Sunday, March 02, 2008

Three Questions for Obama

Two days ago, Senator Clinton's campaign team of Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein was flummoxed by a simple question from Slate's John Dickerson: "What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?" It was a fair question, especially given Hillary's attempts to brand herself as the "I'm tested, I'm ready" candidate, and her claims in the now notorious "red phone ad" to be "tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world." (Here's Obama's response ad).

I just watched four new ads Senator Obama is airing in Texas in advance of Tuesday's primary. One of them in particular caught my attention. In it, Obama says "we need to... take on special interests that block reform." I know from Obama's speeches and points he's made in debates that taking on lobbyists and special interests is a theme of his. In the spirit of Dickerson's excellent question to the Clinton campaign, I'd like to see Obama asked:

1. Can you specifically identify which special interests you'll take on as president?
2. (If #1 doesn't get an explicit response) Can you specifically identify groups or interests that you would categorize as "special interests"?
3. (If #2 doesn't get an explicit response) Would you categorize teachers unions as special interests? Farmers? Senior citizens? Unions?

My guess is, Obama would name "corporations" as a special interest and go no further (I say this because the only species of lobbyist specifically named in the ethics section of Obama's website is lobbyist corporatus, and the reference to "special interest influence" on the page is vague). The answer would be unsatisfying. As a special interest boogeyman, corporations are convenient: vague enough to invoke without any specific company feeling unduly threatened; ominous-sounding enough to create the sense that taking them on would be bold; sufficiently disparate in fact to create the illusion that action against some segment of the class constitutes action against the whole. If Obama hopes to persuade voters that he's serious about fighting special interests -- and about telling voters what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear, a claim he also makes in the Texas ad and elsewhere -- he really ought to name some of the special interests he plans to take on.

Of course, it's entirely possible I'm missing something here, and if anyone knows of specific instances of Senator Clinton being tested by a foreign policy crisis, or of Senator Obama promising to take on, or at least naming, a specific special interest, I'd be grateful for the information.


Ali Karim said...

Interesting points - an the race is in the next stages, and very interesting to observe from this side of the ocean.

Look forward to seeing you in London next month, best as always


dkgoodman said...

I have questions for Clinton, based on her "experience" in the White House:

1) How much is she going to charge for people to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom?

2) What will she charge to pardon a criminal?

See, I remember the last time the Clintons were in the White House.

Anonymous said...

Barry, these are good questions. It would be helpful for candidates to start being specific. Why don't you pose them via YourTube or other Internet venue? I heard so much about this "brave, new" way the candidates want to connect with voters. Let's see how they deal with possibly uncomfortable questions when they are not in front of cameras.

JD Rhoades said...

Fair questions, Barry. And I'd like to see the press ask them. But I'm not holding my breath. They've decided they like Obama, and that's that. And I say this as an Obama supporter.

JulieAnn said...

I want to know about both of their stances on foreign interests and special policies. :) See? I really hate catch phrases because they mean nothing to the candidates or the people of this country. It's like asking a person if they come from a dysfunctional family. WTF is THAT?

See you soon...
(oh and check out my's not political but its juicy.)

Cynthia Valero said...

Succinctly and clearly stated. I wish questions such as these could be posed so that we can get beneath the varnish to the grain.

Thanks, Barry.

Anonymous said...

in reference to Obama and naming special interests he would aim to put on a level playing field with the American voters interests...he has mentioned drug companies and the monies they receive for R & D and the embarrassing comercials that money ends up funding...he has spoken about the million?-billion? dollar profits of the oil companies in the last reported quarter, and the tax breaks or subsidies they receive (not sure what) meanwhile we are struggling to pay so much per gallon and those costs are going up the food-chain rapidly, he wants to end those kind of crazy manipulations that have no good purpose. He has spoken to and about making car manufacturers help develop greener options so we are not dependant on oil so much, and would help fund that, but he would expect car companies to fight the hard truths about that.

Well, those are the ones I specifically remember hearing him talk about in the many town-hall meetings of his I have watched.

There are more specifics you may find on

I think it would be common knowledge that there are some special interest groups who we would not want to be without, such as AARP, teachers, farmers, etc like you mentioned, but if any one of those even had too much power and too much money and control, SOMEONE would not be happy about it. I would hope it's all about common sense.