With the November presidential election just months away, it’s time to examine the views of the two major candidates. In this article, we’re taking an in depth look at the opinions and voting record of Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama on the key issues of Abortion, Gay Rights, the Budget, Jobs & the Economy, Universal Health Care and Homeland Security and Immigration.
While admitting that there is a moral dimension to abortion, Obama calls himself pro-choice and overwhelmingly votes that way. He received a 100% rating on pro-choice votes in 2005, 2006 and 2007 from the National Abortion Rights Action League and a 0% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. In 1997, while serving in the Illinois Legislature, Obama voted against SB 230, which would have banned partial-birth abortion, and against a 2000 measure banning state funding for abortions.
Obama has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will likely make preserving a woman’s right to choose a priority as president. He also supports expanded access to contraception, health information and preventive services to reduce unintended pregnancies. The Senator’s plan is clearly outlined on his website:
Protecting a Women's Right to Choose: Obama will make safeguarding women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn that decision.
Reducing Unintended Pregnancy: Obama will work to reduce unintended pregnancy by guaranteeing equity in contraceptive coverage, providing sex education, and offering rape victims accurate information about emergency contraception.
The Illinois Democrat has also voted to uphold Roe vs. Wade, saying “abortions should be legally available in accordance with Roe,” has voted no on notifying parents of minors who get out of-of-state abortionsand has voted yes on providing 100 million dollars to reduce teen pregnancy by education and contraceptives. Obama has also sponsored legislation providing contraceptives for low-income women, and co-sponsored a bill to ensure access to and funding for contraception.
Barack Obama says he doesn’t believe being gay is a choice, but has angered some progressives with his pragmatic stance on marriage. During Congressional debate, the Illinois Senator opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide, and came out in support of allowing individual states to decide the issue. Declaring that he “personally believes that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Obama at the same time has strongly supported civil unions. In doing so, he has argued that it’s a way to protect equal rights without officially endorsing gay marriage.
In explaining his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Obama said that he supported a strong version of a civil union bill to give gays the “same rights that are conferred at the federal level to persons who are part of the same sex union. He vowed to fight hard to make sure that those rights are available.”
Clearly, for Obama the issue is one of civil rights more than one about marriage or traditional values. In a debate on Gay issues in August of 2007, Obama clarified his stance:
My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word "marriage," which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples, in terms of hospital visitation, in terms of whether or not they can transfer property or Social Security benefits and so forth. I would continue to support a civil union that provides all the benefits that are available for a legally sanctioned marriage.
While not totally equating gay rights with the battle over civil rights, Obama says he does see some parallels.
Budget, Jobs & the Economy:
On the issue of the budget, jobs and the economy, Obama tends to look toward government regulation, rather than the free-market economy to solve some of the economic challenges facing the country. He voted to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour over a two-year period, and involve the government to correct areas in which he says the free-market has failed.
Obama pins much of his plan for getting the U.S. economy back on track to ending the war in Iraq. He says the 12 billion dollars spent per month on the war effort can be put to use at home in areas such as economic growth and universal health care.
Among his specific proposals are tighter regulation of the credit card and mortgage industries, cutting $150 billion dollars in tax savings for the wealthiest Americans and strengthening union and workers rights.
Overall, Obama seems to reject the traditional free market vision of government. In a 2005 commencement address, he described the conservative philosophy of government as a program to:
Give everyone one big refund on their government, divvy it up by individual portions, in the form of tax breaks, hand it out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own education, and so on. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it, Social Darwinism, every man or woman for him or herself. It's a tempting idea, because it doesn't require much thought or ingenuity.
Rather than embrace the free market approach, Obama prefers to see the power of the state as something that can serve the public interest.[xii] Obama also says we can eliminate tax credits that “have outlived their usefulness and close loopholes that let corporations get away without paying taxes.”
Universal Health Care:
Although Hillary Clinton is usually identified with the issue of Universal Health Care, Barack Obama says he supports the concept too:
I believe in universal health care. Every expert has said that anybody who wants health care under my plan will be able to obtain it. President Clinton's own secretary of Labor has said that my plan does more to reduce costs and as a consequence makes sure that the people who need health care right now, all across America, will be able to obtain it. And we do more to reduce costs than any other plan that's been out there.
As with other issues, Obama prefers a government rather than a market-based solution to health care issues. He writes, in “The Audacity of Hope” that:
Given the money we spend on health care, we should be able to provide basic coverage to everyone. But we have to contain costs, including Medicare and Medicaid.
The market alone cannot solve the problem--in part because the market has proven incapable of creating large enough insurance pools to keep costs to individuals affordable. Overall, 20% of all patients account for 80% of the care, and if we can prevent disease or manage their effects, we can dramatically improve outcomes and save money.
With the money saved through increased preventive care and lower administrative and malpractice costs, we would provide a subsidy to low-income families and immediately mandate coverage for all uninsured children.
Unlike Hillary Clinton’s plan, Obama would not mandate coverage for everyone, except children, which would have to be covered. Obama says his plan will create a system so attractive that people will want to sign up for it. Nonetheless, look for more government bureaucracy under an Obama presidency. The Obama plan will create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals who wish to purchase a private insurance plan. The Exchange will act as a watchdog group and create rules and standards for participating insurance plans to ensure fairness and to make individual coverage more affordable and accessible.
Homeland Security and Immigration:
According to his campaign literature, Obama wants a world without nuclear weapons, but will maintain a strong deterrent as long as long as those weapons exist. He promises to take steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear arms and seek dramatic reductions in stockpiles of such weapons and material.
Because of the Iraq war Obama believes the U.S. is no safer now than we were after 9/11. He says the war has “fanned the flames of anti-American sentiment (and) allowed us to neglect the situation in Afghanistan." He has also stated that, because of the Iraq war, Al Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 2001, and poses a significant threat that has to be dealt with.”
Obama has flip-flopped on the Patriot Act, in 2003 promising to oppose it, then voting for it in 2005. Later in 2005 he voted against ending debate on the issue, a position equal to opposing it, but then in March 2006, voted for the Patriot Act reauthorization.
Obama is also on record as opposing the detaining of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, and wanting the facility closed. In addition he does not believe the President has the powers to authorize secret surveillance of terror suspects, would not allow U.S. citizens to be detained as enemy combatants, and believes the U.S. must reach out in dialog to Muslim extremists.
Obama also favors stronger border security and requiring undocumented workers to the back of the line for citizenship behind those who have applied legally. Saying the American people want fairness and justice, Obama calls the idea of deporting the 12 million illegals, “ridiculous,” and not something law enforcement resources should be involved in. Instead, he favors what he calls comprehensive reform by way of the “Dream Act.” That legislation allows children of illegals to grow up as Americans and received a higher education.
On the issue of a border fence, Obama favors a community by community approach, saying: “There may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. Having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that's going to be the better approach.
A Liberal For All Seasons
According to a review of voting records conducted by the National Journal, Barack Obama was the most liberal Democrat in the United States Senate during 2007. After ranking 16th and 10th in 2005 and 2006 respectively, the Journal says the Illnois Senator’s voting record shifted even further to the left in 2007.
An Obama presidency will most likely see an increase in the size and scope of the federal government and higher taxes on individuals and families. As president, Obama will probably be in a position to appoint one or more Supreme Court justices, giving the High Court a leftward tilt that would impact social issues for generations to come.