions about that, then - i.e. the kind of questions about the ugly reality of the welfare state that don't allow Obama to mouth his usual bromides about "dispensing audacious hope," or whatever the crap du jour is.

Alright - so really only 16 questions, and a lot of these conservative sop questions. But on the whole I completely agree with Hawkins that Obama has gotten kid glove treatment from the press. It's looking increasingly likely that he's going to be the Dem nominee. Time for the press to stop snoozing and starting doing their jobs.


At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Holly said...

On the Global Poverty Act, the Congressional Budget Office (the office in charge of analyzing budgetary decisions for the federal government) was asked by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to estimate the cost of the Global Poverty Act. They estimated that it would “cost less than 1 million dollars”, if the funds were appropriated. For the full report, check out this PDF:

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

Wrong. The Congressional Budget Office was asked to estimate the cost of implementing the act. Since the act (full text here) puts the onus on future policy direction, the cost of implementing it is quite low indeed: all that is required is that the government check to make sure that its policy direction has changed. The new policy direction itself, however, will be quite expensive. Let's have a look at some of the things it requires (all that follow are actual quotes from the bill's text):

(1) Enhancing and expanding debt relief as appropriate.

(2) Leveraging United States trade policy where possible to enhance economic development prospects for developing countries.

(3)Mobilizing and leveraging the participation of businesses, United States and international nongovernmental organizations, civil society, and public-private partnerships.

(4) Integrating principles of sustainable development and entrepreneurship into policies and programs.

All of these things cost money to a tune far greater than $1million, kiddo. Indeed, the bill itself calls for a reduction by half of the number of people living in poverty by 2015. If you think that can be done for $1million, you are incredibly naive.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Rosemary said...

This is great info to know.


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