A Closer Look At Obama, Candidate of ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’

We have seen something unparalleled in modern politics.

No, I’m not talking about the first black nominee of a major American political party.  I’m talking about the effort to whitewash every negative aspect to the past of a nominee of a major political party.

Interestingly, this story came out during the early days of the primary season when Hillarly Clinton was the presumed nominee, and Barack Obama was a nobody.  We haven’t heard a peep about it since the Obama campaign gained ground, which is the precise opposite of what we would expect to see if journalism was politically impartial and objective.

The story begins with Alice Palmer and the the 13th District Illinois State Senate.  Alice Palmer had battled as a community organizer in some of the poorest areas of that district – such as Englewood – for decades while Obama was getting a sun tan in Hawaii and living in Indonesia.  As a state senator, Palmer had faithfully served her district as a good progressive through the early 90s, giving up her safe seat to run for Congress at the request of the party establishment.  She gave Obama his start in politics.

In her previous Democratic primary race for the 13th District, Alice Palmer had defeated her opponent, Charlie Calvin, 83% to 17%, or 29,115 votes to 5,987.  She ran unopposed in the 1992 general election, and received 69,989 votes.

After losing her bid for Congress, Alice Palmer returned to take back her seat in the 13th District.  She had to mount a hasty signature campaign (she only had 18 days) in order to get her name on the ballot.

So what did Barack Obama do, facing the prospect of running against a beloved, long-standing fighter and activist who was actually the sitting incumbant, who had won the previous election with 83% of the vote, and who would have slaughtered the unknown Barack Obama in a primary election?

He put his Harvard Law degree to the most cynical use imaginable, mounting legal challenges to every signature Palmer collected.

Barack Obama, who as a community organizer had registered thousands of underprivileged voters, proceeded to turn around and organize an effort to nullify the signatures of many of these same voters on such technicalities as printing a name rather than writing in cursive.

As a CNN story titled “Obama played hardball in first Chicago campaign” details, “As a community organizer, he had helped register thousands of voters. But when it came time to run for office, he employed Chicago rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers.”

David Jackson and Ray Long, writing for the Chicago Tribune, begin their article, “Making of a Candidate: Obama knows his way around a ballot.  Some say his ability to play political hardball goes back to his first campaign” this way:

The day after New Year’s 1996, operatives for Barack Obama filed into a barren hearing room of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

There they began the tedious process of challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of state Sen. Alice Palmer, the longtime progressive activist from the city’s South Side. And they kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama’s four Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.

Fresh from his work as a civil rights lawyer and head of a voter registration project that expanded access to the ballot box, Obama launched his first campaign for the Illinois Senate saying he wanted to empower disenfranchised citizens.

But in that initial bid for political office, Obama quickly mastered the bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics. His overwhelming legal onslaught signaled his impatience to gain office, even if that meant elbowing aside an elder stateswoman like Palmer.

A close examination of Obama’s first campaign clouds the image he has cultivated throughout his political career: The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field, but by clearing it.

One of the candidates he eliminated, long-shot contender Gha-is Askia, now says that Obama’s petition challenges belied his image as a champion of the little guy and crusader for voter rights.

“Why say you’re for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates?” Askia said. “He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?”

In a recent interview, Obama granted that “there’s a legitimate argument to be made that you shouldn’t create barriers to people getting on the ballot.”

But the unsparing legal tactics were justified, he said, by obvious flaws in his opponents’ signature sheets. “To my mind, we were just abiding by the rules that had been set up,” Obama recalled.

You Democrats are so mad at the will of the people getting overcome in Florida in 2000?  Well, it’s time for you to demonstrate the totality of your selective outrage yet again, because your glorious candidate of hope and change used crushing tactics to neutralize the clear will of the people.

The Chicago Tribune article addresses Obama’s own reservations about the tactic that he would come to fully embrace:

At the time, though, Obama seemed less at ease with the decision, according to aides. They said the first-time candidate initially expressed reservations about using challenges to eliminate all his fellow Democrats.

“He wondered if we should knock everybody off the ballot. How would that look?” said Ronald Davis, the paid Obama campaign consultant whom Obama referred to as his “guru of petitions.”

In the end, Davis filed objections to all four of Obama’s Democratic rivals at the candidate’s behest.

While Obama didn’t attend the hearings, “he wanted us to call him every night and let him know what we were doing,” Davis said, noting that Palmer and the others seemed unprepared for the challenges.

Obama defended his use of ballot maneuvers, arguing, “If you can win, you should win and get to work doing the people’s business.”

So Obama won by elimimating candidates Marc Ewell and Gha-is Askia in addition to Alice Parker.  Ewell filed a federal lawsuit contesting the election board’s decision, but Obama’s personal friend and fellow Harvard Law graduate Thomas Johnson intervened on Obama’s behalf and prevailed when Ewell’s case was dismissed days later.

Askia said, he was dismayed Obama would use such tactics.  “It wasn’t honorable,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done it.”  He said the Obama team challenged every single one of his petitions on “technicalities.”  If names were printed instead of signed in cursive writing, they were declared invalid. If signatures were good but the person gathering the signatures wasn’t properly registered, those petitions also were thrown out.  Askia came up 69 signatures short of the required number to be on the ballot.

So don’t you dare say anything nasty about George W. Bush and Florida, you liberal hypocrites.

And please stop whining about “the Right-wing political attack machine,” while you’re at it.

Please try to remember that the phrase, “The politics of personal destruction,” was coined to describe the vicious personal attacks the Clintons used over and over again to personally as well as politically destroy their opponents.

Democrats have more than enough blood on their hands that you would think they would feel more than a little bit self-conscious to point out the tactics of their opposition, but, no.  It’s a little like combining the conscience of a rattlesnake with the brazennous of a street hooker.

“He came from Chicago politics,” Jay Stewart [of Chicago’s Better Government Association] said. “Politics ain’t beanbag, as they say in Chicago. You play with your elbows up, and you’re pretty tough and ruthless when you have to be. Sen. Obama felt that’s what was necessary at the time, that’s what he did. Does it fit in with the rhetoric now? Perhaps not.”

Perhaps not“?

Let’s include the opinion of someone who demonstrates a little more honesty, veteran Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass:

Kass, the Chicago Tribune columnist, said the national media are naive when it comes to Chicago politics, which is a serious business.

He said they have bought into a narrative that Obama is strictly a reformer. The truth, Kass says, is that he is a bare-knuckled politician. And using the rules to win his first office is part of who Obama is.

“It’s not the tactics of ‘let’s all people come together and put your best ideas forward and the best ideas win,’ ” Kass said. “That’s the spin; that’s in the Kool-Aid. You can have some. Any flavor. But the real deal was, get rid of Alice Palmer.
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“There are those who think that registering people to vote and getting them involved in politics and then using this tactic in terms of denying Alice Palmer the right to compete, that these things are inconsistent. And guess what? They are. They are inconsistent. But that’s the politics he plays.”

My problem isn’t so much with Obama’s past tactics so much as with his message in light of those tactics, and in light of his past associations.

It’s bad enough that Barack Obama lectures us on race relations only after having been caught spending the past 23 years in as toxic of a racial environment as well, fellow Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

But to emerge from brutally and cynically stealing an office from a far more popular incumbent candidate and then calling yourself “the candidate of hope and change” is not only morally vacuous, but calls upon Americans to abandon their intelligence and common sense for smarmy, self-serving rhetoric.

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