A list circulating online contains 50 false statements by President Barack Obama
Collected via Email, May 2008
This criticism is based on an overly-literal interpretation of Barack Obama’s 2007 speech in Selma, Alabama, which we covered in a separate article.
These attributes are not mutually exclusive: Barack Obama’s (biological) father was all of these things at different times in his life, as Obama described in his book, Dreams from My Father:
[My father] was as African, I would learn, a Kenyan of the Luo tribe, born on the shores of Lake Victoria in a place called Alego. The village was poor, but his
father — myother grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama — hadbeen a prominent farmer, an elder of the tribe, a medicine man with healing powers. My father grew up herding his father’s goats and attending the local school, set up by the British colonial administration, where he had shown great promise. He eventually won a scholarship to study in Nairobi; and then, on the eve of Kenyan independence, he had been selected by Kenyan leaders and American sponsors to attend a university in the United States.
We are unaware of Barack Obama’s ever having claimed his father was a “proud freedom fighter.” Obama has written (and spoken) at length about his father’s returning to Africa from America to work for the Kenyan government, with that country’s political turmoil eventually leaving him a “bitter drunk” and “a defeated, lonely bureaucrat.”
As we discussed in a separate article, Kenyan politician Raila Odinga has recently claimed to be Barack Obama’s cousin, but there is no substantive evidence documenting his claim, and the two men share no meaningful familial connection.
The author has apparently confused Obama’s grandmothers. In the instance cited above, Obama was speaking of his maternal grandmother,
Many Swahili words and names are of Arabic origin (just as many English words originated with other languages). “Barack” is a Swahili name that entered the language via historical trade and cultural ties with Arabia.
The topic is already covered in our separate article about the (false) claims that Barack Obama is a Muslim.
Barack Obama attended more than one school in Indonesia, one of which was a public school that included Islamic religious instruction among its curriculum, and one of which was a private Catholic school.
We are unaware of Barack Obama’s ever having claimed he was “fluent” in any Indonesian language (beyond the level of competence that could reasonably be expected of the non-native child speaker he was at the time he lived in that country). He did acquire (and apparently still has) a passable command of Bahasa, as Time magazine noted in a 2007 article:
When prominent Indonesians visit the U.S., the first person they want to meet is Obama, says Parnohadiningrat Sudjadnan, the Indonesian ambassador to the U.S. “Back home people think of him as one of us, or at least one who understands us,” he says, adding that they are delighted to find that Obama speaks passable Bahasa, the language spoken in Indonesia and Malaysia.
We have not found any citation for Obama’s having claimed that his childhood in Indonesia qualified him as having “more foreign experience” (what the comparative “more” refers to also isn’t clear). Barack Obama did live in Indonesia for four years as a child, and he could in fact speak the local language passably well. Whether his time in that country provided him more “foreign experience” is argumentative, but people other than Obama himself have suggested that it might:
Some would argue that his childhood experiences, as well as his mixed heritage (his father was Kenyan, his mother from Kansas), gives him a better inner compass on foreign policy than most Americans. They cite the pioneering work of Ruth Hill Useem, the late sociologist of Michigan State University, who spent her career studying what she called Third Culture Kids — the millions of U.S. children (an estimated 20 million since the advent of mass air travel) who have been carted abroad by their missionary, diplomatic, corporate or military parents. These frequent-flier kids don’t spend enough time in their adopted countries to become fully bicultural, but they take pieces and add it to their home values and traditions — creating millions of “Third Cultures.” Studies have shows that kids who have spent time abroad are more likely to go to college, to relate to one another despite the influences of vastly differing cultures, and to latch on to one aspect of their
culture — in Obama’s case African Americanism.
Barack Obama has lived in, traveled to, or otherwise spent time in countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, the Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa, as well as serving as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Whether his experiences make him “stronger on foreign affairs” is argumentative, but again, people other than Obama have suggested that it might:
“Living abroad does give you a wider view of the world,” says Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser under Jimmy Carter, and a Polish-American who spent four years as a child living in Germany with his diplomat father. Obama is “a person with genuine sensitivity of world affairs,” says Brzenzinski, who is supporting Obama. “It’s not the conventional mouthing of culture sensitivities.” Brzezinski points to Obama’s greater willingness to meet leaders of hostile nations and his early resistance to the war in Iraq as examples of his superior intuition on foreign policy.
Obama wrote at length in his two books about his experiences growing up as the child of mixed-race parents and the issues that accompanied that status, and he noted in his first book, Dreams From My Father that before entering politics he had used marijuana and cocaine. His drug use, he wrote, was “… something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind, something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory” and said in a 2006 interview that his drug use was “… reflective of the struggles and confusion of a teenage boy. Teenage boys are frequently confused.”
We could not find an instance in either of Barack Obama’s books (or elsewhere) where he claimed that his decision to run for public office was influenced by an article in Ebony magazine.
In Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama writes of a childhood experience occurring on a day when his mother dropped him off at a library on her way to work, and he began thumbing through issues of LIFE magazine:
Eventually I came across a photograph of an older man in dark glasses and a raincoat walking down an empty road. I couldn’t guess what this picture was about; there seemed nothing unusual about the subject. On the next page was another photograph, this one a close-up of the same man’s hands. They had a strange, unnatural pallor, as if blood had been drawn from the flesh. Turning back to the first picture, I now saw that the man’s crinkly hair, his heavy lips and broad fleshy nose, all had this same uneven, ghostly hue.
He must be terrible sick, I thought. A radiation victim, maybem or an albino — I had seen one of those on the street a few days before, and my mother had explained about such things. Except when I read the words that went with the picture, that wasn’t it at all. The man had received a chemical treatment, the article explained, to lighten his complexion. He had paid for it with his own money. He expressed some regret about trying to pass himself off as a white man, was sorry about how badly things had turned out. But the results were irreversible. There were thousands of people like him, black men and women back in America who’d undergone the same treatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person.
I felt my face and neck get hot. My stomach knotted; the type began to blur on the page. Did my mother know about this? What about her boss — why was he so calm, reading through his reports a few feet down the hall? I had a desperate urge to jump out of my seat, to show them what I had learned, to demand some explanation or assurance. But something held me back. As in a dream, I had no voice for my newfound fear. By the time my mother came to take me home, my face wore a smile and the magazines were back in their proper place. The room, the air, was quiet as before.
As far as we know, no one has yet found any matching article in the pages of LIFE magazine. However, that does necessarily not mean Barack Obama saw no such article; it may simply mean that, writing decades after the fact, he misremembered the title of the magazine he was viewing.
In 2004, just after winning election to the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama said during apress conference, in response to a question about his possibly running for national office, that:
I am a believer in knowing what you’re doing when you apply for a job, and I think that if I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket I would essentially have to start now, before having served a day in the Senate. Now, there are some people who might be comfortable doing that, but I’m not one of them.
A legislative “present” vote (which essentially counts as a “No” vote but does not go on record as such) is, as the New York Times observed, “not unusual in Illinois,” a tactic often used in concert with other party members and leaders:
An examination of Illinois records shows at least 36 times when Mr. Obama was either the only state senator to vote present or was part of a group of six or fewer to vote that way.
In more than 50 votes, he seemed to be acting in concert with other Democrats as part of a strategy.
In other cases, Mr. Obama’s present votes stood out among widespread support as he tried to use them to register legal and other objections to parts of the bills.
In Illinois, political experts say voting present is a relatively common way for lawmakers to express disapproval of a measure. It can at times help avoid running the risks of voting no, they add.
We’re unsure what supposed “misvote” this line references.
Barack Obama was indeed a professor at the University of Chicago’s Law School, a fact verified by that institution itself:
The Law School has received many media requests about Barack Obama, especially about his status as “Senior Lecturer.”
From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School’s Senior Lecturers has high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.
It’s unclear what ethics bill this statement references. Obama did help pass a major ethics reform bill as an Illinois State Senator, and
Again, it’s unclear which ethics bill this statement references, nor could we find any reference to document Obama’s supposedly having said such a bill was “hard to pass.’
As the New York Times reported in February 2008:
When residents in Illinois voiced outrage two years ago upon learning that the Exelon Corporation had not disclosed radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants, the state’s freshman senator, Barack Obama, took up their cause.
Mr. Obama scolded Exelon and federal regulators for inaction and introduced a bill to require all plant owners to notify state and local authorities immediately of even small leaks. He has boasted of it on the campaign trail, telling a crowd in Iowa in December that it was “the only nuclear legislation that I’ve passed.”
“I just did that last year,” he said, to murmurs of approval.
A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story. While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it,
Mr. Obamaeventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks.
Those revisions propelled the bill through a crucial committee. But, contrary to Mr. Obama’s comments in Iowa, it ultimately died amid parliamentary wrangling in the full Senate.
We couldn’t find a reference for Barack Obama’s supposedly claiming that he had “released” his state records, only that he said he “didn’t have the resources available to maintain those kinds of records” and that they might not exist. Politico.com noted in October 2008 that:
Obama’s Senate files became an issue after he pressed Hillary Rodham Clinton during their nomination battle to release the schedules from her eight years as first lady.
When her campaign demanded Obama release his state Senate files, he told reporters he did not “maintain a file of eight years of work in the state Senate because I didn’t have the resources available to maintain those kinds of records.” The records “could have been thrown out. I haven’t been in the state Senate now for quite some time,” he said.
His campaign later said that “files pertinent to ongoing casework” were passed to his successor, but Obama didn’t save correspondence with the general public, state associations or lobbyists, or memos on legislation and correspondence with Illinois state agencies. Some of the records that have surfaced have done little to dampen the demand for a more complete accounting.
In Barack Obama’s book Dreams from My Father, beginning at the start of
It is unclear to us what bill or statement is supposedly being referenced here.
We couldn’t find a reference for Barack Obama’s having described himself as a “bold leader in Illinois,” but certainly some of his supporters have claimed that of him (just as some of his critics have claimed the opposite).
Barack Obama did pass 26 bills in his final year as an Illinois state senator. We could not find any reference to his claiming that all of them were “my own” bills, but he certainly received a boost in passing them from Illinois Senate President (and fellow Democrat) Emil Jones, who “helped Obama learn the ways of the state legislature and gave Obama the chance to work on the ethics legislation and death penalty reforms that Obama now boasts about in his presidential campaign”:
Emil Jones Jr. helped Obama master the intricacies of the Legislature. When Democrats took control of the state Senate, Jones, though he risked offending colleagues who had toiled futilely on key issues under Republican rule, tapped Obama to take the lead on high-profile legislative initiatives that he now boasts about in his presidential campaign.
And when Obama wanted a promotion to the U.S. Senate, Jones provided critical support that gave the little-known legislator legitimacy, keeping him from being instantly trampled by the front-runners.
As FactCheck.org noted in March 2008 about the
It’s now clear that a Canadian news report that started this flap wasn’t accurate. No evidence has surfaced to show that any Obama “staffer” telephoned the Canadian ambassador in Washington, and all concerned deny that any such conversation took place. But it is equally clear that Obama’s senior economic adviser did visit Canada’s consulate in Chicago on
Feb. 8,and that NAFTA was one of the several topics discussed.
Exactly what was said is not so clear, however. The memo says Obama’s anti-NAFTA stance was described as just “political maneuvering,” but the adviser says he said no such thing. The campaign says the adviser wasn’t authorized to convey any message from the candidate anyway. No audio recording or verbatim transcript of the disputed conversation is available, and there’s no reason to expect that any exists.
In September 2007, the U.S. Senate voted on a resolution to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization:
Charged with defending the system put in place after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Guards answer to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and are revered by many for their defense of the country during the 1980s war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
The legislative move to classify Shiite Muslim-dominated Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard force as terrorist would be first such move against a foreign government entity and would freeze any of its assets under U.S. jurisdiction.
It would also allow the U.S. Treasury Department to move against firms subject to U.S. law that do business with the Guard, which have vast commercial interests at home and abroad.
Senator Obama was on the campaign trail at the time and did not return to Washington for the vote.
On March 1, a Columbian Army strike on a FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebel camp in Columbia killed 24 people, including Raul Reyes, the FARC’s foreign minister. Files in a laptop computer seized from the wreckage of the rebel camp included references to U.S. diplomatic overtures which the Associated Press described as “scintillating, if vague”:
In a Dec. 11 message to the secretariat, [Ivan] Marquez writes: “If you are in agreement, I can receive Jim and Tucker to hear the proposal of the gringos.”
Writing two days before his death, Reyes tells his comrades that “the gringos,” working through Ecuador’s government, are interested “in talking to us on various issues.”
“They say the new president of their country will be (Barack) Obama,” he writes, saying Obama rejects both the Bush administration’s free trade agreement with Colombia and the current military aid program.
Exactly who the referenced “gringos” were and whether they had any substantive connection to Barack Obama is unknown.
In August 2007, major Democratic candidates signed a pledge to not campaign in Florida because that state had moved its primary election up to
Senator Obama didn’t seriously claim to have “won” Michigan; during an 8 March 2008 Today Show interview he misspoke and inadvertently mentioned Michigan among a list of states which he had won. In accordance with the agreement mentioned in the previous entry, Barack Obama’s name didn’t even appear on the Michigan ballot.
Senator Obama didn’t claim to have “won” Nevada (a state that holds caucuses rather than direct-election primaries); he noted, correctly, that although Senator Hillary Clinton tallied more overall votes at the Nevada caucuses, he actually picked up more national delegates from that state:
Mitt Romney took Nevada’s Republican caucuses, while Democrats debated whether their party had rendered a split decision.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the vote count among those at the caucuses, but Illinois Sen. Barack Obama claimed a slight advantage in national convention delegates on the strength of his showing in rural areas.
Obama said in a statement released by his campaign that he came from
25 pointsbehind and nearly beat Clinton today because he did well across all of Nevada — “includingrural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled.”
Obama’s campaign said his performance in rural areas of the state helped him win a total of 13 national convention delegates, versus 12 for Clinton.
Senator Obama has no influence or power over the holding of caucuses rather than primary elections; that choice is made by each state individually, and candidates have to abide by whatever is decided.
We could not find any reference to document Barack Obama’s having claimed he passied “900 bills in the [Illinois] state senate.”
We are unsure what “extortion” claim this statement supposedly references.
In April 2007, the Chicago Tribune wrote of Barack Obama’s first campaign for public office:
The day after New Year’s 1996, operatives for Barack Obama filed into a barren hearing room of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
There they began the tedious process of challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of state Sen. Alice Palmer, the longtime progressive activist from the city’s South Side. And they kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama’s four Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.
Fresh from his work as a civil rights lawyer and head of a voter registration project that expanded access to the ballot box, Obama launched his first campaign for the Illinois Senate saying he wanted to empower disenfranchised citizens.
But in that initial bid for political office, Obama quickly mastered the bare-knuckled arts of Chicago electoral politics. His overwhelming legal onslaught signaled his impatience to gain office, even if that meant elbowing aside an elder stateswoman like Palmer.
Senator Obama didn’t say that has never accepted money from political action committees. (He used PAC money in his previous
As Politico.com noted in
In his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama is refusing donations from federally registered lobbyists and excluding them from his official campaign staff. (They can still be advisers and volunteers, and their spouses’ checks are certainly welcome.)
The Wall Street Journal observed in November 2008 that:
Democratic lobbyists are wondering about their future in an Obama administration. Although
Sen. Obama has taken a tough line toward registered lobbyists, he has allowed himself some maneuvering room. Like Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama has banned lobbyists from working on his campaign until after they quit their lobbying jobs.
Senator Obama also said that his administration would not employ federally registered lobbyists, although (as the New York Times noted) he has allowed himself some “wiggle room” in that regard:
Turning to campaign promises in which he pledged sweeping ethics restrictions, President-elect Barack Obama will bar lobbyists from helping to pay the costs of his transition to power or working for it in any area in which they have represented clients in the last year, his transition team said.
The new rules do seem to leave some wiggle room. Aides to Mr. Obama, who declared during the campaign that lobbyists would not “find a job in my White House,” said the guidelines allowed for lobbyists to work on the transition in areas where they have not done any lobbying.
Further, the rules apply to lobbyists who must register with the federal government; many people who work for lobbying firms or in other areas of the influence business in Washington do not have to register, because they do not personally lobby federal officials on specific issues.
A widely-circulated spoof of Apple Computer’s famous 1984 television advertisement for their (then-new) Macintosh computer was not created by an Obama campaign worker. It was, as explained in a statement issued by the managing director of Blue State Digital (a firm contracted to provide technology services to the Obama Campaign), created without authorization by an employee of that company:
Statement from Thomas Gensemer, Managing Director, Blue State Digital
On Wednesday afternoon, March the 21st, an employee at our firm, Phillip de Vellis, received a call from Arianna Huffington of “The Huffington Post” regarding the “1984” video currently circulating online. Initially, de Vellis refused to respond to her requests. He has since acknowledged to Blue State Digital that he was the creator of the video.
Pursuant to company policy regarding outside political work or commentary on behalf of our clients or otherwise, Mr. de Vellis has been terminated from Blue State Digital effective immediately.
Blue State Digital is under contract with the Obama Campaign for technology pursuits including software development and hosting. Additionally, one of our founding partners is on leave from the company to work directly for the campaign at headquarters.
However, Blue State Digital is not currently engaged in any relationship with the Obama Campaign for creative or non-technical services.
Mr. de Vellis created this video on his own time. It was done without the knowledge of management, and was in no way tied to his work at the firm or our formal engagement [on technology pursuits] with the Obama campaign.
I have spoken with David Plouffe, Sen. Obama’s campaign manager, to inform him of this action and am appreciative of his understanding and ongoing support of our work.
Senator Obama expressed opposition to the war in Iraq well before he gained a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2004. (The vote that authorized U.S. military action in Iraq was held in 2002.) He has since voted in the Senate to authorize funding for that war, for reasons he defended in a February 2008 Democratic debate:
The two Democrats exchanged pointed words over each other’s records on the war in Iraq, which contrast sharply even as economic and domestic concerns become dominant in the race. Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize the invasion, which Obama opposed from the start. After Obama again touted a high-profile antiwar speech he gave in Chicago before the war, Clinton pointed out that he, like her, had subsequently voted for war funding, and that their records on Iraq were similar since he came to the Senate in 2005.
“When it wasn’t just a speech, but it was actually action, where is the difference?” she said. “Where is the comparison that would in some way give a real credibility to the speech that he gave against the war?”
Obama shot back: “Once we had driven the bus into the ditch, there were only so many ways we could get out.”