Obama's Liberal Survey: Did He or Didn't, Does He or Doesn't He?
One of the complaints I've had with Barack Obama is the difficulty trying to pin him down on issues. His positions too often seem to shift over time.
Politico has a doozy today. Remember the questionnaire that Obama submitted -- the one where he later said he didn't mean some of the answers, but a staffer had filled it out incorrectly?
Turns out, the questionnaire has turned up, with his handwriting on it. There's the issue of parental notification for abortions. But to me, its the ones on the death penalty and gun control that stand out.
During his first run for elected office, Barack Obama played a greater role than his aides now acknowledge in crafting liberal stands on gun control, the death penalty and abortion — positions that appear at odds with the more moderate image he has projected during his presidential campaign.The evidence comes from an amended version of an Illinois voter group’s detailed questionnaire, filed under his name during his 1996 bid for a state Senate seat. Late last year, in response to a Politico story about Obama’s answers to the original questionnaire, his aides said he “never saw or approved” the questionnaire. They asserted the responses were filled out by a campaign aide who “unintentionally mischaracterize[d] his position.” But a Politico examination determined that Obama was actually interviewed about the issues on the questionnaire by the liberal Chicago nonprofit group that issued it. And it found that Obama — the day after sitting for the interview — filed an amended version of the questionnaire, which appears to contain Obama’s own handwritten notes added to one answer.
After being confronted with the handwritten version, the aides say:
Through an aide, Obama, who won the group’s endorsement as well as the statehouse seat, did not dispute that the handwriting was his. But he contended it doesn’t prove he completed, approved — or even read — the latter questionnaire.
“Sen. Obama didn’t fill out these state Senate questionnaires — a staffer did — and there are several answers that didn't reflect his views then or now,” Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama’s campaign, said in an e-mailed statement. “He may have jotted some notes on the front page of the questionnaire at the meeting, but that doesn't change the fact that some answers didn't reflect his views. His 11 years in public office do.”
Politico writes that the new questionnaires cast doubt on Obama's "ideological consistency and electability. " Even more,
Taken together — and combined with later policy pronouncements — the two 1996 questionnaires paint a picture of an inexperienced Obama still trying to feel his way around major political issues and less constrained by the nuance that now frames his positions on sensitive issues.
Regarding the death penalty and gun control:
Both versions of the 1996 questionnaires provide answers his presidential campaign disavows to questions about whether Obama supports capital punishment and state legislation to “ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.”
He responded simply “No” and “Yes,” respectively, to those questions on both questionnaires.
But a fact sheet provided by his campaign flatly denies Obama ever held those views, asserting he “consistently supported the death penalty for certain crimes but backed a moratorium until problems were fixed.” And it points out that as a state senator, he led an effort to reform Illinois’ death penalty laws.
On guns, the fact sheet says he “has consistently supported common-sense gun control, as well as the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
No one should confuse Obama's admirable work in Illinois for death penalty reform with opposition to the death penalty. His goal was to reduce the number of innocent people sentenced to death. That's great and very important. But it's also wrong to execute anyone, and Obama has never opposed the death penalty. He's even voted to create more death penalty eligible crimes as a state senator -- in cases of brutal murders of the elderly and mentally disabled.
AS to gun control, now he's a supporter of the Second Amendment. But, he seems to find that every newly proposed gun control law is a reasonable regulation on the Amendment's protections.
He was once for abolishing all mandatory minimums. Then he promised a review of them. And now couches his support for ending them in terms of non-violent, first time offenders.
He was for decriminalization of pot, now he's not.
He was the last Democratic candidate to support medical use of marijuana, and then said while he'd end federal raids on drug providers in states where it was legal, he'd have to study whether marijuana really had a medical benefit.
For sources, see my earlier post, Obama and Defendants' Rights, Progressive or Not? AS well as these:
- 12/14/07: The Democratic Candidates Discuss Their Crime Agendas
- 12/3/07: Hillary Comes Out Against Crack-Powder Retroactivity (includes Obama's views)
- 11/25/07: Obama and Medical Pot: More Research Needed
- 11/12/07: Obama Touts His Death Penalty Reform Role (Also see this comment to the post)
- O8/28/07: Obama Wants to Strengthen Drug War in New Orleans
- 8/15/07: Obama Wavers on Crack-Powder Sentencing (includes his position on death penalty)
- 7/1/07: Dems Debate Sentencing Reforms and Mandatory Minimums
It seems Obama changes his views to fit his particular audience. And he has a "penchant" for blaming staffers for his mistakes.
They allege Obama has a penchant for blaming his staff for gaffes ranging from missing a union event in New Hampshire to circulating opposition research highlighting the Clintons’ ties to India and Indian-Americans to underestimating the amount of cash bundled for his campaigns by his former fundraiser, indicted businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko.
The Independent Voters of Illinois — Independent Precinct Organization (IVI-IPO) which provided the questionnaires with Obama's handwriting to Politico, is troubled:
“One big issue was: Does he or does he not believe the stuff he told us in 1996?” said Aviva Patt, who has been involved with the IVI-IPO since 1990 and is now the group’s treasurer. She volunteered for Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign, but voted to endorse the since-aborted presidential campaign of Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and professed disappointment over Obama’s retreat from ownership of the questionnaire.
“I always believed those to be his views,” she said, adding some members of the board argued that Obama’s 1996 answers were “what he really believes in, and he’s tailoring it now to make himself more palatable as a nationwide candidate.”
Who can know for sure? Who wants to take a chance? Hillary's positions aren't much different than Obama's but at least we know where she stands. As I've said many times, the devil you know is better than the devil you don't and why should we buy a pig in a poke?
Is Obama better than McCain? Of course. But there's another choice right now, one who is a straight shooter. Much as the media and Democratic party leaders wish it weren't so, the nomination race is not over. There are ten states with 12 million voters yet to weigh in -- as well as hundreds of superdelegates who can decide at the last minute. We should let them all have their say.
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