Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Questions surround Obama questionnaire

Politico has a bombshell report that is causing much consternation in the Obama camp. It seems that a couple of questionnaires that Obama's handwriting appeared on, which paints a much different view of the candidate, is in dispute as to whether he filled them out, or a staffer did:

During his first run for elected office, Barack Obama played a greater role than his aides now acknowledge in crafting liberal stands on gun control, the death penalty and abortion — positions that appear at odds with the more moderate image he has projected during his presidential campaign.

The evidence comes from an amended version of an Illinois voter group’s detailed questionnaire, filed under his name during his 1996 bid for a state Senate seat. Late last year, in response to a Politico story about Obama’s answers to the original questionnaire, his aides said he “never saw or approved” the questionnaire.

They asserted the responses were filled out by a campaign aide who “unintentionally mischaracterize[d] his position.” But a Politico examination determined that Obama was actually interviewed about the issues on the questionnaire by the liberal Chicago nonprofit group that issued it.

And it found that Obama — the day after sitting for the interview — filed an amended version of the questionnaire, which appears to contain Obama’s own handwritten notes added to one answer.

The two questionnaires, provided to Politico with assistance from political sources opposed to Obama’s presidential campaign, were later supplied directly by the group, Independent Voters of Illinois — Independent Precinct Organization. Obama and his then-campaign manager, who Obama’s campaign asserts filled out the questionnaires, were familiar with the group, its members and its positions, since both were active in it before Obama's 1996 state Senate run.

Through an aide, Obama, who won the group’s endorsement as well as the statehouse seat, did not dispute that the handwriting was his. But he contended it doesn’t prove he completed, approved — or even read — the latter questionnaire. “Sen. Obama didn’t fill out these state Senate questionnaires — a staffer did — and there are several answers that didn't reflect his views then or now,” Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama’s campaign, said in an e-mailed statement.

“He may have jotted some notes on the front page of the questionnaire at the meeting, but that doesn't change the fact that some answers didn't reflect his views. His 11 years in public office do.” But the questionnaires provide fodder to question Obama’s ideological consistency and electability.

Those questions are central to efforts by Obama’s presidential rival Hillary Clinton to woo the superdelegates whose votes represent her best chance to wrest the Democratic nomination from Obama. Taken together — and combined with later policy pronouncements — the two 1996 questionnaires paint a picture of an inexperienced Obama still trying to feel his way around major political issues and less constrained by the nuance that now frames his positions on sensitive issues.

Consider the question of whether minors should be required to get parental consent — or at least notify their parents — before having abortion. The first version of Obama’s questionnaire responds with a simple “No.”

The amended version, though, answers less stridently: “Depends on how young — possibly for extremely young teens, i.e., 12- or 13-year-olds.”

By 2004, when his campaign filled out a similar questionnaire for the IVI-IPO during his campaign for U.S. Senate, the answer to a similar question contained still more nuance, but also more precision.

“I would oppose any legislation that does not include a bypass provision for minors who have been victims of, or have reason to fear, physical or sexual abuse,” he wrote. The evolution continued at least through late last year, when his campaign filled out a questionnaire for a nonpartisan reproductive health group that answered a similar question with even more nuance.

“As a parent, Obama believes that young women, if they become pregnant, should talk to their parents before considering an abortion. But he realizes not all girls can turn to their mother or father in times of trouble, and in those instances, we should want these girls to seek the advice of trusted adults — an aunt, a grandmother, a pastor,” his campaign wrote to RH Reality Check.

Now the people who conducted the surveys agree he probably didn't answer the questions himself, and that staffers might have done it for him. This led them to stalemate their endorsement of him or Clinton. They shrug this off as a candidate "modifying" their positions; all politicians do this, they say. While that may be true, Obama's track record regarding firearms and abortion are well known to those in Illinois.

He supported a bill that would have banned the sale of semi-automatic firearms -- the primary firearm used by regular people for their own protection. He also was in favor of a bill that would have allowed doctors the ability to let fetuses in failed abortions simply die. Those are two points that he can be hammered on by John McCain. Forget Hillary because she shares similar views. (While she has never supported a bill regarding fetuses of failed abortions, everyone knows she favors abortion.)

The Obama campaign is right to say that these surveys will provide "fodder" for his critics and for John McCain. But if they didn't want this out in the open, he shouldn't have worked on either survey, or made it implicitly clear that no one in his office was to fill out any sort of position survey. They did, and now he's catching heat for it. He can't spin positions he's taken in the past, especially if they are consistent with his views today.

Publius II


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