With great admiration for her spirit and tenacity, a fraction of which if either Al Gore or John Kerry had he would have become President, I still refuse to support Hillary Clinton.
My reason: no senator who helped start the Iraq War deserves to be elected; even less so if that person then offered a cock-and-bull story about having thought the vote was to strengthen the President’s hand to send in weapons inspectors to Iraq. Not only does the title of the bill (Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002) render this claim nonsensical, is it also not rather silly to say something which can be demolished by an obvious question,
“Why then, Senator, you must have protested from the rooftops on March 20, 2003, when you found out that the President had gone to war without trying to put inspectors back in?”
That she puts forth this claim shows the contempt with which politicians view a press which has given fresh meaning to “Times New Roman”, to say nothing of their respect for a public which is beyond caring even about the most brazen lies. No sane dispensation would have refrained from making that question its permanent refrain. But then we are talking of Bush’s America.
So what exactly did Hillary Clinton do on March 20, 2003, when began the war that would spell her presidential Waterloo? Her Senate website reproduces her speech on the Senate floor that day. It contains some references to the war, but no hint of protest at her vote on the War Resolution having been misused by the president to validate a preemptive war. Far from registering indignation, it does not even express regret that the war was launched. Instead it ends with these words:
“I hope Madam President that we will decide to put aside previously existing ideological and partisan positions and come together in this Senate as we’re coming together in this country on behalf of the military and on behalf of the country that they are fighting to defend. Thank you.”
If Senator Clinton’s was an act of commission, her rival’s was one of (progressive) omission. Here is Obama’s run up to the wicket (a cricket expression for trajectory):
March 3, 2003: Obama condemns Democratic weakness in a few well-chosen words:
“What’s tempting is to take the path of least resistance and keep quiet on the issue, knowing that maybe in two or three or six months, at least the fighting will be over and you can see how it plays itself out,” said Obama, a state senator from Chicago. (AP)
March 17, 2003:
Thousands of demonstrators packed Daley Center Plaza for a two- hour rally Sunday [two days before Bush issued his ultimatum against Saddam and four days before the invasion], then marched through downtown in Chicago’s largest protest to date against an Iraq war. Crowd estimates from police and organizers ranged from 5,000 to 10,000…. State Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago) told the crowd, ‘It’s not too late’ to stop the war.” (Chicago Sun Times)
March 20, 2003: On the day of the War itself, Obama began mouthing the mom-and-apple-pie political line which any viewer of cable news can repeat in his sleep:
“Once the president makes the decision to go in, our priority has to be with the safety and success of our troops,” state Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, said from Springfield, where the state Legislature is in its spring session. (AP)
On March 28, 2003, on Aaron Brown’s CNN show (by now any moral disquiet is quickly banished. This is a now a pol in full running-for-office gear.)
BARACK OBAMA, ILLINOIS STATE LEGISLATURE: Well, I think that, obviously, the overriding concern right now is safety of the troops. And, you know, I’ve been traveling around the state and at least once or twice a day, I’ll have people come up to me whose son’s were reservists who have been called up, daughters who have been called up. And, obviously, people really are concerned about making sure they’re safe. And that’s true across the board, whether people support or do not support the war. But I do think there’s an underlying anxiety, in part because of their concerns about America’s role in the world and the aftermath of the war. And, in part, because they’re concerned about domestic policy and how this war is going to impact the economy, which is going through very tough times in Illinois.
It didn’t occur to (then) State Senator Obama to add that of course, the safest thing for the troops would have been to keep them away from an unnecessary (per his previous position) war.
Caution was now firmly ensconced. Andrew Young’s autobiography is called, An Easy Consience, but the title about covers Obama’s career the next few years. This is how the Boston Globe saw it last year, looking back:
But a review of Obama’s record during his 26 months in Congress reveals that he has taken a more nuanced and cautious position on the war than the full-bore opposition.
Campaigning for the Illinois Senate seat in 2003 and 2004, Obama scolded Bush for invading Iraq and vowed he would “unequivocally” vote against an additional $87 billion to pay for it. Yet since taking office in January 2005, he has voted for four separate war appropriations, totaling more than $300 billion.
(That $87 billion, presumably, is the figure that featured in the famous ‘I was for it before I was against it’ episode which helped sink the USS John Kerry in November 2004. Of course, standing against the Grand Canyon that summer to declare that given the same Iraq vote now, he would vote exactly the same way, might have also contributed).
Bill Clinton, who whatever his faults is not politically ignorant, and can spot political posturing as well as anyone, caught Obama out on this, calling his record and Hillary Clinton’s practically indistinguishable once Obama got to the US Senate. Instead of following up, as he might have hoped, a bulldog media unrelenting in its pursuit of triviality instead latched on to his use of the words, ‘fairy tale’. He may also have missed a tactical truism: who supported the war and who opposed it is scarcely the question either Democrats or the talk show hosts want to (re)visit. They are keenly aware of their rights under the Fifth Amendment even as they might occasionally forget those under the First.
Thus we have three choices for President: one off-his-rocker gaffe-of-the-day Republican warmonger, an oily man hoping to replace the oilmen now in power. Then we have the two Democratic candidates, both of prodigious intelligence matched by prodigious dishonesty. Clinton’s fibbing on issues large and small has been been well recorded, including in a scorching article by Jeffrey St. Clair on Counterpunch yesterday. Elsewhere, Counterpuncher Evelyn Pringle has written a multi-part expose of Obama and his alleged corruption problems.
But we’re getting big on symbolism in America (another sign of third-world status?), and make much of the red-hot prospect of a woman or a black-white candidate becoming president, even as the latter runs away from his whiteness as eagerly as the former is happy to flaunt hers. It is imporatant to note that if one attitude is racist, so is the other. It is a wonder McCain doesn’t use his senior-citizen cache, but then even he knows America is not partial to age.
This is the choice eight years — of what should have been political graduate school for the country — has left us with. At the end of it all, popular will has been weak where it has not been wanting, with no systematic political effort to build or bolster it Attending a Barack or Hillary rally and shouting Yes We Can or Hill-A-Ry is good in normal times, but in times of executive abuse, people’s power is built when men and women are ready to do more, including going to jail. About only public figure who has shown willingness to do so is Cindy Sheehan, with whom neither Democratic Candidate would be caught dead, and whom the press views as deranged. Not for nothing did Gandhi caution Indians not to be confuse freedom with the end of British Rule:
“Real Swaraj (freedom) will come, not by acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when abused.”
Thomas Jefferson said something similar. How free are we, by this reckoning? Abuse after abuse has punctuated our recent public life, with so many of our so-called leaders watching mutely, in those instances when they have not actively connived. Obama actually celebrates the fact that in this election, George Bush and Dick Cheney will not be on the ballot, and the crowd cheers. If he is angry that his country let two war criminals get away he doesn’t mention it.
Some election, this. Some leadership. Eight years after Florida, the Democratic Party still goes along with elections without paper trails. Ready on Day 1? Not ready on Day 2920 (365 times 8) is more like it.
I have a suggestion: Ron Paul and Ralph Nader should unite to put together a platform with an single-point agenda: to restore the Constitution and the Rule of Law. All else can follow.
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.