Politics & Policy

Ask Obama

Presidential queries.

Sen. Barack Obama has received the most fawning media coverage of any serious presidential contender in memory. Although several news stories in the past week have suggested that the press is now poised to demand greater specificity and pierce the senator’s vaporous rhetoric, he continues to float along on a stump platform consisting mostly of hope, unity, and leadership.

Should members of the media bestir themselves from their full swoon, they may feel obliged to offer the public a more concrete version of this candidate.

To that end, the media may commence by posing the many questions Senator Obama has not adequately addressed. Here are a few they might consider.

1. You’ve stated that as president you’d transcend the sharp partisanship that pervades Washington, but you favor a rapid pullout from Iraq, plan significant tax increases, oppose any and all restrictions on abortions, and favor Supreme Court justices in the mold of Stephen Breyer — positions strongly opposed by most Republicans. Accordingly, on which of these issues would you be willing to compromise, and to what extent? Which Democrats do you think would give a little, and how would you convince them? How would you get interest groups and donors to go along?

2. Do you dispute the National Journal’s assessment that you’re the nation’s most liberal senator? If you do, which senators do you consider to be more liberal, and why?

3. Could you please cite three things you’ve done as senator to help win the war in Iraq?

4. Your campaign stresses your leadership abilities. Please provide specific examples of your leadership, either in the Senate or Illinois legislature, on the following issues: The War on Terror, taxes, immigration, health care, energy, and education.

5. Recently, one of your supporters appearing on the cable news show Hardball seemed blindsided when asked to name one of your legislative accomplishments. Please identify each and every Senate bill you’ve authored that has been passed by Congress. Also explain any benefits the country has derived from your legislation.

6. Stephen Moore calculates that your tax increases would result in a 52.2 percent income and payroll tax. Moore also states that your estate tax would be 55 percent, the dividends tax 39.6 percent, and the capital gains rate 28 percent. Do you dispute these numbers? If so, please provide your respective rates.

7. You admit that you won’t extend the Bush tax cuts. What’s the highest personal-income-tax rate you’d support?

8. You’ve been campaigning on a theme of “change,” yet your stated positions on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, taxes, education, income redistribution, affirmative action, tort reform, and reducing poverty aren’t appreciably distinguishable from the positions Democrats have maintained over the last 40 years. What specifically would you change, beyond shifting nomenclature and tinkering around the edges?

9. When asked about posters of Che Guevara and the flag of Communist Cuba that were hanging in two of your campaign offices, you described the displays as “inappropriate.” Would you use the same adjective if it had been a picture of Pol Pot and the flag of the Khmer Rouge, P.W. Botha and the flag of apartheid South Africa, or Mullah Omar and the Taliban?

10. Which of the following, do you maintain, poses the greatest threat to America? Please list in descending order of danger: Global warming, lack of health insurance, radical Islamic terrorism, loss of manufacturing jobs, and nationalist Russia. As president, to which threat would you devote the most energy and resources?

11. You advocate a rapid pullout from Iraq, voted against FISA reauthorization, support unconditional negotiations with state sponsors of terrorism, oppose offering lawsuit protection to telecommunications companies that help the government monitor communications by suspected terrorists, and demand that Guantanamo be closed. Given our enemies’ mindset, isn’t it likely that they’d interpret your record as a sign of weakness — thereby strengthening their resolve and/or increasing the probability of attack?

12. There’s a good chance that sometime during the next administration, Iran will have the ability to produce nuclear weapons. Will you permit this to happen? If not, (without divulging specific tactics) what would you do to prevent it?

13. The Clinton campaign insinuates that you’re an empty suit. What’s the most important bill that you’ve authored on each of the following issues?: Health care. Intelligence. Education. Anti-terrorism.

14. You maintain that the Constitution is a “living document” that must be interpreted in the context of the times. Given the times in which they were decided, why wouldn’t your interpretive approach justify Plessy, Lochner, and Korematsu?

15. During the February 21 Democratic debate, you stated that “Washington, D.C., is where good ideas go to die” due to the influence of special interests and lobbyists. Please recite three instances in which you, as senator, stood up to left-leaning special interest groups. Please include only significant substantive concerns of such groups, not, for example, whether you should appear on Fox News.

16. While in the Illinois state legislature you voted against the Induced Birth Infant Liability Act, a measure designed to prevent abortion providers from withholding care and sustenance from infants who survive abortion attempts. Please explain your criteria for providing sustenance to certain infants but not others. Also, at what point after birth is a baby who survives an abortion entitled to protection? Does your rationale apply to any other babies that are born but unwanted?

17. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and other intelligence experts maintain that failure to pass FISA reauthorization prevents our intelligence agencies from monitoring communications by terrorists in foreign countries regarding plots against our country formed after February 15. You voted against reauthorization. Why shouldn’t voters conclude that you’re less than serious about national security?

18. You maintain that the surge is a “complete failure” and that it hasn’t produced stability or political reconciliation. Yet for several months now, most objective accounts have shown that the surge has produced a dramatic reduction in violence, Iraq is becoming stable (albeit tentatively so), and significant political progress is occurring. Why do you refuse to acknowledge these facts, and why do you insist on pulling out of Iraq on the verge of what could be a significant and historic victory? Why shouldn’t voters infer that winning the war may be less important to you than scoring political points?

19. You support giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and letting them participate in the Social Security system. Why won’t this encourage more illegal immigrants to come to the U.S.?

20. Could you please describe how your policies on Iraq, national security, taxes, immigration, education, and global warming differ substantively from those of Rep. Dennis Kucinich?

These and other questions form the corpus of inquiry necessary to form good judgments about a man who might be president. Americans have a choice to make this fall, but so far, they don’t know much about Obama beyond “hope” and “change.” The media must get to work, posing tougher and more artful questions to this manifestly evasive candidate.

 – Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights. These comments do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.

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