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Trade and Tony

Is Barack Obama a liar?

Well, consider the two issues troubling him this week: Tony Rezko and NAFTA.

Let's take NAFTA first.

*

"The denials were sweeping when Senator Barack Obama's campaign mobilized last week to refute a report that a senior official had given back-channel reassurances to Canada soft-pedaling Mr. Obama's tough talk on Nafta," the New York Times reports.

"While campaigning in Ohio, Mr. Obama has harshly criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement, which many Ohioans blame for an exodus of jobs. He agreed last week at a debate with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States should consider leaving the pact if it could not be renegotiated.

"On Monday, a memorandum surfaced, obtained by The Associated Press, showing that Austan D. Goolsbee, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who is Mr. Obama's senior economic policy adviser, met officials last month at the Canadian consulate in Chicago.

"According to the writer of the memorandum, Joseph De Mora, a political and economic affairs consular officer, Professor Goolsbee assured them that Mr. Obama's protectionist stand on the trail was 'more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.'

"It also said the professor had assured the Canadians that Mr. Obama's language 'should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.'"

Well, then.

- My Direct Democracy has the Obama Denial Timeline.

- Talking Points Memo has the Obama campaign disseminating a video that actually makes things worse.

"Now, the headline of the Obama camp's e-mail reads 'Canadian Prime Minister Addresses Issue,'" Josh Marshall writes. "But what's interesting is that Harper, who's close to DC Republicans, actually doesn't address it in a way that's helpful to the Obama campaign. Indeed, notwithstanding a statement of regret and other flowery language, he seems to go out of his way to confirm the essential charge against the Obama campaign."

- This is classic Obama slipperiness. He makes you believe he's said something he hasn't.

"At some point," he added, "they started talking about trade and Nafta, and the Canadian Embassy confirmed that he said exactly what I have been saying on the campaign trail."

Well, no; demonstrably not.

And the the hits keep coming.

"Campaign officials said Professor Goolsbee went to the consulate as a professor, not as an adviser to Mr. Obama and that other campaign officials did not know about the meeting when it was held," the Times account notes.

"In a statement, the Canadian Embassy in Washington suggested that the consulate had sought out Professor Goolsbee specifically because of his ties to Mr. Obama's campaign."

Oops.

*

The Tribune editorial page is curiously ambivalent about Obama's NAFTA nonsense, targeting its most vicious attack on Hillary Clinton.

"Hillary Clinton is an odd one to accuse someone of being two-faced on this topic," the Trib says. "After all, it was during her husband's presidency, and with his support, that the treaty was ratified. As recently as 2004 she made it clear she grasped its value. 'I think on balance NAFTA has been good for New York and America,' she said, while indicating she had some reservations as well. Now, of course, Clinton insists she never liked it."

Pretty damning, except that the Tribune isn't giving you the full quote.

As Media Matters discovered, this is what Clinton really said: "I think on balance NAFTA has been good for New York and America, but I also think that there are a number of areas where we've not dealt with in an upfront way."

In fact, a little bit of further research on the part of the Trib editorial board would have found numerous examples like this one rebutting its claim:

"DEE DEE MYERS (former Clinton White House press secretary): Well, not really, because when - during the NAFTA debate within the Clinton White House, the then-first lady was always quite skeptical of it. She wasn't an enthusiastic backer of NAFTA inside the White House in my memory. And in fact, you know, she had a lot of questions, she had a lot of reservations, not only about the content of NAFTA but about the strategic placement in terms of that versus health care and, you know, what constituencies were we going to have to tap in order to pass NAFTA that might come back to haunt us as we tried to pass a universal health care plan."

So it's a bit disingenuous - some might say the same old typical politics - for Obama to say this, as reported in the Tribune: "What's not disputed is that Sen. Clinton and her husband championed NAFTA, worked on behalf of NAFTA, called it a victory, called it good for America, until she started running for president. That's indisputable. That's a fact."

Meanwhile, "Goolsbee has not responded to calls from the Tribune for comment, and the campaign did not make him available Monday."

*

"What disturbs most about the whole affair is the pattern of blanket denials issued by the Obama campaign - denials that were at the time implausible and now, in retrospect, borderline indefensible," Christopher Beam writes in Slate.

Welcome aboard!

*

And now, Rezko.

"As Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) closed a combative press conference on Monday, where he was thrown seriously off message being asked about influence peddler Tony Rezko and why his campaign at first denied his economic adviser Austan Goolsbee met the Canadian consul in Chicago and talked about NAFTA, some reporters - me included - wanted him to take more questions," Lynn Sweet reports.

"'Guys,' said Obama, who is campaigning on a platform that there should be more government transparency. 'I mean come on. I just answered like eight questions,' he said as he waved and left to a chorus of shouted questions."

Well, I guess that depends on what the meaning of "answered" is, as Sweet shows. (And I didn't know eight questions qualified as an extended effort.)

One of the questions Obama has been stonewalling on for the better part of a year - and not even the most important one - was noted by the Trib: "Obama, however, wouldn't disclose how many fundraising events Rezko hosted for him or who attended, saying such requests 'can just go on forever.'"

Huh? Obama could have put this to bed a long time ago. Instead, the campaign - for reasons I hope will become clear one day - has chosen a different strategy.

"As recently as Sunday, on ABC's This Week program, Obama's campaign manager, David Axelrod, insisted that Obama has fully responded to every question posed by reporters," the Sun-Times editorial page says today. "But this is not so.

"For months, Sun-Times investigative reporters have had a standing request to meet with Obama, face to face, to get answers to questions such as these:

"* How many fund-raisers did Rezko throw for Obama?

"* Obama is donating $150,000 to charity that Rezko brought into the campaign. But how much in all did Rezko raise?

"* Did Rezko find jobs for Obama backers in the Blagojevich administration or elsewhere?

"*Why did Obama only recently admit - after Bloomberg News broke the story - that Rezko had toured his South Side mansion with him in 2004 before he bought it?"

Meanwhile, Obama continues to play cute.

"At a news conference on Monday in San Antonio, Mr. Obama said he had already acknowledged that he had erred," the New York Times reports.

"'I bought a strip of land on an adjacent property that [Rezko] had purchased; I have said that was a mistake,' Mr. Obama said. 'I have been very open about what I have called a boneheaded move.'"

1. The strip of land Obama bought from Rezko is the least of it, but it's a clever deflection employed by his campaign to minimize the story.

2. I think we've already show that he has been far from "very open."

"Mr. Obama said there was no suggestion that he had betrayed the public trust or given political favors to Mr. Rezko."

But there has been more than mere suggestion.

"[A]s a state legislator, Mr. Obama wrote letters to city and state officials supporting efforts by Mr. Rezko and a partner to build apartments for the elderly with $14 million in government money," the Sun-Times reported in its June 13 editions.

"The developers received $855,000 in fees," the New York Times recalled, before disclosing this:

"While Mr. Obama was running for the Senate, Mr. Rezko was also raising money for a huge development in the South Loop of Chicago, often playing host to dinners in a private room at the Four Seasons Hotel here.

"Former Rezko associates said that Governor Blagojevich attended one of the dinners, and that at Mr. Rezko's request, Mr. Obama dropped in at one for Middle Eastern bankers in early 2004, just as he was starting to pull ahead in the Senate primary. The visits, Mr. Rezko's partners said, helped impress foreign guests."

Was Nadhmi Auchi there?

*

It's good to see the media finally pressing Obama on Rezko, but what if the Rezko trial was scheduled for July? Would questions only come then?

It's a little late, and I have little doubt that further revelations will lead to media self-examination that will result in absolutely no changes in future behavior.

*

"Barack Obama tells us he is the messenger of a new kind of politics. Open. Transparent. Different. But put the pedal to the metal and ask Illinois' junior senator new and serious questions about his radioactive, federally indicted, former friend Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, and suddenly this gleaming presidential hopeful and paragon of new politics behaves just like any other dissembling, dismissive Chicago pol, ducking the discussion while pretending not to."

Carol Marin wrote that almost a year ago. We can only wonder what it is that Obama wants so badly to keep secret.


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Find the world's best Obama analysis in Obamathon!



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Posted on March 4, 2008


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