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Illinois State Senator Barack Obama rejects any “suggestion” that “inclusion of my name” on a Democratic Leadership Council/New Democrats membership list amounts to “an endorsement on my part of the DLC platform.”
In a June 13 letter to The Black Commentator, the Black candidate for U.S. Senate defended his civil liberties, anti-war, and social welfare legislative record, and requested “that folks take the time to find out what my views are before they start questioning my passion for justice or the integrity of my campaign effort.”
Specifically, State Senator Obama maintains that an October 2002 anti-war speech was removed from his campaign web site because “the speech was dated once the formal phase of the war was over, and my staff's desire to continually provide fresh news clips.” The speech was returned to the site following Associate Editor Bruce A. Dixon’s June 5 commentary, “In Search of the Real Barack Obama: Can a Black Senate candidate resist the DLC?” in which Mr. Dixon remarked, “Somebody else's brand of politics appears to have intruded on Obama's campaign.”
The “somebody” Dixon had in mind was, of course, the DLC/New Democrats.
Dixon, a Chicagoan currently living in Atlanta, also authored ’s June 12 Cover Story, “Muzzling the African American Agenda – with Black Help: The DLC’s corporation dollars of destruction.” Dixon traced the DLC’s founding in the mid-Eighties as a mainly southern white response to minority and union influence in the Party, to its current dominance in the party’s national structures, based largely on the DLC’s role as broker of corporate contributions to candidates and incumbents. Dixon wrote:
“The DLC's mission is to erase the last vestiges of social democracy from the Democratic Party, so that the corporate consensus will never again be challenged in the United States. Acting as a Republican Trojan Horse in the bowels of the Democratic machinery, the DLC claims the "real" party lives somewhere off to the right, where George Bush dwells, and that minorities, unionists, environmentalists, feminists, men and women of peace - virtually every branch of the party except corporatists - must be purged or muzzled.”
State Senator Obama says he “didn’t object to the DLC's inclusion of my name on their list.” That is precisely the problem, from which all suspicions reasonably flow. As we wrote in our September 19, 2002 “Trojan Horse Watch”:
“Every African American politician associated with the DLC should be considered suspect, and closely watched. There is no reason for them to be there except to make deals with the party's right wing - which believes that Gore lost the 2000 election largely because he became too closely identified with Blacks and labor.”
Rather than tiptoe around the edges of the issue, we are presenting State Sen. Obama with three “bright line” policy questions that will determine definitively if he has any good reason to belong to the DLC. But first, his letter in its entirety:
Dear Black Commentator:
I read with interest, and some amusement, Bruce Dixon's recent article regarding my campaign, and his suggestion that perhaps my positions on critical issues facing this country are somehow being corrupted by the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Given that Bruce [and I] worked together back in 1992 to empower communities through organizing and the ballot box, I wish he'd taken the time to give me a call and check out his facts.
To begin with, neither my staff nor I have had any direct contact with anybody at DLC since I began this campaign a year ago. I don't know who nominated me for the DLC list of 100 rising stars, nor did I expend any effort to be included on the list beyond filling out a three line questionnaire asking me to describe my current political office, my proudest accomplishment, and my cardinal rules of politics. Since my mother taught me not to reject a compliment when it's offered, I didn't object to the DLC's inclusion of my name on their list. I certainly did not view such inclusion as an endorsement on my part of the DLC platform.
As for Bruce's larger point -- that I've begun to water down my criticisms of the Bush administration during this early phase of my campaign -- I'd invite him to join me on the campaign trail here in Chicago for a couple of days. I'm proud of the fact that I stood up early and unequivocally in opposition to Bush's foreign policy (and was the only U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois to do so). That opposition hasn't changed, and I continue to make it a central part of each and every one of my political speeches. Likewise, I spend much of my time with audiences trying to educate them on the dangers of both the Patriot Act, Patriot Act 2, and the rest of John Ashcroft's assault on the Constitution. The only reason that my original anti-war speech was removed from my website was a judgment that the speech was dated once the formal phase of the war was over, and my staff's desire to continually provide fresh news clips. The "bland" statement that Bruce offers up as an example of my loss of passion wasn't an official statement or speech at all, but a 30 second response to a specific question by Aaron Brown on CNN about the mood of Illinois voters a few days after the war started.
In sum, Bruce's article makes nice copy, but it doesn't reflect the reality of my campaign. Nor does it reflect my track record as a legislator. In the last three months alone, I passed and sent to Illinois governor's desk 25 pieces of major progressive legislation, including groundbreaking laws mandating the videotaping of all interrogations and confessions in capital cases; racial profiling legislation; a new law designed to ease the burden on ex-offenders seeking employment; and a state earned income tax credit that will put millions of dollars directly into the pockets of Illinois' working poor.
As Bruce may tell you, I've always preached the need for elected officials and candidates to be held accountable for their views. I don't exempt myself from that rule. I'd simply ask that folks take the time to find out what my views are before they start questioning my passion for justice or the integrity of my campaign effort. I'm not hard to reach.
In the meantime, I'll talk to my staff about sprucing up the website!
State Senator Barack Obama
Candidate for U.S. Senate
From: The Publishers of The Black Commentator
To: The Honorable Barack Obama
Dear Sen. Obama:
We appreciate your willingness to respond to Bruce Dixon’s June 5 commentary. As the publishers of , we have taken it upon ourselves to reply to your letter in order to make it clear that Dixon’s views are completely in line with our own, and to place the exchange in the context of the central question our publication has raised since its inception: What possible reason could a Black progressive have for joining the DLC?
There is no doubt that you joined of your own accord. Although you minimize the weight of your decision to be listed in the New Democrat Directory, and treat your being featured as one of the DLC’s “100 to Watch” as a simple compliment that even a mother would enjoy, we give you credit for knowing better than that. Al From and the DLC leadership are claiming you as one of their own, for their purposes. We assume that, as an intelligent man and an astute politician, you have your own reasons for linking your name with the DLC. We respect you, and take it as a given that you give a great deal of thought to such public associations.
Dixon did make several calls to your office, although he readily admits that he did not treat the matter as urgent. The fact at the heart of the story – that needs no verification – is that a Black activist/intellectual/politician with previously stellar progressive credentials has joined the main mechanism of corporate, rightwing influence in the Democratic Party. The publishers agree with Dixon that there was no need to justify the piece with a say it ain’t so telephone exercise.
Regarding the comings and goings of the October 30 anti-war speech on your campaign site: Collectively, the publishers of have been in the news business about two-thirds of a century. We are fully aware that campaign sites and literature feature those items that the candidate and his handlers choose to highlight. Placement is reflective of the candidate’s campaign posture, and the subject of intense staff discussion. That’s political journalism 101, not tealeaves. As Bruce Dixon remarked in his response to one of your supporters (“…you Obama basher!“) in ’s June 12 e-Mailbox column, we were “happy” to discover that the truly rousing speech had been restored to the site. “We think this is good news and hope that it still reflects candidate Obama's views,” said Dixon. He looked forward to seeing the text of speeches on the Patriot Act, “secret detentions, summary deportations and the like” featured on the site, especially in light of your renown as a professor of constitutional law.
In your letter, you write that you often speak to audiences on “the dangers of both the Patriot Act, Patriot Act 2, and the rest of John Ashcroft's assault on the Constitution.” We do not doubt that this is true. However, as veteran political observers we also know that the candidate’s most carefully crafted public persona is reflected in his literature. If it’s not on the site, then experience tells us that the campaign is downplaying the issue.
You should be neither “surprised” nor “amused” that a progressive Black publication puts you, a former “top notch, progressive political organizer,” under scrutiny. You have joined the DLC! What else could you have possibly expected?
Rather than dither on the periphery of the matter, we are posing three “bright line” questions to you, that should determine whether you belong in the DLC, or not:
1. Do you favor the withdrawal of the United States from NAFTA? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?
2. Do you favor the adoption of a single payer system of universal health care to extend the availability of quality health care to all persons in this country? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?
3. Would you have voted against the October 10 congressional resolution allowing the president to use unilateral force against Iraq?
We believe you are likely to answer, “Yes” to all three of these questions. If that is true, you favor positions that are anathema to the leadership of the Democratic Leadership Council, and have misplaced yourself.
We call these “bright line” questions because DLC leadership has been unequivocal in their support of NAFTA, opposition to anything resembling national health insurance, and fervently in support of the Iraq war – basic issues of war and peace, life and death, and livelihood.
The DLC was the principal voice inside the Democratic Party advocating the North American Free Trade Agreement, which led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. A majority of Democrats opposed DLCer Bill Clinton’s treaty in 1993. The DLC minority joined with Republicans, insisting that “NAFTA will create jobs…” (New Democrats Online, September 13, 1993) and would not “…substantially alter the existing rules of investment for U.S. companies seeking to lower their costs with cheap labor” (NDOL, October 1, 1993).
Unrepentant, the Democratic Leadership Council has been unmoved by the spectacle of corporations extorting zoning, tax, pollution and regulatory breaks from their host communities and gutting wages, benefits and pensions of US workers under the threat of relocation. As recently as last year the DLC continued to champion “fast track” authority for a Republican president, and objected strenuously to even the tiniest weakening (see American Prospect, July 2002) of NAFTA’s infamous Chapter 11, which lets corporations invalidate union contracts or the zoning, banking, wage and hour, safety or environmental regulations of any state or country it deems “inconsistent with free trade” in secret international courts where the public is not represented.
Universal health insurance/care:
The Democratic Leadership Council unequivocally opposes anything that smells like a national health insurance plan, let alone single payer. Here’s what DLC founder and chief honcho Al From thinks of Rep. Dick Gephardt’s proposal to let private insurers extend health care coverage to everyone, financed by federal tax credits:
notes with approval your sponsorship of the Bernardin Amendment in the Illinois Senate. Authored by Dr. Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Care Plan, and Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, the legislation would enshrine a constitutional right to quality health care for everyone in that state. Needless to say the amendment has yet to pass.
We imagine that you’d want to advance the same goal in the U.S. Senate. Should you do so – or support any form of national health insurance – you will then become an object of scorn to the DLC, as a vector of “the pander virus.”
In the April 15 issue of the DLC house organ Blueprints, DLC founder Al From starts off likening the arguments of antiwar Democrats to what he calls the “blatantly anti-American sentiments of student radicals and the hard left” of the Vietnam era, and warns Democrats that they will suffer “guilt-by-failure-to-disassociate” with such types. He next endorses the president’s illegal war and occupation of Iraq and summons Democrats to do the same:
“Democrats must overcome both their own and the opposition's partisan instincts…. The president's decision to prosecute this war without explicit authorization from the United Nations was a close call, but it was the right call.”
This is the company you have chosen to keep. The DLC will gather hundreds of “New Democrats” for display at its “National Conversation” in Philadelphia, July 19. You are among the DLC’s “100 to Watch” in 2003. They are doubtless expecting you.
Your record gives no indication that you are compatible with this “Mother of All Trojan Horses” inside the Democratic Party, as Bruce Dixon puts it. Early in your letter, you say that you did not “expend any effort to be included on the [DLC] list beyond filling out a three line questionnaire asking me to describe my current political office, my proudest accomplishment, and my cardinal rules of politics.” This is quite a different DLC affiliation process than the one described by Robert Dreyfuss in his American Prospect article:
To ensure that liberals don't slip through the cracks, NDN requires each politician who seeks entree to its largesse and contacts to fill out a questionnaire that asks his or her views on trade, economics, education, welfare reform, and other issues. The questions are detailed, forcing candidates to state clearly whether or not they support views associated with the New Democrat Coalition, and it concludes by asking, "Will you join the NDC when you come to Congress?" Next, [the DLC] interviews each candidate, and then NDN determines which candidacies are viable before providing
Trusting your word and knowing Dreyfuss to be a very good reporter, we must conclude that Al From and his crew value your presence in the DLC very highly, and therefore spared you the full corporate shakeout. Apparently, they were quite eager to recruit a Black progressive willing to step across some very “bright lines” to adorn the literature of an organization that opposes his own core political positions.
Should you answer our questions on NAFTA, universal health care and the Iraq war in the affirmative, there is no honorable option available to you but to publicly withdraw from the DLC.
We respectfully await your reply
- The Publishers of The Black Commentator
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