Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The False Premise

A while back, Bill Clinton was reported as saying that Barack Obama had a brilliant campaign built upon a false premise. The accusation was that Obama lied about being the only candidate who had consistently been opposed to the war in Iraq. Obama continues to maintain that he is the only Democratic candidate who can stand up in a general election with a consistent anti-war history.

Obama has criticized Hillary Clinton for being similar to McCain, citing the fact that both she and McCain voted for the war. That is the way it is usually stated. They “voted for the war.” And, of course, the war in question is the Iraq war waged by Bush—the war still going on today.

There is a major misunderstanding being perpetrated here. It would be far less misleading to say that all three of them (Obama, Clinton and McCain) never voted against the Iraq war. Furthermore, it would be more accurate to say that McCain is the only one on record as a supporter of Bush’s war.

This may be the most crucial point of contention in this heated and historic primary. Yet, the veracity of Clinton’s accusation has been lost in the shuffle. After a frenzied January spin cycle, the general opinion is that Bill Clinton, not Obama, is factually-challenged.

True, Hillary Clinton voted for that infamous resolution in 2002 about authorizing the use of military force in Iraq. To her credit, she has not apologized for her vote. The fact is, that vote was not a vote for the war that Bush started, and it was not a vote for the war that continues today. It was not a vote for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. It was not a vote for war, period. It was a vote to use the threat of military force to pressure Iraq into complying with UN inspector guidelines. The Bush administration ignored the fine print, and the Bush administration is alone responsible for the Iraq war.

As much as we might like to pile on the scapegoats, we cannot blame the Iraq war on Hillary Clinton. The US Senate is not responsible for the fiasco, and to say otherwise is irresponsible and rewrites history for the sake of spin and politics. Ultimately, it just makes the Bush administration look better than it deserves.

Still, some say that Hillary Clinton showed poor judgment in her vote, because, even if it was not technically a vote for war, it helped Bush create the illusion of justification for the war. Regardless of her intentions or reasons, then, her detractors claim that Senator Clinton helped pave the way for war.

Obama and his supporters also point out that Obama is on the record as being unequivocally against the war from the start. This is supposed to prove that Obama showed better judgment back in 2002. Thus, Obama says he and he alone can be “right on day one.”

Let’s pause for a moment to evaluate the change of focus here. The question now is not whether or not Clinton ever supported the Iraq war. Of course, she did not. So, we may acknowledge that Obama’s original premise is indeed false, and that he is not the only candidate who has consistently been against the Iraq war. Yet, the relevant question remains, did Obama show better judgment in 2002?

The evidence usually cited in Obama’s favor is his celebrated 2002 anti-war speech. Yet, Obama did not decry the Senate resolution in his speech, which was a plea against Bush’s war, and not against using the threat of military force to pressure Iraq into complying with UN inspector guidelines. In fact, in that very speech, Obama said, “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work.”

That is the fight Clinton was behind when she voted as she did in 2002. Obama’s speech can hardly be counted as evidence that he would have voted any differently than Senator Clinton. On the contrary, his 2002 speech suggests that Obama understood and supported the concept behind the resolution.

To this day, many intelligent and eager voters—supporters of Clinton as well as Obama—believe that Obama voted against the 2002 resolution. He did not, and he could not, because he was not in the US Senate at the time.

Furthermore, Obama is on record as saying that he could not be sure how he would have voted in 2002 had he been a US Senator at the time and had all the information required to make an informed decision.

There is no evidence that Barack Obama has shown better judgment than Hillary Clinton. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that Clinton has the integrity to stand up for her judgment, while Obama has the audacity to rely on false premises that rewrite history just to make himself look better.

These are the facts. Yet, to this day, most Obama supporters believe that he passed a test where Clinton failed. This is the false premise Bill Clinton correctly pointed out, and which got spun around so much it smacked the Clinton campaign in the face.

When Bill Clinton criticized Obama’s campaign, the media jumped on the former President like a pack of angry wolves. They focused whole-heartedly on his tone, and for the most part ignored the issue of whether or not he spoke the truth.

It would be too easy to blame all of Obama’s popularity on this false premise. Yet it would also be too easy to underestimate the influence of the media in this election. So far, it seems that influence has worked to the benefit of Barack Obama, and to the detriment of the truth.