Fact Check

Wake Up, America! - Ken Blackwell

Editorial criticizes Barack Obama's political stances.

Published Mar 25, 2008

Claim:   Editorial criticizes Barack Obama's political stances.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Blackwell, February 2008]

Wake up America!

I received this forward and wondered if it is accurate.

Something to think about, an article by a Black Columnist.

Ken Blackwell - Columnist for the New York Sun

It's an amazing time to be alive in America. We're in a year of firsts in this presidential election: the first viable woman candidate; the first viable African-American candidate; and, a candidate who is the first frontrunning freedom fighter over 70. The next president of America will be a first.

We won't truly be in an election of firsts, however, until we judge every candidate by where they stand. We won't arrive where we should be until we no longer talk about skin color or gender.

Now that Barack Obama steps to the front of the Democratic field, we need

to stop talking about his race, and start talking about his policies and his politics.

The reality is this: Though the Democrats will not have a nominee until August, unless Hillary Clinton drops out, Mr. Obama is now the frontrunner, and its time America takes a closer and deeper look at him.

Some pundits are calling him the next John F. Kennedy. He's not. He's the next George McGovern. And it's time people learned the facts. Because the truth is that Mr. Obama is the single most liberal senator in the entire U.S. Senate. He is more liberal than Ted Kennedy, Bernie Sanders, or Mrs. Clinton.

Never in my life have I seen a presidential frontrunner whose rhetoric is so far removed from his record. Walter Mondale promised to raise our taxes, and he lost. George McGovern promised military weakness, and he lost. Michael Dukakis promised a liberal domestic agenda, and he lost. Yet Mr. Obama is promising all those things, and he's not behind in the polls. Why? Because the press has dealt with him as if he were in a beauty pageant.

[Rest of article here.]

Variations:   Versions of this article circulated via e-mail are sometimes combined with a separate piece about Biblical descriptions of the anti-Christ. The latter piece was not part of the original and was not written by Ken Blackwell.

Origins:   The above-referenced article was an opinion piece published in the New York Sun on 14 February 2008 under the title "Beyond Obama's Beauty." It was written by Ken Blackwell, who is described by Wikipedia as:

A former secretary of state of the U.S. state of Ohio who made an unsuccessful bid as the Republican nominee for Governor of Ohio in the 2006 election. He was the first African-American to be the candidate for governor of a major party in Ohio.

Blackwell gained national prominence for his dual roles as Chief Elections Official of Ohio and honorary co-chair of the "Committee to re-elect George W. Bush" during the 2004 election. Allegations of conflict of interest and voter disenfranchisement led to the filing of at least sixteen related lawsuits naming Blackwell. Regarding voter disenfranchisement, the US Court of Appeals ruled, in agreement with Blackwell, that provisional ballots cast in the wrong polling location should not be counted in the election. Blackwell was also named in a 2006 lawsuit related to his office's public disclosure of the Social Security numbers of Ohio residents.

A conservative, Blackwell successfully campaigned for the 2004 State Constitutional Amendment banning state recognition of same sex marriage, is a staunch proponent of gun ownership rights, and has stated that he is against abortion except in order to protect the life of the mother. He was defeated in the 2006 Ohio gubernatorial election, winning only 37% of the vote.

Like most opinion pieces, this article is long on rhetoric and opinion and short on factual statements that can be classified as either "true" or "false," but we'll take a stab at evaluating some of the parts that at least somewhat fit the latter category:

  • The truth is that Mr. Obama is the single most liberal senator in the entire U.S. Senate.
  • Attempting to quantify any politician's degree of liberality (or conservatism) is an exercise that is more subjective than objective. It is true that the National Journal's "2007 Vote Ratings" declared Barack Obama to be the "Most Liberal Senator in 2007." However, that is just one publication's assessment, supported by a methodology of its own devising — other analysts have criticized the National Journal's methodology as flawed, while other organizations' methodologies for determining liberal-conservative ordering have produced quite different results.

  • Over the summer, Mr. Obama talked about invading Pakistan, a nation armed with nuclear weapons; meeting without preconditions with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who vows to destroy Israel and create another Holocaust; and Kim Jong Il, who is murdering and starving his people, but emphasized that the nuclear option was off the table against terrorists — something no president has ever taken off the table since we created nuclear weapons in the 1940s.
  • Senator Obama did not advocate "invading" Pakistan in the sense of sending a large military force to overthrow the government and occupy that country (as the U.S. did in Iraq). What he said (in August 2007) was that if the U.S. had "actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets" in the border mountain regions of Pakistan, and President Musharraf declined to act in apprehending them, the U.S. should take the prerogative to do so:

    As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.

    I understand that President 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.

    During a Democratic debate on 24 July 2007, a moderator posed the following question to Senator Obama: "In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?"

    Senator Obama responded thusly:

    I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous. Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward. And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We've been talking about Iraq — one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses. They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.

    In August 2007, the Associated Press (AP) posed the question to Senator Obama whether there was any circumstance under which he would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat terrorism. According to AP, he responded as follows:

    "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance," Obama said, with a pause, "involving civilians." Then he quickly added, "Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table."

    "There's been no discussion of using nuclear weapons and that's not a hypothetical that I'm going to discuss," Obama said after a Capitol Hill breakfast with constituents.

    When asked whether his answer also applied to the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons, he said it did.

    However, it is misleading and inaccurate to claim that the use of nuclear weapons is "something no president has ever taken off the table since we created nuclear weapons in the 1940s." Previous considerations of nuclear weapons use generally occurred in the context of employing them against other countries (such as the USSR) that might pose a military threat to the U.S. — only fairly recently has the consideration of using nuclear weapons against terrorists (who are not necessarily operating as part of the military of, or under the auspices of, any particular country's government) become an issue.

  • Mr. Obama promises to raise taxes on "the rich." How to fix Social Security? Raise taxes. How to fix Medicare? Raise taxes. Prescription drugs? Raise taxes. Free college? Raise taxes. Socialize medicine? Raise taxes. His solution to everything is to have government take it over. Big Brother on steroids, funded by your paycheck.
  • It is also misleading and inaccurate to claim that Senator Obama "has promised to raise taxes on the rich." What Senator Obama (and Senator Clinton) have stated is that they do not favor extending some of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts enacted by the Bush Administration, tax cuts that are already set to expire at the end of 2010. In fact, both senators said they would favor extending those tax cuts, save for the ones applying to households with incomes of $250,000 or more per year (a figure that encompasses roughly 2% of U.S. households).

    One of the schemes Senator Obama has proposed for keeping the Social Security system solvent is to increase the maximum amount of earnings covered by the Social Security payroll tax:

    Obama believes that the first place to look for ways to strengthen Social Security is the payroll tax system. Currently, the Social Security payroll tax applies to only the first $102,000 a worker makes. Obama supports increasing the maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security and he will work with Congress and the American people to choose a payroll tax reform package that will keep Social Security solvent for at least the next half century.

    However, this is just one element of Senator Obama's overall plan for ensuring that Americans have adequate retirement savings, a plan which also includes tax cuts:

    Obama will eliminate all income taxation of seniors making less than $50,000 per year. This will provide an immediate tax cut averaging $1,400 to 7 million seniors and relieve millions from the burden of filing tax returns.

    Senator Obama's proposed plan for helping to ensure that Americans have access to affordable health care (including Medicare and prescription drug programs) are varied and complex and involve much more than simply "raising taxes" to "have government take over" health care and create "socialized medicine."

    Senator Obama's education plan includes a provision for ensuring that college educations are affordable to Americans — a provision accomplished not by directly increasing taxes, but by making tax credits available to the families of college students:

    Obama will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This universal and fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students. Obama will also ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by using prior year's tax data to deliver the credit when tuition is due.

  • He is pro-partial birth abortion, and promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will rule any restriction on it unconstitutional. He espouses the abortion views of Margaret Sanger, one of the early advocates of racial cleansing.
  • On 18 April 2007, the Supreme Court (in Gonzales v. Carhart) handed down a decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Senator Obama criticized the court's decision, saying:

    I strongly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women. As Justice Ginsburg emphasized in her dissenting opinion, this ruling signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman's medical concerns and the very personal decisions between a doctor and patient. I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman's right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.

    We could not find any documentation supporting the claim that Senator Obama "promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who will rule any restriction on [partial-birth abortion] unconstitutional." The closest match we could find was his statement that he would oppose any constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade:

    I have consistently advocated for reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. I oppose any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's ruling in this case.

    Margaret Sanger was a birth control activist who (among other achievements) founded the American Birth Control League, the predecessor of the current Planned Parenthood Federation of America organization. Sanger's critics have condemned her for being a proponent of eugenics who sought to "eliminate minority races by placing birth control clinics in minority neighborhoods." Linking Barack Obama with Margaret Sanger in this regard is grossly misleading and inaccurate: While Senator Obama is generally regarded to be pro-choice, he has not advocated any policies that remotely approach the concept of "racial cleansing."

    Although the United Church of Christ (of which Barack Obama is a member) has endorsed gay marriage, Senator Obama himself has said that he "does not believe in" it and instead supports civil unions for same-sex couples:

    I will tell you that I don't believe in gay marriage, but I do think that people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with dignity and respect and that the state should not discriminate against them," said Obama on Sunday. "So, I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other. I don't think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state.

  • In Illinois, he refused to vote against a statewide ban — ban — on all handguns in the state.
  • As a December 2007 Associated Press article noted, Barack Obama's public stand on gun rights changed during his time as an Illinois legislator, and his legislative record in that state evinced "strong support for gun restrictions," but he made "no attempts to ban" handguns:

    A 1996 questionnaire asked whether [Obama] supported banning the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns in Illinois. The campaign's answer was straightforward: "Yes." Eight years later, he said on another questionnaire that "a complete ban on handguns is not politically practicable," but reasonable restrictions should be imposed.

    His legislative record in Illinois shows strong support for gun restrictions, such as limiting handgun purchases to one a month, but no attempts to ban them. Today, he stands by his support for controls while trying to reassure hunters that he has no interest in interfering with their access to firearms.

    Last updated:   15 May 2008


    David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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