Holding Barack Obama Accountable
February 14, 2008
By Bruce Dixon. BAR Managing Editor
Whether it is truly possible to hold elected officials accountable in a political system where big money, big media, big corporations and the very rich call all the shots is uncertain. But we have tried and will keep trying. So will others. The stakes are too high not to.
How We Held Obama's Feet to the Fire in 2003
Although close friends and confidants had been talking up a run for national office since the early 1990s, Barack Obama in 2003 was still an Illinois state senator running in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. This reporter, a longtime and former Chicago community and political organizer, had worked with Obama in 1992's highly successful Project VOTE Illinois registration drive. After moving to Georgia in 2000, I managed to keep in touch with events at home, and was well aware of Obama's run for the US Senate.
While researching a story on the Democratic Leadership Council for the internet magazine Black Commentator in April and May of 2003, I ran across the DLC's '100 to Watch' list for 2003, in which Barack Obama was prominently featured as one of the DLC's favorite 'rising stars'. This was ominous news because the DLC was and still is the right wing's Trojan Horse inside the Democratic party.
The DLC exists to guarantee that wealthy individuals and corporations who make large campaign donations have more say in the Democratic party than do flesh and blood Democratic voters. The DLC achieves this by closely examining and questioning the records, the policy stands and the persons of officeholders and candidates to ensure that they are safe and worthy recipients of elite largesse. The DLC also supplies them with right wing policy advisers beholden to those same interests, and hooks up approved candidates with the big money donors.
Then as now, the DLC favors bigger military budgets and more imperial wars, wholesale privatization of government functions including social security, and in so-called 'free trade' agreements like NAFTA which are actually investor rights agreements. Evidently, the giant insurance companies, the airlines, oil companies, Wall Street, military contractors and others had closely examined and vetted Barack Obama and found him pleasing.
I revisited Obama's primary election campaign web site, something I had not done for a month or two. To my dismay I found the 2002 antiwar speech, the same one which Barack Obama touts to this day as evidence of his antiwar backbone and prescience, which had been prominently featured before, had vanished from his web site, along with all other evidence that Obama had ever taken a plain spoken stand against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. With the president riding high in the polls, and Illinois' Black and antiwar vote safely in his pocket, Obama appeared to be running away from his opposition to the war, and from the Democratic party's base. Free, at last.
After calls to Obama's campaign office yielded no satisfactory answers, we published an article in the June 5, 2003 issue of Black Commentator effectively calling Barack Obama out. We drew attention to the disappearance of any indication that U.S. Senate candidate Obama opposed the Iraq war at all from his web site and public statements. We noted with consternation that the Democratic Leadership Council, the right wing Trojan Horse inside the Democratic party, had apparently vetted and approved Obama, naming him as one of its "100 to Watch" that season. This is what real journalists are supposed to do --- fact check candidates, investigate the facts, tell the truth to audiences and hold the little clay feet of politicians and corporations to the fire.
Facing the possible erosion of his base among progressive Democrats in Illinois, Obama contacted us. We printed his response in Black Commentator's June 19 issue and queried the candidate on three "bright line" issues that clearly distinguish between corporate- funded DLC Democrats and authentic progressives. We concluded the dialog by printing Obama's response on June 26, 2003. For the convenience of our readers in 2007, all three of these articles can be found here.
It was our June 2003 exchange with candidate Obama that prompted him to restore the antiwar speech on his web site, though not as prominently as before, the same antiwar speech which is now touted as evidence of his early and consistent opposition to the war. Our three 'bright line' questions invited him to distinguish himself as an authentic progressive on single payer national health care, on the war in Iraq, and on NAFTA. And it was our public exposure of the fact and implications of the DLC's embrace of Obama's career which caused him to explicitly renounce any formal ties with the Democratic Leadership Council. We didn't do it because we were haters. We were doing our duty as agitators.
Holding Barack Obama Accountable in 2008
That was then. This is now.