The first few pages of David Freddoso's book, The Case Against Barack Obama, are marked by false and misleading assertions about Sen. Barack Obama, accompanied by dubious citations. A Media Matters review of the endnotes reveals that the rest of the book is little different from these first few pages, as throughout the book, Freddoso misrepresents or distorts his sources and even makes assertions that are actually refuted by sources he cites.
The jacket cover for conservative author David Freddoso's The Case Against Barack Obama (Regnery) describes the book as "[s]ober, fair, and thoroughly researched -- and all the more powerful and provocative because of it." As Media Matters for America documented, however, just the first few pages of Freddoso's book are marked by false and misleading assertions about Sen. Barack Obama, accompanied by dubious citations. A review of the endnotes in The Case Against Barack Obama reveals that the rest of the book is little different from these first few pages, as throughout the book, Freddoso misrepresents or distorts his sources and even makes assertions that are actually refuted by sources he cites.
1. On pages 30-31 of his book, Freddoso cites page 124 of Chicago journalist David Mendell's book Obama: From Promise to Power (Amistad, August 2007) in characterizing a piece of ethics legislation Obama passed in 1998 as “relatively harmless,” and claiming that the bill merely made Obama “look like a reformer.” In fact, Mendell wrote something very different from what Freddoso claims. He did not in any way characterize the bill as “harmless,” but instead noted that pushing the bill through the state Senate “was a tough assignment for a new lawmaker, since he was essentially sponsoring legislation that would strip away long-held privileges and perks from his colleagues,” and that Obama received opposition from his colleagues regarding the ethics legislation. Mendell further wrote that Obama “worked the issue deliberately and delicately,” and that upon its passage, the bill “essentially lifted Illinois, a state with a deep history of illicit, pay-to-play politics, into the modern world when it came to ethics restrictions.”
As [Illinois state Sen. Emil] Jones's political godson, and even long before the conversation about the United States Senate, Obama had the privilege of stealing important bills. Other senators had a name for this practice: “bill-jacking.” 17
Mendell records that as early as 1998, Jones had already done such favors at the prompting of Obama's liberal friends. Abner Mikva, a former congressman and federal judge, had recommended to Jones that he give Obama a popular piece of legislation barring political fundraising on state property and barring lobbyists and contractors from giving gifts to legislators. The bill had enough loopholes to be relatively harmless, but it was a step in the direction of reform. Jones gave it to Obama. Obama proposed it. It passed, 52-4.18 The “Friends and Family” man, the old ward-heeler, was even capable of making Obama look like a reformer.
From pages 123-124 of Obama:
Legislatively, Obama managed to pass a decent number of laws for a first-term lawmaker in the minority party. His first major legislative accomplishment was shepherding a piece of campaign finance reform in May 1998. The measure prohibited lawmakers from soliciting campaign funds while on state property and from accepting gifts from state contractors, lobbyists or other interests. The senate's Democratic leader, Emil Jones Jr., a veteran African-American legislator from the South Side, offered Obama the opportunity to push through the bill because it seemed like a good fit for the do-good persona projected by Obama. Obama was also recommended to Jones by two esteemed Chicago liberals who had taken a liking to him: former U.S. senator Paul Simon and former congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva. Working on the bill was an eye-opening experience for the freshman senator. It was a tough assignment for a new lawmaker, since he was essentially sponsoring legislation that would strip away long-held privileges and perks from his colleagues. In one private session, a close colleague angrily denounced the bill, saying that it impinged on lawmakers' inherent rights. But Obama worked the issue deliberately and delicately, and the measure passed the senate by an overwhelming 52-4 vote. “This sets the standard for us, and communicates to a public that is increasingly cynical about Springfield and the General Assembly that we in fact are willing to do the right thing,” Obama told reporters immediately after the bill's passage. The bill was not a watershed event anywhere but Illinois. It essentially lifted Illinois, a state with a deep history of illicit, pay-to-play politics, into the modern world when it came to ethics restrictions. The bill gave Obama a legislative success, but his public criticism of Springfield's old-school politics did not sit well with some of his colleagues, who already considered the Ivy League lawyer overly pious.
Indeed, Freddoso goes on to undermine his dismissive treatment of the legislation, describing it as a “real accomplishment” later in the book. From pages 93-94 of The Case Against Barack Obama:
Obama's reform record is not a complete wash. His most notable accomplishment in Washington was the bill he co-sponsored with Republican senator Tom Coburn, the conservative junior senator from Oklahoma. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 -- also known as “Google for Government” -- helped expose to the sunlight the congressional practice of “earmarking,” in which members of Congress direct federal spending to parochial projects -- swimming pools, bridges to nowhere -- that often have no national importance or congressional authorization.63 Coburn and Obama's bill, approved over the objection of some of Capitol Hill's worst porkers, really was a small victory for open government and bipartisanship.
This was a real accomplishment for Obama in the name of reform -- the second such accomplishment of his career after the Illinois ethics law.
2. On page 61, Freddoso claims that "[o]nlookers faint at his [Obama's] speeches with alarming frequency compared to other campaigns," citing a February 18 item called “The Monday Morning Presidential Briefing,” by Boston Herald police bureau chief Jessica Van Sack. But while Van Sack did address fainting at Obama rallies, she made no comparison to other campaigns, as Freddoso claims.
There is undoubtedly a religious component to “Obamania.” The Reverend Jesse Jackson, himself a former presidential candidate, commented that Obama is running a “theological campaign” -- that "[a]t some point, he took off his arms and grew wings." At the University of Texas, crowds sang “Obama-leluja” at his approach.4 Onlookers faint at his speeches with alarming frequency compared to other campaigns.
From Van Sack's item, which included this graph under the subhead, “Hot Video of the Week”:
Attending a Barack Obama rally anytime soon? Don't forget the smelling salts. Obama's enthusiastic young followers are dropping like worshippers at a televangelist mega-sermon, as the video of a string of recent crowd-fainting incidents shows.
3. Freddoso writes on page 83 that Obama “takes all the teeth” out his idea of a “merit-pay program” for teachers by “promising” that “the measure of 'merit' ” will be determined “by some yet undiscovered measure to be chosen by teachers' unions.” Freddoso's source for this claim is a July 5, 2007, Philadelphia Inquirer article on Obama's speech that day to the National Education Association. The article, however, does not say that Obama's merit pay measure will be “chosen by teachers' unions.” Rather, the article reported what Obama said in his speech -- that he will work with teachers unions to develop a system.
From page 83 of The Case Against Barack Obama:
Obama has acquired an undeserved reputation for reform in education because he offers mild rhetoric about a merit-pay program for teachers. But he takes all of the teeth out of the idea by promising his allies that the measure of “merit” will not be determined by student achievement -- “arbitrary tests” -- but by some yet undiscovered measure to be chosen by teachers' unions.15 Obama's merit pay also comes only in exchange for six-figure teacher salaries.
From the July 5, 2007, Philadelphia Inquirer article:
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama today endorsed the idea of merit pay for teachers before an audience hostile to the idea, the giant National Education Association, but he softened the blow by telling the union's national assembly that he would not use “arbitrary tests” to link pay to performance.
“I think there should be ways for us to work with the NEA, with teachers' unions, to figure out a way to measure success,” Obama told a crowd of about 9,000 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. “I want to work with teachers. I'm not going to do it too you, I'm going to do it with you.”
4. On page 88, Freddoso writes that “Obama explained that if he took public financing, it might be hard to compete with the outside '527 groups' who will mercilessly smear him,” and quotes a June 20 Washington Post article asserting: “No conservative 527 groups have materialized.” As Media Matters noted at the time, the Post article ignored the actions of conservative groups, such as the Vets for Freedom political action committee, which had already launched two Internet ads attacking Obama over the Iraq war. Other outside groups such as Freedom's Watch and the National Campaign Fund PAC had also released ads attacking Obama.
From page 88 of The Case Against Barack Obama:
Obama explained that if he took public financing, it might be hard to compete with the outside “527 groups” who will mercilessly smear him. Of [Sen. John] McCain, he said: "[W]e've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations."
“No conservative 527 groups have materialized,” the Washington Post noted.35 But what if they do? And the groups more favorable to Obama -- MoveOn.org and the labor unions, for example -- might lack the resources to compete with those conservative groups, should they materialize. It should be noted that in 2004, the pro-Democrat 527s outspent the pro-Republican 527s $282 million to $111 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.36 As of mid-year 2008, the Democratic 527s had slightly outraised their GOP counterparts, but then when you throw in the labor unions and pro-choice groups, Obama's 527 army is already better funded than McCain's.
5. On page 116, Freddoso addresses Obama's “present” votes in the Illinois state Senate, citing a December 20, 2007, New York Times article in claiming that “other Illinois senators say” Obama's 130 “present” votes was an “unusually high” number. In fact, the Times article does not quote any Illinois state senators commenting on the frequency of Obama's “present” votes, nor does it report that other Illinois senators considered the frequency of Obama's “present” votes to be “unusually high.” Indeed, while neither the Times nor Freddoso provided substantiation for his claim that Obama had an “unusually high” number of “present” votes, PolitiFact.com quoted Christopher Mooney, a political scientist at the University of Illinois-Springfield, saying of Obama's “present” votes: “Everyone I've spoken to who's familiar with this, including lobbyists and people who are engaged in opposition research, say the number of times he voted present on a proportional basis was probably a little less than average.”
If Obama cast many controversial votes in Springfield, he also avoided many controversial votes. An interesting aspect of his career in the state Senate was his habit of voting “present” on controversial legislation instead of voting “yea” or “nay.” He did this about 130 times over his eight-year career there, which other Illinois senators say is unusually high.56 As Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report noted, “We aren't talking about a 'present' vote on whether to name a state office building after a deceased state official, but rather about votes that reflect an officeholder's core values.”
6. On pages 174-175, Freddoso claims that Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) was one of the Democrats who was “against Obama on this point” -- a reference to the debate over whether a U.S. president should be willing to meet with leaders of North Korea, Iran, and other countries without preconditions. As evidence, Freddoso quotes from Biden's May 18, 2008, appearance on ABC's This Week: “This is a fellow who I think shorthanded an answer that in fact was the wrong answer.” However, the full context of Biden's quote shows that he actually said that he and Obama agreed, saying that Obama's recent statements on the issue “mirrored the statements the rest of us have been talking about.”
For Clinton, there had to be some preconditions -- how else could such a meeting be in the interest of the United States? There had to [sic] an upside. You don't have to take as hard a line as President Bush, she was arguing, but you can't just have a beer with Kim Jong II after he launched seven missiles in provocation during the summer of 2006.12 He must first show some cooperation -- some substantial sign of good faith -- as a precondition. That is how diplomacy works in the real world.
In the months that followed, Democrats ranging from moderate to liberal generally sided with Clinton and against Obama on this point. Former congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee, another young, black superstar in the Democratic Party and chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, was one of the moderates. “I'll concede you cannot meet with foreign leaders -- with terrorists rather -- without some conditions. 13
”This is a fellow who I think shorthanded an answer that in fact was the wrong answer," said Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the liberal chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
From the May 18 broadcast of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): So, he's developed that --
BIDEN: I think he has.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- what he needs to know in the nine months on the campaign trail.
BIDEN: I think he's focused on -- what we're talking about here is that he has repeatedly, since then, said he would not negotiate unconditionally -- meaning him sitting down alone, right off the bat, with these leaders. He's talked about his secretary of state, his secretary of defense. As a matter of fact, the statements he's using have mirrored the statements the rest of us have been talking about.
This is a fellow who I think shorthanded an answer that, in fact, was the wrong answer, in my view, saying I would, within the first year. It implied he'd personally sit down with anybody who wanted to sit down with him. That's not what he meant. That's not what he has said since then for the last year, or thereabouts. And so, I think that he's fully capable of understanding what's going -- and put this in context, the policy that Bush has pursued and McCain will continue, has been an abject failure. We are weaker in the Middle East. We are weaker around the world. Terrorism is stronger than it ever was. Iran is closer to a bomb. Just by any measure -- any measure -- what has their policy wrought? A disaster. It's been an absolute disaster.
7. On page 215, Freddoso cites a June 13, 2007 (wrongly identified in the endnotes as a June 13, 2008, article), Chicago Sun-Times article in claiming that a spokesman for Obama and a lawyer for convicted Chicago businessman Antoin Rezko “say it is simply a coincidence” that Obama wrote letters in support of Cottage View Terrace, one of Rezko's housing projects. In fact, the Sun-Times quoted Obama spokesman Bill Burton stating that Obama supported Cottage View Terrace “because it was going to help people in his district,” and Rezko's attorney saying simply that “Mr. Rezko never spoke with, nor sought a letter from, Senator Obama in connection with that project.”
In June, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak reported that Obama “wrote letters to city and state officials supporting his political patron Tony Rezko's successful bid to get more than $14 million from taxpayers to build apartments for senior citizens.”10 The project, Cottage View Terrace, includes ninety-seven apartments. It is a few blocks outside of Obama's state Senate district.
The deal for which Obama helped Rezko get this money also included Obama's old law-firm boss, Allison Davis. He is also a major Obama fundraiser and a developer who has built or renovated 1,500 apartment units in Chicago.11 From the $14.6 million in state funds that Obama requested, the two men would already be expected to profit through their housing business. But Davis and Rezko were also to collect $855,000 of it in “development fees.”
Obama's spokesman and Rezko's lawyer say it is simply a coincidence that the senator wrote these letters to help two longtime friends, Davis and Rezko, get millions of dollars.
From the June 13, 2007, Chicago Sun-Times article:
On Tuesday, Bill Burton, press secretary for Obama's presidential campaign, said the letters Obama wrote in support of the development weren't intended as a favor to Rezko or Davis.
“This wasn't done as a favor for anyone,” Burton said in a written statement. “It was done in the interests of the people in the community who have benefited from the project.
”I don't know that anyone specifically asked him to write this letter nine years ago," the statement said. “There was a consensus in the community about the positive impact the project would make and Obama supported it because it was going to help people in his district. ... They had a wellness clinic and adult day-care services, as well as a series of social services for residents. It's a successful project. It's meant a lot to the community, and he's proud to have supported it.''
The development, called the Cottage View Terrace apartments, opened five years ago at 4801 S. Cottage Grove, providing 97 apartments for low-income senior citizens.
Asked about the Obama letters, Rezko's attorney, Joseph Duffy, said Tuesday, ”Mr. Rezko never spoke with, nor sought a letter from, Senator Obama in connection with that project."
8. In addition, as Media Matters documented, in the introduction to The Case Against Barack Obama, Freddoso writes that, in challenging the eligibility of signatures his opponents collected to get their names on the ballot of the 1996 Illinois state Senate Democratic primary for the 13th district, Obama threw “all of his opponents off the ballot on a technicality.” On page 2, however, Freddoso undermines his own claim by quoting a 1996 Chicago Weekend report that some of incumbent Sen. Alice Palmer's signatures were disqualified because the voters who signed lived outside the 13th district -- something more than a mere “technicality.”
On page 3, Freddoso reproduces a portion of an April 3, 2007, Chicago Tribune article in which one of Obama's opponents in 1996, Gha-Is Askia, referring to Obama's challenge of the signatures, is quoted as saying: “He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?” That same article, however, also reported that Askia “now suspects” some of the signatures his campaign collected were forged -- a fact Freddoso did not mention, which undermines his “technicality” allegation.
On page 5 of The Case Against Barack Obama, Freddoso cites page 109 of Mendell's Obama, in writing that Palmer “was considered the early favorite in this contest,” and “collected nearly 1,600 petition signatures in just ten days and submitted them ahead of the December 18 deadline.” However, Mendell also wrote on pages 109-110 that “Palmer realized that Obama had called her hand, and she acknowledged that she had not properly acquired the necessary number of signatures” -- another fact Freddoso omitted.
From page 3 of The Case Against Barack Obama:
One of them was Gha-is Askia. He never had much of a chance of winning anyway, but he had gathered 1,899 signatures, and Team Obama took the time to challenge them as well.6 Askia spoke to the Chicago Tribune in 2007 about it:
“Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates?” Askia said. “He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?”
From the April 3 Tribune article:
Leafing through scrapbooks in his South Shore apartment, Askia, a perennially unsuccessful candidate, acknowledges that he paid Democratic Party precinct workers $5 a sheet for some of the petitions, and now suspects they used a classic Chicago ruse of passing the papers among themselves to forge the signatures. “They round-tabled me,” Askia said.
From page 5 of The Case Against Barack Obama (Mendell citations in bold):
As an incumbent with the backing of the new congressman, Jesse Jackson Jr., Palmer was considered the early favorite in this contest.14 She went out and collected nearly 1,600 petition signatures in just ten days and submitted them ahead of the December 18 deadline.15 She would still need to defeat Obama and two other Democratic challengers, but as an incumbent with the backing of the popular new congressman, Palmer was the early favorite. Until Obama kept her from running, that is.
From page 109-110 of Mendell's Obama:
So a volunteer for Obama challenged the legality of her petitions, as well as the legality of petitions from several other candidates in the race. As an elections board hearing on the petitions neared, Palmer realized that Obama had called her hand, and she acknowledged that she had not properly acquired the necessary number of signatures. Many of the voters had printed their names, rather than signing them as the law required.
9. On page xii of the introduction to The Case Against Barack Obama, Freddoso claims that Obama's “liberal supporters ... support military strikes within the territory of an American ally without that nation's permission” because “Obama apparently made a slip of the tongue in August of last year and advocated such incursions into Pakistan.” Freddoso's source for this was an August 1, 2007, Reuters article on Obama's speech that day at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., in which Obama said:
OBAMA: I understand that [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.
As Media Matters noted, however, Obama's comments were not a “slip of the tongue”; they were included in his prepared remarks and were among excerpts the Obama campaign emailed to reporters prior to the actual speech. The Reuters article Freddoso cites does not characterize Obama's remarks as a “slip of the tongue,” nor does it suggest that they were in any way inadvertent.