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Change That’s Unbelievable

David Freddoso's book on Barack Obama may be the one we've been waiting for.

By 8.7.08

From the cheering hordes at his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston to the enthralled 200,000 who turned out for his speech at Berlin's Victory Column, Barack Obama's followers have been numerous, loud, and loyal. Most of all, though, they have been unquestioning.

It has been a little harder to follow Obama so blithely since Monday, when National Review Online reporter David Freddoso's The Case Against Barack Obama hit the bookstands. Freddoso reviews Obama's history, from his earliest political experiences as state senator in Illinois to his maneuvers in the general election campaign, to convince America that Obama is not everything they -- and the doting media -- want him to be. He highlights Obama's engagement in Chicago-style dirty politics, his hard-line liberalism, and his utter lack of a reform or bipartisan resume.

David generously devoted some of his time recently to discuss his book with TAS.

TAS: What are a few things that people should but don't know about Obama?

David Freddoso: The broad pattern with Obama is that he's not the reformer he's claimed to be in this election. His whole message of hope and change is a carefully crafted one. It's designed to give people an impression that he's something different from what you typically see in politics. In fact, if you look at his record both in his dealings and the alliances he's made in Chicago, and in the kind of legislation he pushed in Springfield and in Washington, you see a pattern of Senator Obama always choosing to get along rather than fight for positive change. So this idea of him as an agent of positive change is a false one.

The first thing that I go into in The Case Against Barack Obama is what it means to say that Chicago politics is dirty and how Senator Obama has helped to keep it that way, through the endorsements he's made and the alliances he's forged with various Chicago machine politicians, Mayor Daley being the principal, but others as well. I'm afraid the national press just doesn't pay enough attention to the Chicago press. If it did, I seriously doubt that Obama would be the Democratic nominee. His ties there go well beyond this business about Tony Rezko.

TAS: Does Obama ever take a bold stand?

DF: Although Senator Obama usually does pick the easy way when he's faced with a choice between doing something difficult in the name of change and reform and getting along with a corrupt systemic arrangement, there were a couple times in his career when he took a risk and stuck his neck out. The two noteworthy ones were his speech against the Iraq War in 2002, and when he was the only state senator to speak out against the bill that would have protected premature babies from being left to die after they survived abortion. And that one, I don't think, is very praiseworthy.

It is interesting that that's the time he chose to stick his neck out politically and do something that might prove politically damaging to himself; to promote an extreme abortion agenda that even people like Senator Barbara Boxer would not support. And in fact she would end up voting for the same piece of legislation at the federal level, which passed unanimously.

TAS: What motivated you to write this book?

DF: I had done some coverage of Senator Obama in the past, going back to his 2004 election, and one of the stories I recounted in the book is how I interviewed his opponent. John Gizzi and I sat him [Republican candidate Jack Ryan] down for lunch, and he basically lied to us about what was going to happen. Jack Ryan was forced out of that race when really embarrassing revelations came out of his divorce files. But the real motivation for doing this now was to watch how the media was treating Senator Obama.

TAS: What do you dislike about the mainstream media coverage of Obama?

DF: First of all, you have a very amusing and at times just absurd love fest, where people are talking about him as the word transcending flesh and Chris Matthews is saying that Obama sends a thrill running up his leg. You have that Newsweek story back in May -- a story written and designed by two real political reporters, not columnists -- that immunized him from all criticism. Even now we see a lot of his supporters going to the major media organs and pushing this line that any criticism of him is either racist or the old politics.

Now, Senator Obama is good at the old politics, but it's an absurd idea to think that calling him arrogant for saying that he's a symbol of hope is a racist attack -- it's absolutely not. The Obama campaign has tried -- and a lot of their friends in the media have bought into this idea -- to promote the idea that they deserve to be immune from criticism. I don't understand why they would deserve it, but that's the way Senator Obama is being treated.

TAS: Why do you think the media have given him so little scrutiny?

DF: People are buying into this idea that he's someone who's an agent of positive change. But if he is, why hasn't he ever done anything to that end in his entire career? He didn't stick his neck out and fight against the Chicago teachers union to make sure the kids in that town get a decent schooling -- and that's something I go into in depth in The Case Against Barack Obama -- he doesn't stick out his neck to fight against corruption because all of his friends are the problem in Chicago. He doesn't stick out his neck in Washington to change the scene here, which is a very unfortunate and dirty one.

TAS: Can you give me some examples?

DF: Senator Obama votes for bills like the farm bill. He votes for a bridge to nowhere, and ethanol. He votes for and supports, generally, all the special-interest, corrupt systemic arrangements, where corporations are taking the taxpayer for a ride. Senator Obama is an avid supporter for all of these kinds of things, which is something I document in the book. He voted for ethanol twice, then went back and did his land deal with Tony Rezko on the same day: June 15, 2005.

All of these things form a broad pattern. It's not as if he does these things on occasion -- when he endorses the Cook County machine politician in the election it's not an isolated incident; it's something he's done consistently. He attached himself in Springfield at the hip with Emil Jones, the state senate majority leader, who represents precisely this kind of politics.

I believe that very few politicians from either party can claim to be reformers, because reformers usually lose elections. That's something Senator Obama knows and understands. He has never acted as a reformer because he doesn't want to lose elections. He wants to win, and so he sides with the winners, who are in Chicago some really bad people who are not interested in the common good, who definitely put their own interest in front of the public good. Throughout his career Senator Obama has put his parochial interests ahead of the common good.

TAS: Then do you think it's fair for Obama to paint himself as a new kind of politician?

DF: Well, another thing that Senator Obama tries to do with his media campaign is to portray himself as someone who is very open-minded and post-partisan, even post-ideological. And this is also misleading because Senator Obama is someone who is never really swayed on any issue. He'll listen to you and thank you, and then completely ignore everything you have to say.

TAS: Does this explain the Obamacons phenomenon? Why do some conservatives overlook his liberal voting record?

DF: I think there are a lot of conservatives out there who are discouraged about the way things are going right now and think, "Well, if we had someone like Obama, maybe he would listen to what we have to say." In fact there are some prominent ones who have endorsed him and given this line, whether or not it's something they really believe or think, at least it's a plausible explanation.

[When it comes to policy] Senator Obama is not in the least bit persuadable ideologically. He's very rigid and very consistent. Abortion is just one example where he does not favor and will not favor any restriction. He always wants higher taxes. There's almost no tax that I can think of that he's not considering raising as president.

When he changes it's not because he's open-minded, it's because there's a political consideration. He's getting slammed right now on this energy business. You notice that he's finally willing to say, "Well, maybe I'm open to something that might involve drilling, I'd be willing to swallow it." This is because he's getting murdered in the polls over this issue. And he knows what he has to do to win.

Senator Obama's beliefs are very rigid, and that's something I go through and document. He's very liberal -- he was ranked the most liberal senator by National Journal, and it wasn't without reason. He definitely represents his party's ideological left, and he was able to get to the left of Hillary Clinton, which I think says a lot.

TAS: So if he changes on an issue, it's for political expediency. Otherwise he's going to go liberal.

DF: Yes... it's been damage control for him on that one issue [drilling]. It is interesting to see him say, OK, I'm open. Of course, he's said he's open to many things. You read The Audacity of Hope, and you see him talk about how we need to keep an open mind on the issue of abortion. Then you see that when the Supreme Court upholds a very, very, modest loose ban on partial-birth abortion, he denounces it as if it's the worst thing to happen to this country. He wants to re-legalize partial birth abortion in every circumstance, that's his number one priority for the country. He actually said at a Planned Parenthood event last July that the first thing he would do as president is sign a bill that would do that.

So he talks a good game about being open minded, but I could see him becoming president and having a Democratic Congress pass something that has no oil drilling. That would be more typical of the way that he behaves ideologically. He's very much locked into what he believes, and not very much into opposing points of view. If he has to accept something he can, just because he doesn't want to lose the election.

TAS: So should McCain attack him as a flip-flopper or a liberal?

DF: The more important theme is that there's nothing wrong with being a liberal -- lots of people are, and run for office all the time. Maybe Obama's too liberal to win this election, but there are a lot of liberals out there....The real thing Senator Obama is doing is that he's trying to make people think: A) he's not the liberal that he really is, and B) that he's this good government liberal that even conservatives can trust. Both of those are false.

In fact, when liberals and conservatives come together around issues of good government and reform... generally they can count on Obama to be on the opposite side, working against them.

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About the Author

Joseph Lawler, former managing editor of The American Spectator, is editor of Real Clear Policy. Follow him on twitter: @josephlawler.