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Note: I'm the author of the book, Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest (watch my live call-in Sun. Sept. 7 at noon ET on C-SPAN2), but I'm not part of the Obama campaign.

John (Rick) MacArthur was on Democracy Now Monday, talking about his forthcoming book, You Can’t Be President: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America (Melville House Publishing). Along the way, he smeared Barack Obama, repeating many of the false Republican talking points about Chicago and Obama’s background. MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s magazine, reflects a disturbing trend on the left to destroy a pragmatic progressive like Obama rather than try to contribute to political change in this country.

According to MacArthur, our political system is unfair because "not everyone could get slated by the Cook County Democratic machine the way Barack Obama was on several occasions when he was an Illinois politician."

This is absolutely false. Obama was never "slated" by the Democratic machine. When Obama ran for US Senate in the 2004 primary, he beat Dan Hynes, the candidate of the Democratic machine and the son of a powerful Cook County politician.

I certainly believe that there's a Daley machine in Chicago. But it's not an all-powerful.entity, particularly not in state politics and especially not in the independent area of Hyde Park which Obama represented. To claim that Daley ordered Alice Palmer in 1995 to endorse a little-known lawyer like Obama with no Daley connection goes beyond any possible logic. Ironically, right-winger David Freddoso has an even more insane conspiracy theory, blaming Obama for conspiring with Daley to destroy Palmer supposedly because Daley saw her as a threat to run against him for Mayor. So which conspiracy theory is it? Did Mayor Daley conspire with Palmer to anoint Obama her successor, or conspire with Obama to get rid of Palmer? Of course, neither theory is even remotely plausible. The obvious reality is this: Palmer decided to run for Congress and picked Obama as an excellent candidate to endorse for her job. She did badly in her run for Congress, and decided at the last minute to try to keep her Senate seat, but Obama didn't want to give up his big chance for a political life, and so he challenged her flawed petitions. That's it, end of story, no conspiracy here at all.

Yet MacArthur claims, Obama "is sponsored by the political organization that epitomizes one-party rule in this country, the Cook County Democratic machine run by Richard Daley." Obama has never been "sponsored" by Daley. After Obama won the 2004 primary, Daley endorsed Obama, but it’s hardly surprising that a mayor would support a hometown candidate, and it was totally inconsequential for Obama.

Nor is it true that Daley "doesn’t allow people to run just because they feel like it." Daley is corrupt, but he doesn’t actually have the power to prevent people from running for public office, and he is mostly indifferent about candidates for the state legislature.

But MacArthur treats Daley like he’s some kind of all-powerful god in Chicago. According to MacArthur, "Barack Obama never took a position on the big box minimum wage bill, because that’s not something that would have pleased his political sponsor, who is Mayor Daley." Of course, Obama never took a position on it because it was a city issue, not something for a US Senator to decide. Obama might have felt (correctly) that it was a dubious idea anyway. Increasing the national minimum wage is far more important than creating a separate minimum wage for a few big box stores that can avoid it by relocating in the suburbs.

The Democracy Now conversation then turned to another distorted line of attack against Obama:

AMY GOODMAN: The names of the largest contributors to the Obama campaign, the corporations that are most funding him?

RICK MacARTHUR: Well, you’re looking at Lehman Brothers and Citigroup, which is Bob Rubin’s—where Bob Rubin works. Goldman Sachs is his number one banking contributor, if you put all the bundlers together.

This is a totally false picture of the campaign financing system. No corporations give money to candidates. Instead, individuals who work at these corporations give money. MacArthur even complains that the people giving money to Clinton or Obama often came from the same top companies, although he never explains why it matters.

And even MacArthur admitted in an op-ed that Obama has raised money from people who may be hurt by his policies for more tax fairness: "So far, Obama has outraised John McCain among employees of hedge funds $822,000 to $348,000 — this although John McCain wants to leave the capital-gains rate at 15 percent and opposes treating hedge-fund partner income as personal income."

It's rather amusing that John R. MacArthur, who is president of Harper's magazine because he convinced his grandfather's incredibly rich foundation to save the magazine in 1980, should be so suspicious of wealthy people giving money. MacArthur claims that "Obama spends so much time courting the rich," but the truth is that Obama's grassroots approach to fundraising has freed him somewhat, compared to past candidates, from the need to court the wealthy. No president has ever enacted such a massive tax cut for the poor and massive tax increase on the rich as Obama has proposed, but MacArthur considers it "just a few raindrops on a scorched earth of class bias."

MacArthur also condemns Obama for taking money from corporate lawyers even while he refuses donations from lobbyists, calling it "a difference without a distinction." Actually, there’s a very important distinction: lobbyists are registered, which allows them to be excluded. Exactly how does MacArthur propose for Obama to identify "corporate lawyers" so that he can refuse their money? The ban on lobbyist money is mostly symbolic, but it is an important symbol.

Perhaps the worst lie MacArthur told in the interview about Obama is this: "he’s also getting a lot of money from News Corporation. I mean, Rupert Murdoch hedges his bets very carefully, and he was very careful to split it down the middle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama."

Once again, MacArthur is completely wrong. Rupert Murdoch has hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, and twice donated her money personally. According to, Murdoch has never given any money to Obama. Is that MacArthur’s notion of "split it down the middle"?

Murdoch also gave a $2300 donation to McCain in June. Is MacArthur stupid enough to imagine that Rupert Murdoch is breaking the law and ordering some of his employees to donate money to Barack Obama, the candidate Murdoch is opposing? Does MacArthur actually think that Obama would support Murdoch’s stands because a few executives at News Corporation are giving Obama a minuscule proportion of his total fundraising?

Why does the left have a death wish for progressive politics? Why are Rick MacArthur and Amy Goodman repeating a series of right-wing lies and smears about Barack Obama? I confess that I don’t understand why the Goodman and MacArthur feel the need to viciously attack the most progressive candidate of a major political party in American history. But if they’re going to criticize Obama (and nobody is above critique), they should at least try to avoid repeating the worst right-wing lies about him.

I’d be happy to debate MacArthur about Obama on Democracy Now or any other show. We need to have an honest debate about progressive politics, not conservative attacks wrapped in the cloak of leftists.

Crossposted on ObamaPolitics.

Originally posted to JohnKWilson on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 03:58 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  wtf? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MH in PA, Wary, Alohilani

    i knew there was a reason i stopped listening to democracy now.

    by GlowNZ on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:00:28 PM PDT

    •  No, Everybody Should Watch Democracy Now (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sephius1, TomP, allie123, ItsSimpleSimon

      Especially the two-hour shows every weekday during the conventions. It's a great show with a lot of interesting interviews and excellent news summaries. That's precisely why I was surprised to have this error-filled attack on Obama. Obviously, she's going to be critical of Obama, as are her guests. But MacArthur needs to get his facts straight, and Goodman needs to question him seriously.

      Obama Politics (

      by JohnKWilson on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:22:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Democracy Now! pisses me off. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MH in PA, Wary

      Maybe that's the point, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
      The show's a huge downer.

      Amy Goodman is one of those uber-leftists who is so liberal, she has blinders on about Hill politics. It's good that she challenges Democrats, but she can't understand that Yes Amy there really is a difference between the two parties.

      If you don't believe there's any hope for this country, why do you even bother, Amy?

      Obama '08. Good for the Party, Good for the Country.

      by SouthernFried on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:31:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is really disingenuous. (6+ / 0-)

    AMY GOODMAN: The names of the largest contributors to the Obama campaign, the corporations that are most funding him?

    RICK MacARTHUR: Well, you’re looking at Lehman Brothers and Citigroup, which is Bob Rubin’s—where Bob Rubin works. Goldman Sachs is his number one banking contributor, if you put all the bundlers together.

    This is a totally false picture of the campaign financing system. No corporations give money to candidates. Instead, individuals who work at these corporations give money. MacArthur even complains that the people giving money to Clinton or Obama often came from the same top companies, although he never explains why it matters.

    Yes, technically true.  But we use this language as shorthand for describing corporate donations.

    Amy Goodman is one of the best journalists in this country.  That doesn't mean she's perfect, but please be careful in how you choose your wording in criticizing her.  She's one of the best we have on our side -- the side of the people.

    •  Democracy Now is great (6+ / 0-)

      I think Democracy Now is great, and my primary target here is Rick MacArthur. But that "shorthand" we use really isn't accurate. It's being used to claim that Barack Obama is a tool of corporations because he's raised more money than anybody and most of his donors (like most Americans) work for corporations. I wish Goodman had been a little more critical, especially when MacArthur's charges are so completely off base.

      Obama Politics (

      by JohnKWilson on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:07:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not really. Three days interviewing Chavez (0+ / 0-)

      with no rebuttal.  Sorry, that is biased journalism.  I don't care for her.  

      John Kerry: "The rubber stamp Republicans have now become the Roadblock Republicans"

      by beachmom on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:12:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  she has a knowledge problem (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MH in PA, crankyinNYC, robertacker13

      a great journalist would know to point out that there is no such thing as the simplistic notion of "corporations funding [Obama]".  that's a whole discussion in and of itself, but no, I don't agree that saying corporations are funding Obama's campaign legitimately counts as 'shorthand'.

      she's of that old-school kind of semi-hippie-"journalism" where all you have to do is say words like "corporate", and whoever is associated with it is linked to some kind of amorphous wrongdoing.  she certainly does great work at times, but I've seen a lot of thinly-sourced, ill-thought-out stuff on Democracy Now as well.  when she gets something right, I'm happy to praise her work.  when she gets into purity mode, I find myself perennially unimpressed.

  •  Why implicate Amy Goodman? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just because she interviewed this bozo?

    Thom Hartmann interviewed Jerome Corsi on his show, I dont think that implicates him in any kind of partnership/conspiracy with Corsi.

    "They're very good at negative campaigning. They're not so good at governing." Barack Obama Thanks to BarbinMD for pointing this out!

    by Rumour95 on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:09:05 PM PDT

    •  It was an uncritical interview (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Obviously, I'm not trying to target Amy Goodman, and I disagree with many of the criticisms of her in these comments. But she was doing a softball interview without any challenges to MacArthur, and she did bring up the distortion that Obama was funded by these corporations.

      Obama Politics (

      by JohnKWilson on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:20:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I listened to that interview (4+ / 0-)

    and I really wonder if what McArthur said is even true.  The guy went on further about how Obama is playing too nice with the Clintons and that he has to be tough on them or else his administration will be all about concessions and "giving in" to the establishment.

    It was interesting to hear Rick talk about 2004 and how the Democratic Party establishment were so willing to "take down" Howard Dean and let John Kerry lose, so that Hillary would run this year.

    I like Democracy Now and its reporting.  I think shows like this can afford to have "bad interviews" like this.  It is part of the slowly growing independent media movement.

    •  His book is based on a false premise. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MH in PA

      That premise being that 'an ordinary person' can't break into politics or make a difference.  The premise that democracy doesn't exist in America.

      Well, I'd like to introduce him to my Senator, Jon Tester, and hear him explain where he fits into that paradigm.

      Democracy is strong in America, but it's a lot of work - it's not just a matter of voting on Election Day and bitching the rest of the year.

  •  DN! does not like Democrats. (8+ / 0-)

    I have tried in vain to tell Kossaks that DN! has its own agenda, and is often very biased in an accepted point of view, never mind facts.

    To Amy Goodman, the Democratic party is just as bad as the Republican party.

    John Kerry: "The rubber stamp Republicans have now become the Roadblock Republicans"

    by beachmom on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:11:36 PM PDT

    •  When DN goes beyond reporting (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sephius1, Alohilani, robertacker13

      and slips into advocacy, you'll see her Naderite/Green/anti corporate purity  bias.

      Other than that she's a great ally.

      Obama: One Spouse, One House

      by KenBee on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:14:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's just the Chavez stuff that made me not (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenBee, HGM MA

        want to watch her show again.  I had a friend down in Nicaragua, who knows what is going on, and Chavez is not the hero Goodman tried to make him out as.  I felt her interview (THREE DAYS!) was basically propaganda for Chavez.  I just don't feel I can trust her after that.  

        John Kerry: "The rubber stamp Republicans have now become the Roadblock Republicans"

        by beachmom on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:17:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'm glad DN has its own agenda & (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chiniqua, sephius1, vcthree

      I probably share most of it. I absolutely don't think that coporate influence on the Democratic Party or Obama's campaign is in any way off-limits, but I also am glad that someone is responding to things that may be incorrect or overstated or arguably wrong.

      I part company with those anti-corporate leftists who advocate non-participation in the election or the campaign-- because I think there is a real difference, and driving the Republicans out of power is the sine qua non of progressive change-- but I don't disagree with their ant-imperialist politics.

      The idea that there's a progressive wing of the Demcratic party and that it & the netroots can have a decisive or important influence on policy-- is kind of an experiment in itself.

  •  For the record....Wall Street donors....... (0+ / 0-)

    A fellow Harvard alum of Obama's told me a turning point in the campaign came fairly early when Harvard alums in Wall Street, in Hedge Funds decided to donate to Obama.

    When I was noodling around donation records online.......for my neighborhood....the biggest donors worked in finance.

    Somewhere I read that Goldman Sachs people donate to Obama but Merrill Lynch folks donate to McCain.

    Media Reform Action Link

    by LNK on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:12:41 PM PDT

    •  But I also thought that the small donor (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      revolution came over time, and that he needed some big donors at the beginning to get going.

      I mean, I have no illusion that Obama is getting in big donor money.  The difference is that there are a lot of small donors in the mix, too.  It's not just big donors like it used to be.

      John Kerry: "The rubber stamp Republicans have now become the Roadblock Republicans"

      by beachmom on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:15:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Problem with small vs. big donors (0+ / 0-)

        Absolutely a sign of Obama's Leadership quality.....that so many small donors contributed and new voters registered........but.......

        Most all elected officials, like all human beings......are most comfortable with their own kind.....others in their same profession, other graduates of their old schools, etc.

        This is why it is so easy for lobbyists to get taken more seriously than random (untrained) constituents trying to get the officials' ears.

        I think the trick about masses of small donors is to band together and keep pressing our messages en a group (or naturally forming groups according to interest, need).

        Media Reform Action Link

        by LNK on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:44:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Do contact Amy Goodman with complaints.......n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Media Reform Action Link

    by LNK on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:13:59 PM PDT

  •  Ever hear of the expression about the tree (0+ / 0-)

    falling in the forest while there is no one around to hear it? Well, you just chopped down the tree in our backyard. I never heard of these two people before you brought it up, and I could have lived the rest of my life contently had I never known who they were. Considering every republican is saying or writing something negative and untrue about Obama, what's two more going to do?

    You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war..... Albert Einstein,

    by tazz on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:14:39 PM PDT

  •  ...and contact Amy Goodman with praise, too. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sephius1, juancito

    Media Reform Action Link

    by LNK on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:15:12 PM PDT

  •  As a Harper reader.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sephius1, Angry Mouse

    I'm really surprised.  There is no other publication that is more against the conservative movement that this publication.

    Now recently Latham left his Editor in Chief post, and is an occasional contributor and has his own magazine.   He combined the most venom and intellect of anyone I know of against the Bush Administration.

    If they have changed, which I will look for, I haven't seen it the articles and commentary.

  •  Because Obama is proving them wrong? n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Obama/Biden - vote like the future of the world is at stake, because it is!

    by abrauer on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:19:42 PM PDT

  •  Amy Goodman is a decent journalist, purity troll (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sephius1, juancito

    She always gives time to purity trolls like Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and this guy-- I think it's because so much of her audience is comprised of activists who think 'pure' candidates should be given time to complain and concern troll the democratic candidate.  She also does the same thing for anything regarding immigration, so I figure most of her audience is obsessed with that.

    I just skip the boring parts, and the purity troll crap.  That's the benefit of listening via podcast.  I listen for the news reports, particularly the international news, because hers is some of the best out there.

  •  they ain't your monkeys (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sephius1, juancito

    Rick MacArthur and Amy Goodman have been doing a fine job with little or no recognition from either Party for quite some time.

    Point your laser beam elsewhere.

    typos are often serendipitously appropriate + HowOd

    by lightnessofbeing on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:32:07 PM PDT

    •  Purity trolls will kill us all. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sephius1, Alohilani

      Well they'll make it hurt anyway.

      Tho, seriously...  In case they did not notice, this ain't the 60s and its a binary game.  If its not Ds, its R.  If Rs continue in power, we will be put irretrivably on a path of utter destruction for the non-rich, the planet and likely, well, everyone.  One smart kid can code and cookup the next pandemic on his computer and in his basement, and ensure as close to 100% lethality as is possible with a virus... you want to stir up every crazy, religious-nutty, tin-horn ideologue with jingoistic, crusader, hegemonic bombast?  And give them all the money in the world cuz you luvs ur oil-crack?

  •  I love Amy but she's no Democrat. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I agree with you entirely about MacArthur's points. It seems like he had a premise for his book and facts that don't support that premise don't count.

    •  That's the long and the short of it. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Between these 60's-style leftists and Hillary dead-enders like Mark Green and Ron Kuby and Air America, they are using both right-wing memes and radical leftist memes to discourage voting for Obama.

      Amy and Kuby still think that radicalizing black people will bring on the revolution -- crypto-racists, certainly, and Mark Green dreams he will have some part of a Hillary Clinton administration.

      Kuby's entire radio show is meant to convey hopelessness and the inevitability of getting anything done.

      skiddly bop doo wow!

      by skiddlybop on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 04:44:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm from Chicago and the Daley's are very corrupt (0+ / 0-)

    There was a Black Major that won an election Washington was his name, I can't think of his first name right now.  People were really excited about him in Chicago, then he died all of sudden of a Heart attack, Obama was in Chicago when all of this happened.  I read an article about it, gosh I wish I could remember all of it, but I'm old and I don't.  I want to say Rolling Stones but you know I think was The New York Post, where everyone was bitching about the cover, but didn't read the story.

    Obama had just started his political career/ Community Organizer during this time.  Major Washington would have changed the Daley Machine that had corrputed Chicago going back to Al Capone politics, but he died, and it didn't happen, then the son of Major Daley was elected, and that pretty much kept Chicago as it was, corrupted.  Remember all the police racial brutality cases there, they were torturing inmates.  

    Obama was never a Daley supporter, that I assure you, but he managed to work between the lines, thats when his wife Michelle talks about Chicago Politics, this is what she is talking about.  He is tough, you just wait.  This is also what has formed Obama, so just wait.

    Sorry this is long, and why Amy did this I don't know, unless it is to get the right wing talking points out there, and this could be her motive.  To get the story out there, before the attacks start.  Don't ever underestimate Amy, she usually has good intentions.

    My mother a die-hard republican, mentioned something about Daley to me yesterday.  I asked what does Major Daley have to do with Obama? She couldn't answer.

  •  Did you listen to the whole interview (0+ / 0-)

    because I am listening to it now, she dogging the Clintons, not Barack.   The Clintons are the enemy no Barck.  The Clintons are pissed off about Obama.

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