Why Barack Obama is Good for Musicians

Volume CVIII, No. 10October, 2008

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Photo by Catherine Holt via Flickr.
At Local 802 we take our political endorsements very seriously. They serve as a strong indication of our values and our positions on an array of issues from worker safety, increased music and fine arts funding for public schools, pension protection and many others. 

It is neither political identity nor peer expectations that guide our endorsement choices. We do not expect to be 100 percent in agreement with our endorsees, for to do so would be a setup for deception. We look for candidates who not only understand the issues and concerns of our members, but who hold themselves to the higher purpose of serving the common good.

As union members, we embrace the ideals upon which the labor movement was founded: no one goes it alone, for as individuals we risk discrimination and exploitation. We stand united for opportunity, fairness and dignity in the form of worker protections and wage, health and retirement security. As our agreements equally protect our newest members and our 40-year veterans, we expect our endorsees to govern and legislate in ways that offer the greatest protections and opportunities to all citizens, not merely a select few.

It goes without saying that there are great ideological differences between Barack Obama and John McCain. Both men have taken positions on a multitude of issues facing our nation. This article provides a comparison of the statements, voting records and campaign pledges of each candidate in four areas: arts funding, education, labor and health care.


Barack Obama has promised to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America. 

He has stated that the arts should be “a central part of effective teaching and learning.” He said he will seek to increase funding to expand public and private sector relationships between schools and arts organizations by increasing resources for the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants. Additionally, he wants to create an “Artists Corps” of trained artists to work in low-income schools and their communities. Obama also wants to increase funding to the NEA, whose budget has been reduced by $50 million since 1992.

Barack Obama believes in promoting cultural diplomacy — that American artists, performers and thinkers can inspire our citizenry and those worldwide — and will do so by sending American talent across the globe, serving as artistic ambassadors to promote the best of our musical and artistic heritage. 

Likewise, he will welcome artists, musicians, and other performers from abroad to the U.S. to foster greater dialogue, long-lasting partnerships and cultural understandings. History has taught us (e.g. throughout the Cold War) that such endeavors go a long way to removing ignorance, bigotry and hatred and pave the way for cordial and enlightened relations on many other fronts as well.

Barack Obama is backing Senator Patrick Leahy’s Artist-Museum Partnership Act. This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code, making it possible for “artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.”

John McCain has no arts policy. I was not able to find any statements or pledges on arts education funding on his web site. When searching for the term “arts,” only one citation came up: his son, Andrew McCain, has a Bachelor of Arts degree in math.

In fact, McCain has a history of supporting anti-arts legislation, including the 1989 Helms Amendment, which sought to deny funding to art considered “obscene.” He also backed the 1999 Smith-Ashcroft Amendment, which would have eliminated all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. 


Barack Obama opposes private school vouchers and throughout his career has voted against such proposals. In his speech at the AFT Convention on July 31, 2008, he said “What I do oppose is using public money for private school vouchers. We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools, not throwing our hands up and walking away from them.”

On matters of early childhood education, Obama supports the creation of Early Learning Challenge Grants to help states move toward voluntary, universal preschool. His votes reveal that he has fought to protect Head Start funding. As president he wants to quadruple the number of infants and toddlers participating in Early Head Start and increase Head Start funding to improve the quality of both. 

Additionally, Obama wants to double funding for the main federal support for after-school programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve an additional one million children. 

Recognizing the enormous gap in funding special education programs since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was enacted in 1975, he has voted for $4 billion in funding for special education programs. 

On higher education, Obama voted to restore cuts to federal student aid programs and to raise the maximum Pell Grant to $4,500 per year. Furthermore he wants to offer a $4,000 tax credit to help families pay college tuition. He also supports outreach programs like GEAR UP, TRIO and Upward Bound, which encourage and assist young people from low-income families to effectively prepare for college.

He also supported providing up to $23,000 in loan forgiveness to math, science and special education teachers who work in high-need schools. 

John McCain supports private school vouchers and has made them the cornerstone of his education plan. In a speech at the NAACP Convention in July 2008, McCain stated, “School choice for all who want it… will be part of a serious agenda of education reform.” In 2000, he sought to create a three-year, $5.5 billion school voucher test program for one million students.

He voted against several efforts to fully fund No Child Left Behind, leaving schools with strict requirements but few financial resources to meet them. In a Wall Street Journal article dated May 29, 2008, he endorsed the belief that the threat of closing schools and privatizing them gives school districts and educators the incentive they need to succeed. 

Overall, his record on education demonstrates an insensitivity to working families, special needs children, lower-income households and families who must struggle to send their children to college. Here’s a partial examination of the way he’s voted over the past decade:

  • McCain voted against funding for after-school programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
  • McCain voted against funding for Head Start programs.
  • McCain voted against $1.6 billion in school construction funding to repair the nation’s most dilapidated school buildings.
  • McCain voted against allowing an amendment to increase funding for special education.
  • McCain voted against $7.1 billion for education and health programs.
  • McCain voted against increasing Pell Grants. 
  • McCain voted against the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which increased access to Pell Grants, lowered interest rates for Stafford loans, provided funding for Upward Bound programs and provided grants for people entering the teaching profession. 
  • McCain voted against a measure designed to ease class sizes across the country by providing funds for local school districts to recruit, hire and train 100,000 new teachers. 
  • McCain voted against additional funding for Mathematics and Science Partnerships and school leadership programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act of 1965. 
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Barack Obama champions organized labor and has actively supported workers trying to unionize and secure contracts. In 2007, he walked a picket line with workers at the Congress Hotel in Chicago and he refused to cross a picket line of striking television writers at WMUR-TV in New Hampshire. He even went so far as to personally ask the head of the station to negotiate a fair contract. 

At the Take Back America Conference in June 2007, he stated, “The choice to organize should be left up to workers and workers alone. It should be their free choice.”

In addition, Obama is a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which gives workers the ability to form unions without employer harassment. Also, he voted for collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration airport screeners.

John McCain has a 17 percent “Lifetime AFL-CIO Rating,” an indicator of his anti-union positions. In 1996 he voted for a national “right to work” law that sought to do away with unions. In 2001 McCain voted to deny firefighters and police the right to discuss workplace issues with their employer. This year he skipped a vote on the same issue.

In 2007 he voted against the Employee Free Choice Act and a measure to grant TSA airport screeners limited collective bargaining rights. Earlier this year McCain crossed the Writers Guild picket line to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” 


Barack Obama stated “My plan begins by covering every American. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is that the amount of money you will spend on premiums will be less . . . If you are one of 45 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, you will after this plan becomes law.” 

Employer-based coverage is often unavailable to many freelance artists. Decent individual policies are often prohibitively expensive. Obama’s health care plan includes the creation of a new public program that allows individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health care similar to that available to federal employees.

His plan also creates a National Health Insurance Exchange to reform the private insurance market and allow Americans to enroll in participating private plans, which would have to provide comprehensive benefits, issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums. For those who still cannot afford coverage, the government will provide a subsidy. His health plan will lower costs for the typical American family by up to $2,500 per year.

In the Senate, Obama voted to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for five years, providing an additional $35.2 billion for the program. He also voted for the budget resolution that would have authorized $50 billion to expand the program.

John McCain voted against SCHIP reauthorization and believes the free market should determine the cost of a person’s health care. His proposal seeks to shift the burden of paying for health insurance from employers to workers, pushing them into the private insurance market. This plan will reduce benefits, increase costs and leave many completely uninsured.

McCain supports Health Savings Account plans, which have high deductibles and provide fewer benefits at higher costs. If his program were law, it would allow insurance companies to cover only the healthiest people, driving costs upward. Moreover, it would permit insurance companies to refuse coverage to people with preexisting conditions. 


Understanding the philosophy behind the policies, voting records and world views of each candidate is paramount to appreciating Local 802’s endorsement choice. Barack Obama’s legislative record and positions on issues ranging from the economy, fair trade, arts funding, education, labor and many others share a common thread: they put people and the common good first. He embraces human dignity and believes that government is an inclusive entity that serves all Americans. He seeks to create a nation where the market serves human values, not one where humans serve the market. He believes that all people are born with the same range of abilities and his policies and campaign pledges reflect his drive to ensure equality of opportunity for all. In addition, Barack Obama has steadfastly opposed the war in Iraq.

John McCain has proudly aligned himself with President Bush, boasting that he has voted for Bush’s policies 90 percent of the time. A study of his policies and voting record reveals a “reverse Robin Hood” mindset: taking wealth, protections and resources from the poor and redistributing it to the rich (i.e. private schools, corporations). He believes that the free market should determine the value of a person’s health care. Having described himself as a “proud deregulator” he views government regulation, taxes, workers’ rights, unions and tort lawsuits as obstacles to corporate and investor profits. 

Despite the profound economic, diplomatic and moral consequences of the war with Iraq, coupled with all that’s been revealed about the Bush Administration’s rationale for going to war, he continues to be one of its most ardent supporters.

In short, John McCain’s values and worldview bear no resemblance whatsoever to the values and underpinnings of organized labor. Conversely, Barack Obama has demonstrated throughout his life that when injustice exists even among the least in our communities, justice is threatened for all. Like organized labor, he values equality, fairness and protections for all Americans, seeking to restore them not only within our borders, but beyond them as well.

It is with great pride that Local 802 endorses Senator Barack Obama for president of the United States.

Now just remember to vote on Nov. 4! If you have any time to volunteer, or if you have any questions about registering, voting or finding your polling place, contact me at (212) 245-4802, ext. 176 or