Confessions of an Obama Skeptic, Part I
I know this will come as a shock to longtime readers, but I've secretly been a bit of a skeptic about Barack Obama.
With omnipresent calls for Hillary and her “shrinking band of paranoid holdouts" to "let it go," "move on," etc., I wanted to reaffirm why some of us are stickin’ to our Annie Oakley accessories... even as Sen. Clinton embarrasses herself with primary victories in podunk states like California, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania, is that even a state? Sounds like Shrillary pulled a Keyser Söze with the names of her former campaign manager and the dim bulb that lights her clingy, low-wattage supporters. And what's up with this "Michigan" and "Florida" of which she speaks? You ever heard of them? Me neither. Man, that chick is crazy!
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In Barack Obama, I see a lot to like.
He really is smart. He really is charismatic (even if he's wearing on me more and more as the campaign goes on). And he really does offer a healthy opportunity to re-imagine what a President of the United States looks like.
Hillary Clinton, too, is smart. She really is charismatic (she's impressing me more and more as the campaign goes on). And she really does offer a healthy opportunity to re-imagine what a President of the United States looks like.
Oops. I left out one huge differentiator: unlike Hillary, Obama voted against the war.
I know he did, because a Google search on "Obama voted against the war" turns up thousands of citations.
Oh, wait a minute. He didn't get elected to the Senate until 2004, and the AUMF vote was on October 11, 2002. Hmm....
But it was still brave for him to speak out against the pending vote in the thick of his U.S. Senate campaign. He said as much in a February debate, and his website states: "As a candidate for the United States Senate in 2002, Obama put his political career on the line to oppose going to war in Iraq, and warned of 'an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.'"
But it surely was gutsy to make such a controversial speech in front of the unblinking eye and unflappable ears of the video cameras and tape recorders.
Unfortunately, it seems there's no audio or video of his historic speech available. Or, perhaps, it was recorded on a phonautograph. So, Obama had to "re-enact" part of the speech, complete with echo effects, to include it in a campaign ad.
OK, no A/V. But Chicago is a great newspaper town, whose intrepid, fedora-decked reporters wrote reams of....
Dang. As best I can tell from extensive online searching, there are no contemporaneous articles about the speech anywhere.
And in the event that someone had recorded or written about the speech, it was a perilous one to deliver a quarter-year before he declared for a hotly contested U.S. Senate run. Definitely "putting his political career on the line."
Except that The Audacity of Hope describes his U.S. Senate run as a cakewalk against weak and wounded opposition, such a breeze that it didn't make a proper test for his self-styled new approach to politics — you know, that post-partisan approach that's completely different from Bill Clinton's "third way" because....
In any case, he's certain that if he had been in the Senate that he would have voted against the war. No one can take that away from him.
You know, I think very highly of Hillary. The more I get to know her, the more I admire her. I think she's the most disciplined — one of the most disciplined people —I've ever met. She's one of the toughest. She's got an extraordinary intelligence. And she is, she’s somebody who' s in this stuff for the right reasons. She's passionate about moving the country forward on issues like health care and children.
So it's not clear to me what differences we've had since I've been in the Senate. I think what people might point to is our different assessments of the war in Iraq, although I'm always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought it was such a bad idea was that I didn’t have the benefit of U.S. intelligence. And, for those who did, it might have led to a different set of choices. So that might be something that sort of is obvious. But, again, we were in different circumstances at that time: I was running for the U.S. Senate [sic], she had to take a vote, and casting votes is always a difficult test.
Barack Obama, The New Yorker, November 7, 2006
Alright, alright. We can't be certain of how he would have voted. But at least we're certain that the U.N. did not want the United States to engage in the brinksmanship that Hillary and others engaged in by authorizing the war powers.
Without a military buildup by the U.S. in the summer of 2002, Iraq would probably have not accepted a resumption of inspections....
I did not see that increasing military pressure and readiness for armed action necessarily excluded a desire for a peaceful solution.
Well, sure, there's that. But when Obama did get to the Senate, he differentiated himself from Hillary by...
What? Their voting records are "virtually identical"!? Still, when Obama made those votes he was being an awesome, young, transformative progressive. When Hillary made them, she was old, machine-like, and totally Republican about it. How could anyone fail to see the difference?
The cynics among us might speculate that Obama's not-in-the-Senate, not-during-his-campaign, unrecorded, and not-backed-up-by-his-future-votes speech was in part a smart gamble on setting himself apart from the pack, as he considered a run for national office.
But Obama wouldn't stake out a position just for future political "optics," would he?
It was the fall of 2005, and the celebrated young senator -- still new to Capitol Hill but aware of his prospects for higher office -- was thinking about voting to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice. Talking with his aides, the Illinois Democrat expressed admiration for Roberts's intellect. Besides, Obama said, if he were president he wouldn't want his judicial nominees opposed simply on ideological grounds.
And then Rouse, his chief of staff, spoke up. This was no Harvard moot-court exercise, he said. If Obama voted for Roberts, Rouse told him, people would remind him of that every time the Supreme Court issued another conservative ruling, something that could cripple a future presidential run. Obama took it in. And when the roll was called, he voted no.
Maybe. But how was that unrecorded, unreported, re-enacted speech of Obama's about a potential Iraq War?
It was great.
This speech had it all. It was bold. It showed 20/20 foresight. And it was partisan:
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income - to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That’s what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
So, why now — with the mics, the cameras, and the reporters in place, and the country resoundingly agreeing that the Bush years have been a long national nightmare — does Obama persist in equivalating, on selling us the myth so accurately termed by fellow-blogger shystee as "the absolute fabrication that the problem with Washington is excessive partisanship"?