Barack Obama (D)

"Jewish problem"

Obama ruffled some feathers in the Jewish community in March, when he said during an interview with the Des Moines Register, "No one is suffering more than the Palestinian people." As a prominent Jewish Democrat in Iowa wrote Obama soon thereafter:

I find your statement in yesterday's Des Moines Register that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people," deeply troubling. I would greatly appreciate a response clarifying your statements.

The Palestinian people democratically elected their leadership, part in which, Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. It fails to recognize the right of Israel to exist and encourages terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli Jews, Christians and Arabs.



Photo flap

In April, a news photographer caught Obama chatting with his campaign adviser David Axelrod in the Senator's Capitol Hill office -- a clear violation of Congressional ethics rules, as Roll Call pointed out. The Drudge Report had the story:

Obama and Axelrod are old buddies whose relationship dates back years and they could have been having an innocuous conversation, one strategist noted. But it does raise some flags, which is the last thing a contender in a competitive race with a polished, practiced vet such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) wants to do. "It could be seen as a rookie mistake," the consultant said.


Refuses to take responsibility for missteps

In May, the National Journal's Marc Ambinder pointed out something very troubling about Barack Obama: when caught up in a mistake or controversy, he refuses to apologize, and passes the buck instead. As Ambinder puts it, "[H]e has a habit of challenging the premise that he is responsible for what error (or alleged error) is brought to his attention. . .   The most common explanation in Obama's arsenal is that his campaign staff made the mistake and he that bore the consequences." Ambinder goes on to chronicle an impressive list of examples, including these:

Why did he not know that one of his first and major donors, Tony Rezko, was a slum lord?

Obama: "Should I have known these buildings were in a state of disrepair? My answer would be that it wasn't brought to my attention."

Why did he wait so long before condemning Gen. Peter Pace's anti-gay comments?

Obama: I'm not sure that the story got out there properly. I mean, what happened was I was leaving a firefighters' union meeting and trying to get in my car and did not respond to a reporter's query at that point. I wasn't responding to reporters period because I was trying to make a vote."

Why does the media claim he lacks substance?

Obama: "I know that one of the running threads, or one of the narratives that's established itself among the mainstream media is this notion 'Well, you know, Obama has pretty good style, he can deliver a pretty good speech, but he seems to prioritize rhetoric over substance ... "Now, factually that's incorrect ... The problem is that that's not what you guys have been reporting on. You've been reporting how I look in a swimsuit."



Donations from a Swift Boater

In a curious cross-partisan move, Barack Obama in 2005 took donations from Jared Abbruzzese, a prominent contributor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. This latter group was instrumental in sinking 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's campaign with their ads questioning his service in Vietnam. As the New York Times reported on 3/7/2007:

In May 2005, Mr. Abbruzzese, who was vice chairman of Tejas and a principal investor in Skyterra, contributed $10,000 along with his wife to Mr. Obama’s political action committee — a departure from his almost exclusive support of Republicans. Eight months earlier, for instance, he had contributed $5,000 to the Swift Boat group, and he has given $100,000 to the Republican National Committee since 2004.

Last year, Mr. Abbruzzese, a major investor in several high-tech companies in New York and elsewhere, emerged as a central figure in the federal investigation of the New York State Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno. The inquiry is examining Mr. Bruno’s personal business dealings, including whether he accepted money from Mr. Abbruzzese in return for Senate approval of grants for one of Mr. Abbruzzese’s companies. Both men have denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Abbruzzese did not return phone calls seeking comment.



Parking ticket dodger

Only recently, in January 2007, did Barack Obama get around to paying hundreds of dollars of parking tickets he owed from when he was a student at Harvard. Wonkette picked up the story from the Somerville News, on 3/8/07:

Records from the Cambridge Traffic, Parking and Transportation office show that between Oct. 5, 1988 and Jan. 12, 1990 Obama was cited for 17 traffic violations, sometimes committing two in the same day.

The News noted that Obama's spokeswoman "refused to say how the fines went unpaid so long and what prompted Obama to finally pay them."



Shady real-estate deal

Barack Obama has a squeaky-clean image, but that may just be because he hasn't been in office very long. For example, in November 2006, just as speculation about his presidential bid was heating up, the Chicago Tribune caught him out in a classic case of legislative cronyism: a way-too-good-to-be-true real estate deal with a shady character straight from the heart of the corrupt Illinois political machine. The details:

When Sen. Barack Obama decided to buy a stately $1.65 million home last year on Chicago's South Side, Antoin "Tony" Rezko and his wife wasted no time. The same day the Obamas closed on the house, the Rezkos closed on the purchase of the adjoining vacant lot, which once was the estate's lush side yard.

. . .

In October, [Rezko] pleaded not guilty to federal charges involving pay-to-play allegations that surround Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration.

Now the hows and whys of a real estate deal, and a train of subsequent transactions, are raising questions about the relationship between the two men, as Obama struggles to distance himself from Rezko, and Rezko strives to stay out of prison.

. . .

One of Illinois' most prominent local Democratic fundraisers, Rezko and his companies donated at least $8,000 to Obama's state Senate campaigns and $11,500 to Obama's federal fund. (Obama has said he will divest those federal donations.) Rezko also hosted a 2003 event to boost Obama's campaign fund.



Wife's mysterious promotion, raise

The Obamas sure did have a good 2005, money-wise. Not only did Mr. Obama get sworn in as a United States senator, but Mrs. Obama suddenly got a promotion and a big raise. And not just any raise--a tripling of her salary! The Chicago Tribune broke this news on 9/26/06:

Shortly after Obama took office, his wife, Michelle, received a promotion from her employer, the not-for-profit University of Chicago Hospitals, nearly tripling her earnings to $316,962 from $121,910 the previous year.

. . .

In March 2005 she was promoted to be the hospitals' vice president for community and external affairs, becoming one of 17 vice presidents for the the organization. She previously had been executive director for community affairs. She does not do any lobbying work for the hospitals in her position, Vietor said.

. . .

In June 2005 she joined the board of directors of Westchester, Ill.-based TreeHouse Foods, a food processor with various product lines, including pickles, refrigerated salad dressing and non-dairy creamer. For her work as a director, she received $12,000 from TreeHouse and $33,000 from a subsidiary, Bay Valley Foods.



Used cocaine

The American people have perhaps grown more tolerant of politicians who admit to having smoked marijuana in their younger days. But a President who admits having done cocaine? In Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father, Obama writes about not just smoking marijuana but also trying cocaine during his teenage years.

I had learned not to care . . . I blew a few smoke rings, remembering those years.   Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though. . . .



Voted for credit-card usury

Barack Obama is a darling of the progressive movement, but one wonders how many liberals will support him when they know that he voted against a provision to cap out-of-control credit-card interest rates. In November 2006, Harper's Magazine talked to Mike Williams, a lobbyist for the fat-cat Bond Market Association, who praised Obama for some of his pro-business votes. Details:

[Obama] opposed an important amendment, which was defeated, that would have capped credit-card interest rates at 30 percent. "He studied the issue," Williams said. "Some assumed he would just go along with consumer advocates, but he voted with us on several points. He understood the issue. He wasn't closed-minded. A lot of people found that very refreshing."



Muslim roots?

Although Obama is an avowed Christian, he has Muslim roots--a fact that might not sit too well with a lot of American voters. For example, Obama's middle name is Hussein--that is, the same as the last name of the fomer Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Also, Insight Magazine recently published a startling article claiming that Obama had been raised as a Muslim, and that while in Indonesia as a child he had attended a radical Muslim madrassah:

An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.

CNN later visited the school and found the students to be of mixed religion. But Insight's report may nevertheless have hit on a very sensitive subject for Obama's candidacy.


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