Barack Obama, For Real

Bill Steigerwald
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Posted: Sep 05, 2008 12:14 PM
Barack Obama, For Real

National Review political reporter David Freddoso hasn’t thrown the first unfriendly book through the stained-glass windows of the Barack Obama crusade. And “The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate” (Regnery) is still mostly being ignored by the mainstream news media -- despite hitting No. 5 on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. But Freddoso’s look into Sen. Obama’s political and ideological past has been billed as the first serious, factual and well-reasoned negative biography of the Illinois senator whose ascension to the White House no longer looks as predestined as it once did. I talked to Freddoso on Wednesday by phone from Denver, where the 31-year-old self-described conservative-libertarian was covering the Democratic National Convention for his magazine.

Q: Can you give us a quick synopsis of your book?

A: The idea that Sen. Obama is a reformer, an agent of positive change, is really a great lie that his entire record falsifies. He’s also someone who is not nearly as ideologically reasonable and flexible as he makes himself appear. And in his relationships, he’s shown very, very poor judgment repeatedly.

Q: How is Obama a fake?

A: Sen. Obama’s claims to stand for change are very well known. What’s less known is his record and the way that in Chicago he’s worked against bipartisan reform pretty much anytime he’s had an opportunity to do something either for or against it. In Chicago, there is a political tension between reform Democrats and machine Democrats. Sen. Obama has always aligned with the machine Democrats. All of his endorsements go to machine Democrats. When liberals and conservatives come together to defeat machine candidates -- as they did in 2006 with the Cook County board president election, which is one of the first examples I discuss in my book, because it’s so dramatic -- Sen. Obama works against them. The pattern throughout his life is very unmistakable: Sen. Obama’s pattern of working against bipartisan reform and accommodating himself to whatever political culture of corruption he finds himself in in any given environment -- it’s a very consistent and unmistakable record. It carries through Chicago, Springfield and Washington, as well.

Q: In terms of his ideology or political beliefs, Sen. Obama has been influenced or hung around with left-wing radicals like Bill Ayers and his wife and Frank Marshall Davis, an old Communist Party USA member he was introduced to as a mentor at age 10 in Hawaii. Is there clear evidence that Obama is a true-believing leftist today?

A: Every now and then he says something that I think reveals that influence. For example, his comments now about how he’ll be attacked for not looking like the presidents on the dollar bill – his injection of race into the campaign – is something that might perhaps come from the influence of someone like Davis. Davis told him that he could never trust white people completely. I don’t think that Sen. Obama has lived by that all his life, but I can’t help but think he was influenced by his mentors as a youth.

When he went to San Francisco and talked about “bitter voters in Pennsylvania clinging to their guns and religion,” he was paraphrasing one his great radical influences, Saul Alinsky, who wrote in “Rules for Radicals” almost exactly the same thing about the middle classes. He wrote that they are very confused about life. They become bitter. They cling to fixed points that are illusory and yet very real to them. They begin wasting their time on such things as flag-waving patriotism, etc. And you can’t disabuse them of their religious beliefs because they will react violently if you question them. That’s Alinsky’s critique of the middle class, and that’s actually Obama’s critique of rural America and American voters – a very condescending, patronizing critique that he offers.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

A: It struck me that there was almost no good information floating around about Sen. Obama, because the sources we had were himself, his books about himself and his own campaign. And then you had people who were out there trying to spread false rumors and innuendo on the Internet about him -- saying things like that he was a secret Muslim; that he was sworn in on the Quran; that he doesn’t salute the flag and he’s not really a U.S. citizen. All those things are false. But I just felt that the news media had done a really poor job of examining the man’s real record. The result was that all the information was falsehoods -- positive falsehoods about him and negative ones.

As someone who has covered Congress for seven years, I felt -- it grated against everything that I believed in to see people worship a politician this way. I see these guys all the time, and none of them deserves the kind of worship they are given, the kind of piety, the kind of adulation that they give Sen. Obama. I know a lot more about these guys than some people do, perhaps, and I never thought that politicians were that good from either party or that there were that many you could really honor as honest and upstanding people. So I thought a real examination of Sen. Obama’s record was appropriate and just hadn’t been done by anyone.

Q: Was it difficult to find out the details of Sen. Obama’s relationship with the Chicago political machine and the other less-than-saintly aspects of his politics and career?

A: There are quite a few new things in my book that people won’t have read anywhere else. But what I was really surprised by is how much the Chicago press had already produced that was being ignored by the Washington and New York media. It is amazing how that town works. All you have to do is start going through back issues of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. The national media has so ignored the Chicago press. … The Chicago press is replete with Obama knowledge and no one is bothering to read it. I wanted to give them their due and I really wanted to tell all the stories that they had told as part of the book. Their understanding of the politics of their town is very keen and very useful in understanding the real Obama.

Q: What’s the most damning thing you say in your book about Obama’s character?

A: The most damning thing about his character is probably the two examples in which he may have used government to make himself wealthy. The one was an earmark he gave his wife’s employer, the University of Chicago Medical Center, which came shortly after she received a $200,000 raise. The other one was an instance that was reported by the Los Angeles Times in April, in which Obama and his staff helped arrange for one of his donors and law clients (who had just paid him $112,000) to get $320,000 in state grants to hold a ping-pong tournament for his ping-pong apparel company called Killerspin. If someone can explain to me how that’s not impropriety, I’d be very interested.

Q: What the most damning thing you say about Obama’s ideology or belief system?

A: Sen. Obama promised to a gathering of Planned Parenthood last July that his first act as president – and that’s what he said, “my first act” -- won’t be to bring home the troops from Iraq, or to set up a government health care system or any of the other things that Barack Obama has promised. The Number One thing, the top priority, his first act, is to sign a bill called the Freedom of Choice Act, which re-legalizes partial-birth abortion, among other things. Fine. People have all kinds of opinions about abortion. People are pretty much in agreement about partial-birth abortion – that they don’t want it. But that will be his first priority, and that he would go so far as to pander to Planned Parenthood and say that at their gathering last July, is really, really amazing to me. You can watch him say it on YouTube, by the way.

Q: What do you like or appreciate about Obama now that you didn’t before you began your book?

A: Sen. Obama is an excellent writer. I thought I’d read through “Dreams from My Father” and think that it was some kind of lousy, mediocre book by a celebrity. I didn’t realize when I began reading it that he wrote this as a memoir when he was 33 years old. In fact, I had started reading it a couple years ago, not realizing the context of it. When I sat down to read it and fill it up with Post-it notes and underlines and everything, I realized that this is really a well-written piece of work and that it was very reflective. I think that the Obama who wrote that book is a lot more reflective than the politician today.

Q: How has your book been received by the mainstream liberal media?

A: The first review that I received was from Politico (politico.com), who called my book a “serious” and “fact-based” account of Sen. Obama’s political career. Generally speaking, the mainstream media have ignored me -- although they have had to at least acknowledge that my book contains facts in it and isn’t a compilation of viral Internet smears (laughs). The Obama campaign has tried, without actually mentioning my book, to say it is cut from the same cloth as some of the other things out there, which I think is unfair. I wish they would mention me more often and do it by name, because I really want people to learn about Sen. Obama. I’m telling everyone who will listen about Sen. Obama everywhere I go. I really hope my book can start a national conversation that is not limited to people who already are going to vote against Sen. Obama.

Q: What’s the most important thing about Sen. Obama that you have learned that every voter should know by November?

A: Just because I’d like to see this fact in print, because I am surprised how many people don’t know it, I am willing to offer this as an answer: I want people to know that Sen. Obama won his first election by throwing all of his opponents off the ballot. It’s a story I cover in my first chapter, and it’s something that Sen. Obama is so embarrassed about that he wrote a completely fictitious account of his first election in 1996 in his (2006) book “The Audacity of Hope.”

Q: Do you think Sen. Obama will lose or win and what do you suspect will ultimately do him in if he loses?

A: I don’t know what the results are going to be, and it’s really too early to make predictions. But Sen. Obama has shown in the primaries a tendency to fade near the end of an election. As I explored his earlier elections, you don’t find any that were competitive. From his 1996 election, his 1998 election, the race he lost in 2000 and then the one he won in 2004, each either had special circumstances that helped him win or they were uncompetitive – he knew he was going to win or in the case of the congressional one, he knew he was going to lose. Running his first serious competitive campaign, Sen. Obama faded at the end and let Hillary Clinton win all of the big primaries. He also seems, perhaps, in this election – the general (presidential) election -- to have peaked early and is fading.

I will be very interested to see what kind of bounce he gets from the convention. If he’s not way ahead after this thing, I really think he is a goner right off the bat; he is underperforming his party in all the polls -- this is a Democrat year and Obama is not winning. And people are starting to talk about his real record – for the first time, maybe. The more we hear about that -- the more human he becomes, the less messianic -- the more people are going to demand that he show them that there is anything sincere about what he says – which I think he’ll have a very hard time doing.