It was Barack Obama, not Larry Johnson, who made the speech (cribbed from Deval Patrick, but I am not focused on plagiarism) that “words matter.” I have received two messages from media friends carping that I am nit-picking Obama over his claim in last Tuesday’s debate that he was taking a tough stand on Iraq in 2002 at great personal risk because in was in the midst of a hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate.
HORSE HOCKEY! Words matter and then there is a little thing called historical evidence. Consider the following.
A December 2, 2002 article in Roll Call reported:
With Sen. Peter Fitzgerald considered the most vulnerable Senate incumbent up for re-election in 2004, an energetic handful of Democrats began laying the groundwork to take on the Illinois Republican even before this year’s votes were tallied.
The Senate race in the Land of Lincoln is among those expected to share top billing in the upcoming cycle, and the Democratic field so far includes four candidates, either announced or expected to announce, and three wild cards.
Former Chicago school board President Gery Chico (D), the only candidate who has formally announced he’s running, is on target to have at least $1 million in the bank by the end of the year.
Other Democrats expected to enter the race in coming months are state Comptroller Dan Hynes, state Sen. Barack Obama and wealthy investment banker Blair Hull, who are all working behind the scenes to secure money and support before making their intentions official. Both Obama and Hull have formed exploratory committees.
So by early December 2002, Barack has an exploratory committee. But he does not commit to the race because Carol Moseley-Braun, the woman Peter Fitzgerald defeated to win his Senate seat in 1998, might run again. Well, guess what happened?
Former Senator Moseley-Braun decided to run for President and leaked same to the press on 17 January 2003.
And who jumps into the race on 21 January 2003? Barack Obama. According to Herbert McCann of the Associated Press:
State Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday announced plans to run for the U.S. Senate and began his campaign by accusing incumbent Sen. Peter Fitzgerald of “betraying” Illinoisans.
And what did Barack say about the debacle in Iraq on that fateful day? Not a damn thing, at least according to press reports.
Senator Obama, to his credit, did oppose the war primarily because of the adverse economic impact it would have on his constituents. On September 26, 2002, Chinta Strausberg reported:
Elected officials like Reps. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-2nd), Bobby L. Rush (D-1st), Danny K. Davis (D-7th) and Illinois Senator Barack Obama (D-13th) urged Bush to end his “pattern of destruction” for the sake of America and its economy.”The president has not made his case for going into Iraq” said Obama.
“What is clear is that we have severe problems here at home.”
Barack also attended a 2 October 2002 anti-war rally in Chicago that was headlined by Jesse Jackson. But his vision about the war, understandably, was being couched in terms of how it could harm his constituents’ interests. That’s not a bad thing.
But during the ensuing campaign, Barack changed his tune. According to a Christopher Wills Associated Press piece on 19 September 2004, Barack said:
he would be willing to send more soldiers to Iraq if it is part of a strategy that the president and military leaders believe will stabilize the country and eventually allow America to withdraw.
“If that strategy made sense and would lead ultimately to the pullout of U.S. troops but in the short term required additional troop strength to protect those who are already on the ground, then that’s something I would support,” said Obama. . . .
Not an irresponsible position, but that’s not the message he’s selling now. Do words matter?
And then there was this exchange with Tim Russert on Meet the Press on 25 July 2004:
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re not charging that President Bush sent men and women to die for political reasons?
STATE SEN. OBAMA: No, I don’t think that’s the case. As I said, I think that this administration is sincere but I think it’s misguided.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said this: “…I also know that Saddam possesses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”
The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said he was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so right as a state legislator in Illinois and they’re on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees in Washington?
STATE SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. And what is absolutely clear is that John Kerry said, “If we go into war, let’s make sure that we do it right. Let’s make sure that our troops are supported. Let’s make sure that we have the kind of coalition that’s necessary to succeed.” And the execution of what was a difficult choice to make was something that all of us have to be concerned about. And moving forward, the only way that we’re going to be able to succeed is if, I think, we have an administration led by John Kerry that’s going to allow us to consolidate the relationships with our allies that bring about investment in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?
STATE SEN. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.
MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?
STATE SEN. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn’t there and what is absolutely clear as we move forward is that if we don’t have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we’re going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed in Iraq.
Note. No condemnation of Kerry or Edwards as being unfit to be President because of that vote. They voted the same way as Hillary. Barack, again to his credit, said he would have voted against the Presidential authorization, as did Senator Durbin. But can anyone point out for me where he called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
My point in belaboring this issue is that Obama is disingenuous at best in his criticism of Hillary Clinton. If you do a Lexis Nexis search for 2003, you will be hard pressed to find Obama advocating for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Yes, he spoke against the war during his 2002 state senatorial campaign, but there is scant evidence that this was a fundamental issue for him. As Barack says, “words matter.”