As Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) gathers increasing attention as a potential rival to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, remarkably little attention has been paid to his record, which reveals him to be at least as liberal as Hillary.
While Obama has a knack for portraying himself as an even-handed politician, who is inspired by traditional religious values, he has earned 100% ratings from Americans for Democratic Action, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization of Women, the NAACP and the NEA.
To drum up support for his Senate bid in 2004, Obama wrote a letter to the Windy City Times, a publication targeted to Chicago’s gay community. “I opposed DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] in 1996. It should be repealed, and I will vote for its repeal on the Senate floor,” he vowed. “I will also oppose any proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gays and lesbians from marrying” (see page 3).
Obama told the paper that constitutional marriage amendment proposals were merely “an effort to demonize people for political advantage.” At the same time, he pledged to work to “expand adoption rights” for same-sex couples.
In 2006, he followed through by voting against the Federal Marriage Amendment. “Personally, I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said, as he voted against defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Obama has similarly hedged his pro-choice rhetoric, while consistently supporting the pro-choice cause. As a state senator in Illinois he twice voted “present” on an Illinois ban on partial-birth abortion and was “absent” on a third vote. In 2001, he voted “present” on a parental notification bill for minors and in 2002 he voted against a bill to protect babies that survived failed abortions.
In his 2004 race Senate, Obama accepted $41,750 in campaign contributions from pro-choice interest groups.
These positions contrast with the Christian faith to which he frequently refers in public appearances. Obama’s father, a Muslim who abandoned his faith for atheism, divorced Barack’s mother when Barack was two. In his 2004 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, Barack said that his mother’s parents were a non-practicing Baptist and a non-practicing Methodist. She “grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself,” he said. “As a consequence so did I.”
After his mother remarried, Obama lived in Indonesia with his stepfather, who was conscripted into the Indonesian Army. He first attended a Catholic school there, then a Muslim school.
“In both cases,” he writes in his new book, The Audacity of Hope, “my mother was less concerned with me learning the catechism or puzzling out the meaning of the muezzin’s call to evening prayer than she was with whether I was properly learning my multiplication tables.”
As an Illinois senator, Obama introduced the “Bernardin Amendment,” which would have inserted language from a pastoral letter by the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin into a universal health care program. The amendment contained Bernardin’s line: “Health care is an essential safeguard of human life and dignity, and there is an obligation for society to ensure that every person is able to realize that right.” The bill, which did not pass, was to be funded with money taken from tobacco companies.
Obama spoke of his faith in his keynote address at the 2006 Call to Renewal’s “Building a Covenant for a New America” conference. He said that if it wasn’t for the “particular attributes” of the black church, he may have never have become part of it. “Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principles,” he said.
In the same speech, he asked Christians, Jews and Muslims to convene on Capitol Hill and give an “injection of morality” by opposing a repeal of the estate tax.
When speaking out against various tax cuts, Obama has likened the “Ownership Society”—which entails such things as personalized Social Security accounts, health savings accounts and school choice—to “social Darwinism.” In a November 2005 speech to the National Women’s Law Center, he said: “The idea here is to give everyone one big refund on their government—divvy it up into some tax breaks, hand them out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own unemployment insurance, education, and so forth.”
“In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society,” Obama explained. “But in our past there has been another term for it—social Darwinism, every man and woman for him or herself.”
As an Illinois state legislator, Obama also supported raising taxes on insurance premiums and on casino patrons, retaining the state death tax and levying a new tax on businesses.
He voted against a bill that would add penalties for crimes committed as a part of gang activity and against a bill that would make it a criminal offense for accused gang members, free on bond or probation, to associate with other gang members. In 1999, he was the only state senator to oppose a bill that prohibited early prison release for criminal sexual offenders.
In 2001, he voted “present” on a measure to keep pornographic books and video stores 1,000 feet away from schools and churches, and in 1999, he voted against a requirement to make schools filter internet pornography from school computers.
Obama has spoken against the Iraq War since its inception, beginning with an October 2002 speech he gave alongside the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He went so far as to suggest that the war was a ploy to distract voters from domestic issues impacting minorities.
“What I am opposed to is the attempt by potential hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty state, a drop in the medium income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone thorough the worst month since the Great Depression,” he said. “That’s what I am opposed to.”
Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope that although he believed Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, coveted nuclear arms, scoffed at UN resolutions and butchered his own people, he sensed “the threat Saddam posed was not imminent” and “the administration’s rationales for war were flimsy and ideologically driven.”
In November 2003, he told the Chicago Sun-Times that if he were in the Senate he would not have voted for the President’s $87.5 billion supplemental appropriations package for Iraq and Afghanistan. “I think it enables the Bush Administration to continue on a flawed policy without being accountable to the American people or to the troops who are making sacrifices,” he said.
His opposition to the war carries through today in his support for the call by Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq four to six months after its enactment.