Obama: Really a rising star?

By Tyler Friederich

Illinois politics enjoys a rich history; the self proclaimed “Land of Lincoln” often instills pride in its residents. But in recent years, the faith and honor bestowed upon our elected representatives has been relegated to mere shamefulness.

Former governor George Ryan humiliated himself with racketeering and fraud scandals. Senator Dick Durbin compared the treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners by American soldiers to Nazis and Soviet Gulags. Governor Rod Blagojevich’s term has also been riddled with accusations of hiring fraud.

So is there a saving grace for Illinois politics? Many people would assert that Barack Obama, the “rising star” of the Democratic Party, has met the challenge. Contentions that Obama personifies dignity and even a future presidential candidate arose when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Possessing charisma and a keen ability to grasp the listener’s attention, Obama’s ascent into Illinois politics has encouraged Democrats and even moderates. But one can’t help but question what Obama has actually achieved thus far in his political career, besides giving captivating speeches, to be seriously considered as a presidential candidate in 2008.

Though Obama has been lauded as a centrist, his voting record and other political affiliations suggest otherwise. For example, while serving as an Illinois state senator from 1998 to 2004, Obama voted against a bill that would have made infanticide, the practice of killing a baby that has already been partially birthed, illegal.

Obama also voted against the Supreme Court confirmations of both Samuel Alito and John Roberts, along with the Central American Free Trade Agreement. He even voted against the Coburn Amendment, which would have transferred funds from the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska to Hurricane Katrina relief. He abstained from voting on legislation that aimed to prohibit the presence of pornographic video stores and strip clubs within 1000 feet of schools and churches. To top it off, he is also against a voucher system that would allow parents to send their kids to a better performing school with federal funds.

His extremely liberal voting record earned Obama approval ratings of six percent by the National Taxpayer’s Union, nine percent by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, zero percent by the Gun Owners of America and 100 percent by NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2005.

But it doesn’t end here. Obama phoned in to at least one MoveOn meeting, not held in Illinois, along with Al Franken. MoveOn is a political group that raises money for “progressive candidates”. They once ran an ad that compared President Bush to Hitler. The group’s radical left-wing philosophy rivals Ann Coulter’s on the right.

According to one of the group’s members, the MoveOn crowd apparently wasn’t moved by Obama’s messages. Yet his mystifying connection with the group indicates that he is pandering to the far left, albeit under the radar and perhaps unsuccessfully. Mr. Obama’s relationship with MoveOn, combined with his ability to appear moderate, suggests that he may be readying himself for a presidential run in 2008. But a 2008 presidential run appears unlikely, as Obama has stated that he will not run. A 2012 run for the presidency by Obama is a better possibility.

However, while Obama has thus far eluded the scandals that have plagued past and current Illinois politicians, his efforts in appealing to moderates and to the far left may hurt him in the long run. Yes, his speeches ring of encouragement and unity on many issues, but his voting record and involvement with MoveOn conveys the dichotomy of a politician desperately seeking approval.

Seen as an unequivocal moderate by many and an extremist by few, it is evident that Obama is just doing his job – he is an Illinois politician. But a saving grace? I think Obama has more to prove after just two years in the Senate. But then again, I’m not from the Chicago area, so what do I know?