Saturday, January 26, 2008

More reasons to support Barack Obama

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on January 24th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I discussed Barack Obama’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq, at a time when it was politically popular to support this course of action, as an example of the Senator’s strongly held principles, keen insight and good judgement. I also quoted Senator Obama regarding his vision of America and that its role in the world was to lead by example, words which I said reflected Obama’s belief in America’s unique capacity to inspire people both in America and around the world and to provide leadership through America’s actions rather than its economic and military might.
These are attributes I believe one should look for in a true leader but there are other ways in which Barack Obama has distinguished himself from all of the other Republican and Democratic candidates. Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney as well as Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are all wealthy millionaires who have raised most of their Presidential campaign funds by tapping the wallets of other wealthy party members and in Romney’s case his own personal fortune.
While Barack Obama also has his share of wealthy supporters, Mrs. Clinton has raised the vast majority of her estimated $120 million by soliciting wealthy Democrats and lobbyists for the maximum($2,300 each) that they can contribute to the Democratic primary and General elections. Another source of much of Clinton’s campaign cash has been Political Action Committees (PACS) which are used by Washington lobbyists to funnel money to candidates they believe will be friendly to the interests they represent should they be elected. Hillary also transferred millions of dollars left over from her 2006 Senate campaign to her Presidential campaign fund.
By contrast, Senator Obama did not have any funds from his 2004 US Senate campaign to use as seed money for a Presidential bid. So the estimated $100 million Obama has used for his Democratic Presidential campaign was raised without transferring funds from any other campaign fund and includes no money from federal lobbyists or PACs because he has refused to accept such money. Furthermore, very few of Obama’s supporters have yet given the $2,300 maximum allowed by US law because the vast majority of his campaign donors are not wealthy Americans.
This contrast in sources of financial support for their political campaigns is also reflected in the large numbers of grassroots supporters Barack Obama has drawn to his campaign for the Presidency. Senator Obama has received considerable media attention for his use of the internet to help build a base of over 450,000 financial contributors during the first nine months of his campaign. This figure is more than double the number of campaign donors Hillary Clinton has tapped to raise a similar amount of campaign funds and more than triple the number of supporters any of the other candidates have received donations from.
With average donations in the hundreds rather than thousands of dollars and no funds from PACs and lobbyists, it would appear to me that Senator Obama will be much more likely to propose policies and legislation that is truly in the best interests of all Americans rather than wealthy Americans, business lobbyists and other special interest groups. None of the other Republican or Democratic candidates can back up their claims that they will not be subject to undue influence by special interests with the kind of actions Senator Obama has taken to insulate himself and his Presidential campaign from the political influence wealthy contributors are always seeking to buy.
For the sake of argument, I will use Mrs. Clinton to illustrate my point about some of the ways you can buy influence with gifts or donations to politicians and their family members. Back in President Clinton’s days as Governor of Arkansas, Hillary Clinton earned more than $100,000 a year from her law firm and from serving as a corporate director. A U.S. cement maker named Lafarge paid her $31,000 a year to serve as one of its directors while her husband Bill was earning $35,000 a year serving as Governor of the State of Arkansas. Well, just before Clinton was elected President, the US Environmental Protection Agency fined Lafarge $1.8 million for pollution violations at one of its cement plants. Would it surprise you to know that the Clinton administration reduced that fine to less than $600,000 the very next year?
Did you know that even though US Senators are required by law to disclose gifts they receive on their ethics report, they don’t have to disclose gifts that are given to their spouses? That means Hillary Clinton didn’t have to report the flag shaped white gold brooch containing 177 small diamonds and rubies that Bill Clinton received from the World Diamond Conference in Belgium. Since when did it become fashionable for men to wear diamond brooches?
There are several other issues which further distinguish Senator Obama from Mrs. Clinton and the other Presidential candidates. Clinton and others have questioned whether or not Senator Obama has the experience and or the toughness required to be President of the most powerful country in the world. To this charge Obama has replied “What I’ve always found is people who talk about how tough they are aren’t the tough ones. I’m less interested in beating my chest and rattling my sabre and more in making decisions that build a safer and more secure world. We can and should lead the world, but we have to apply wisdom and judgment. Part of our capacity to lead is linked to our capacity to show restraint.”
Of course it goes without saying that the “more experienced” Republican and Democratic candidates are also the ones who supported Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and in the case of Mrs. Clinton, President Bush’s recent sabre rattling regarding Iran.
Hillary Clinton has recently changed her stance on the politically explosive issue of illegal immigration, saying that she no longer supports the idea of giving illegal immigrants’ drivers licences for identification. I will discuss this and other differences next week.

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