National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre wasted no words when asked about presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's strong support for a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, and severe limits on handgun purchases during his tenure in the Illinois senate. He called Obama's pro-gun control stance "bad politics. " He thundered that the NRA would talk about Obama's gun control activism. LaPierre's admonition was an ominous warning that the powerful gun-lobbying group would oppose Obama if he ran for president, and so would millions of other passionate gun owners that take their cue from the NRA.
LaPierre's outspoken opposition to Obama is yet another sign that candidate Obama will have more to worry about than race, and getting knocked for his political inexperience, and a skimpy Senate track record. He's an unabashed liberal Democrat whose votes and views during his days in the Illinois senate on taxes, abortion, civil liberties, civil rights, law enforcement and capital punishment have so far drawn little public attention. But if he hits the campaign trail, Republicans and conservative interest groups will surgically dissect his state senate votes and they will find much there to pound him.
The National Taxpayers Union will point a hard finger at Obama for voting to impose 300 new taxes and fees on businesses in his last year in the state senate. Though the tax hikes were deemed necessary to help close Illinois's crushing budget deficit, business and taxpayer interest groups screamed foul. Obama's vote to raise taxes and his consistent pro-labor votes marked him as another tax and spend Democrat with them. This has been the dread label that Republicans have tagged Democratic contenders with in elections past. This always strikes an angry chord with millions of voters that equate higher taxes with government waste, inefficiency and pork barrel favoritism. And even more insidiously, equate high taxes with special interest giveaways to minorities and the poor.
On the issue of abortion rights, Obama got a perfect rating from the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council. In 2001, he backed legislation that restrictioned medical support in certain types of abortions where the fetus survives. Pro-life groups interpreted that as a vote to strengthen abortion rights. Abortion is more than a campaign wedge issue. It's a major litmus test for right to life groups nationally. They have sold millions of voters on the notion that pro-choice support is tantamount to baby killing, and that a candidate that supports choice is not morally fit to be president. Obama's vote and views on choice will make him a prime target for pro-life groups. In fact, it already has. He got a zero rating from the National Right to Life Committee for voting for stem cell research, for funding abortions abroad, and against parental notification in the U.S. Senate.
The shocking revelation that Chicago police routinely beat and tortured black suspects in murder cases during the 1970s and 1980s made national news in 2006. The brutality drew renewed demands from black leaders and civil liberties groups for reforms in police interrogation procedures. But even before the scandal broke, Obama had rammed through legislation that required police to videotape all interrogations of murder suspects.
He also took a leading role in overhauling the state's capital punishment system. The legislature took action on the death penalty after several death row inmates wrongly convicted were exonerated. Obama also played a big role in authoring legislation that required police to keep racial stats on unwarranted traffic stops. This was a measure to combat racial profiling.
Police unions and the Fraternal Order of Police rail that these actions are undue restraints on police, and death penalty backers rail that politicians that back capital punishment reform are fuzzy headed soft on crime liberals. That tag sunk the presidential candidacy of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988. And since then Democrats have done everything to out law and order Republicans. Obama's pro-civil liberties votes and the 100 percent rating he got from the ACLU won't help him dodge the soft on crime label on the issue of crime and punishment.
Illinois senate Republicans praised Obama as a flexible politician and consensus builder who listened to the views of his Republican opponents. But the presidential campaign trail is a rough and tumble road. His Republican contender won't benignly praise his open-mindedness on the issues. He'll go for the political jugular and lambaste him as an anti-police, anti-business, pro abortion, pro labor, pro-gun control, tax and spend liberal Democrat. Conservative interest groups will tar him as a liberal Democrat who will bend way over to pander to labor, minorities, and women.
Obama's record on civil liberties, civil rights, abortion, and spending issues will endear him to millions of voters. But it will alienate millions more. And they vote in the crucial battleground states that are the key to the White House for a presidential candidate. That's a key candidate Obama won't hold.