Xmas Letter to Obama: How You Could Have Won

By David Swanson

I’m sending this early, Senator, because of my confidence that you won’t open it until Christmas and my concern that when you do you’ll say I should have spoken up sooner.

The four main things you did wrong are related to vote counting, media, policy, and your job in the U.S. Senate. If you had done them right you could have worn a flag pin, not worn a flag pin, pierced the thing through your nose, or told Wolf Blitzer to stick it up his ass. Regardless, you would have won.

Vote Counting:

In the New Hampshire primary, every precinct that counted by hand you won, every precinct that counted with optical scan machines you lost. Maybe that’s just the way it went. Maybe not. But you could have had a full recount for a couple of grand and you declined. Yes, I’m aware that you won the primaries, but you ought to have done the recount as a matter of principle. You ought to have demanded recounts in other states, including states you won, as a matter of principle. The people who vote for you want their votes credibly and verifiably counted. It’s about them, Senator. It’s not about you. We don’t care if some corporate shill calls you names. We care whether you’ll stand up for our right to vote.

You did nothing to encourage early and absentee and paper-ballot voting, nothing to encourage independent observation, videography, exit polling, or oversight of any sort, nothing to prepare for law suits and recounts, nothing to alert anyone to the danger or to assist in decreasing it. You did not put your focus sufficiently on registering new voters, mobilizing turnout, and giving cynical people reason to turnout (see policy below). You should have encouraged early and absentee voting, and paper ballot voting in states that allowed voters to request paper ballots.

You should have raised the issue in the media and made it part of your campaign in a few ways. First, you should have encouraged election day volunteers, observers, videographers, and exit-pollsters, organized efforts directly or assisted organizations not affiliated with your campaign, and you should have encouraged the media to produce and release unadjusted exit poll results. You should have spent election day setting an example as an observer. Second, you should have made the issue of honest and verifiable elections part of your platform for policy changes. Ideally, you should have supported working toward changes in regulations, laws, and the Constitution to establish an individual Constitutional right to vote and to have all votes publicly and locally counted in a manner that can be repeated and verified if questioned, and a ban on private companies overseeing any vote counting. Third, you should long since have supported ongoing efforts to investigate past questionable elections all over the country.

You should NOT have conceded. You should have immediately requested audits and recounts. You should have announced ahead of time that you were going to do so as a matter of principle. And then you should have gone beyond that and encouraged labor unions to call a general strike and non-unionized workers to join in. Had you gotten the next three strategies right, it wouldn’t have come to this.


In terms of media policy, you should have supported free air time and equal substantive coverage on noncommercial public television for all qualified candidates. In terms of action, you should have refused to give a dime of our money to advertisements purchasing back little snippets of our airwaves from, and funding massively, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, or CBS. Instead, you ought to have taken all that money and joined forces with other concerned citizens and groups to launch a new, independent, commercial-free, non-profit television / radio / online network that would break the mold by honestly reporting the news 24/7/365, including the news about your campaign. If you had done that, you would have won your election, won future elections for the better candidates for decades to come, and inspired members of the public to support viewer-funded, commercial-free media worthy of a democratic nation. Not a dime of all the money we gave you went to fund serious investigative reporting. Every dime of it should have.


You listened to your advisers who listened to your donors and the corporate media. You did not base your policy positions on the preferences of the majority of Americans, much less the majority of Democrats and Independents.

Yes! magazine recently published at http://yesmagazine.org/purpleagenda a collection of progressive policies favored by a majority of Americans in polls according to which:

64 percent believe the government should provide national health insurance coverage for all, even if it would raise taxes (taking this position would have won you a huge number of voters);

80 percent support increasing the federal minimum wage (so did you but without naming an amount or talking about it except when asked);

58 percent believe a court warrant should be required to listen to telephone calls (you voted to give immunity to corporations that assisted the president in violating that requirement, and to make matters worse you had promised to vote No and filibuster);

68 percent believe a president should not act alone to fight terrorism without checks and balances of courts and Congress (you said you’d support attacking Pakistan without cover of Congress or the law, thus denying yourself the right to comment when Bush did just that);

79 percent favor mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions; 90 percent favor higher auto fuel efficiency standards; 75 percent favor clean electricity, even with higher rates; 72 percent support more funding for mass transit (why was your party’s platform so weak on this?);

67 percent favor public works projects to create jobs (your party’s platform in Denver put barely more into this than it put into giving weapons to Israel);

73 percent favor abolishing nuclear weapons, with verification; 80 percent favor banning weapons in space; 81 percent oppose torture and support following the Geneva conventions; 85 percent say the United States should not initiate military action without support from allies; 63 percent want U.S. forces home from Iraq within a year; 07 percent (yes, 7 percent!) favor military action against Iran; and 69 percent favor using diplomatic and economic means to fight terrorism, not the military (so why did you propose putting our grandchildren further into debt to enlarge the world’s biggest military and refuse to end the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other countries, or to take an attack on Iran “off the table”?);

86 percent say big companies have too much power; and 74 percent favor voluntary public financing of campaigns (so why did the AT&T Democratic National Convention disagree?).


Your vote for telecom immunity was your worst vote because of the clarity with which you had campaigned against it. If I’d know you planned such a betrayal, I would have voted for Clinton in the primary. You lost a lot of supporters and a lot of volunteer hours by that reversal. Your flip on oil drilling didn’t help.

Had you consistently voted in line with your rhetoric, your worst votes would have been those you took in support of funding the ongoing occupation of Iraq. You threw away your ability to use the single biggest issue, a hugely unpopular war, against an opponent who couldn’t stop bragging about it through the election and even on his death bed. Now President-to-be Palin has picked up the same crusade.

And you threw away a likely landslide victory by refusing to support the impeachment of Bush or Cheney. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers repeatedly defended his failure to impeach on the grounds that he didn’t want to hurt your election chances. But this made no sense, and a word from you would have reversed Conyers’ and Pelosi’s decision. When the Democrats had gone after Nixon they’d picked up 49 seats. When they’d let Reagan go they’d lost. When the Republicans had gone after Truman they’d won. When they’d gone after Clinton against the overwhelming opinion of the public, they’d lost a mere five seats and held both houses of Congress and taken the White House. Those five seats led you and your colleagues to rip the power of impeachment out of the Constitution. Yet, the Republicans lost 30 seats in the House in 2006 by backing an illegal and costly war, and you blissfully dumped hundreds of billions into continuing and escalating it.

Imagine what the impeachment trial would have looked like. Even if unsuccessful, it would have guaranteed your electoral victory. You would have defended the Constitution and the rule of law, while Senator McCain explained how he had been against torture before he was for it, and how he would not spy or lie or detain or abuse, but how he approved of Bush and Cheney having done so. After the Whigs attempted to impeach Tyler, they picked up seven seats, and Tyler left politics. Weeks after he lobbied for Johnson’s impeachment, Grant was nominated for president. Lincoln had pushed toward the impeachment of Polk without introducing actual articles. He, too, was elected president.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, promised to cease committing various crimes of Bush and Cheney, while simultaneously claiming that you couldn’t back impeachment or future prosecution because you were unaware of any crimes having been committed.

Short of impeachment you ought to have pushed for the use of inherent contempt, the power through which the House, Senate, or a committee thereof locks up a witness on Capitol Hill to compel their testimony. And you ought to have made it a top priority to assure safety and well-being to potential whistle blowers in the executive branch. By not taking a stance in support of oversight and accountability, you placed a single election ahead of the fate of our republic. By doing that, you lost yourself the election and helped lose us a lot more.

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