Obama’s Success in Bringing About Change

I’ve had multiple posts critical of the recent meme in the blogosphere (and at least one columnist) that Obama wouldn’t make an effective president because he wouldn’t fight as John Edwards would. Charles Peters provides yet more evidence that this is nonsense in a column reviewing Obama’s achievements in the Illinois legislature. He concentrates on one example:

Consider a bill into which Obama clearly put his heart and soul. The problem he wanted to address was that too many confessions, rather than being voluntary, were coerced — by beating the daylights out of the accused.

Obama proposed requiring that interrogations and confessions be videotaped.

This seemed likely to stop the beatings, but the bill itself aroused immediate opposition. There were Republicans who were automatically tough on crime and Democrats who feared being thought soft on crime. There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama’s bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument. Vigorous opposition came from the police, too many of whom had become accustomed to using muscle to “solve” crimes. And the incoming governor, Rod Blagojevich, announced that he was against it.

Obama had his work cut out for him.

He responded with an all-out campaign of cajolery. It had not been easy for a Harvard man to become a regular guy to his colleagues. Obama had managed to do so by playing basketball and poker with them and, most of all, by listening to their concerns. Even Republicans came to respect him. One Republican state senator, Kirk Dillard, has said that “Barack had a way both intellectually and in demeanor that defused skeptics.”

The police proved to be Obama’s toughest opponent. Legislators tend to quail when cops say things like, “This means we won’t be able to protect your children.” The police tried to limit the videotaping to confessions, but Obama, knowing that the beatings were most likely to occur during questioning, fought — successfully — to keep interrogations included in the required videotaping.

By showing officers that he shared many of their concerns, even going so far as to help pass other legislation they wanted, he was able to quiet the fears of many.

Obama proved persuasive enough that the bill passed both houses of the legislature, the Senate by an incredible 35 to 0. Then he talked Blagojevich into signing the bill, making Illinois the first state to require such videotaping.

Obama didn’t stop there. He played a major role in passing many other bills, including the state’s first earned-income tax credit to help the working poor and the first ethics and campaign finance law in 25 years (a law a Post story said made Illinois “one of the best in the nation on campaign finance disclosure”). Obama’s commitment to ethics continued in the U.S. Senate, where he co-authored the new lobbying reform law that, among its hard-to-sell provisions, requires lawmakers to disclose the names of lobbyists who “bundle” contributions for them.

Taken together, these accomplishments demonstrate that Obama has what Dillard, the Republican state senator, calls a “unique” ability “to deal with extremely complex issues, to reach across the aisle and to deal with diverse people.” In other words, Obama’s campaign claim that he can persuade us to rise above what divides us is not just rhetoric.

After Obama’s victory in Iowa, both Edwards and Clinton have claimed that they could do a better job than Obama of bringing about change. Examples such as this totally undermine Edwards’ argument that Obama is in “never-never land” by believing he can negotiate with all parties.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Nascar says:

    It is good to see Obama come into his own, and provide the US the necessary leadership to enact change to our policies.

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