More Mythmaking

Joe Klein has a hilariously shallow and un-thoughtful article up on Time.com this morning, “Inspiration vs. Substance.”

He sets up the predictable archetypes: Hillary is detailed, she “simply knows more than Obama does.” Obama is just full of fluffy rhetoric, without the substance. His rallies “messianic” and his supporters “cultish.” He further notes that “there are few differences” between the candidates and that this “isn’t a struggle for the ideological soul” of the party.

I support Obama, and for me it sure is a goddammed struggle for the soul of the party. The biggest in my lifetime — far bigger than Hart-Mondale or Gore-Bradley. And I think one issue — Iraq — illustrates what this struggle is about for so many of us.

Hillary Clinton’s vote on Iraq was the most important if not the most important in her entire career as a Senator — after all, she was voting to authorize Bush and Cheney to send our boys and girls off to die in Iraq.

There is simply too much in Senator Clinton’s record that suggests made her decision out of political expediency over principle (go back and read the histories of the Clinton Presidency — particularly from the point where Hillary brought Dick Morris back into the fray — if you need evidence).

She has not, to this day, given a very good accounting of why she voted the way she did. If she really believed her vote was to promote “diplomacy” she could have voted for the Levin Amendment. Yet she continues as recently as last week in the debates to dissemble about why she voted against that amendment. Her vote more recently for the Lieberman-Kyle Iran measure, made when she looked like a shoe-in for the nomination in October, underscores her pattern of political expediency that trumps principle on the big issues.

And if this wasn’t political expediency, she was simply wrong on the biggest moral and political test of her career to date. If she got it so wrong, does the claim that she “knows more” mean anything? This claim she “knows more” is made more galling in this particular case by the fact she didn’t read the NIE. She may “know more,” but does she know the “right things”?

Contrast her position on the war with Obama’s. He was against the war from the start, saying:

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

Senator Obama made this speech in October 2002, when he was a mere state legislator. Perhaps Senator Clinton “knows more” but he was sure far more far-sighted and right on this issue.

Now, some people may claim it was easy for him to say this. Clinton supporters often tell me: “He didn’t have anything at stake.” Perhaps not realizing their statement as tacitly acknowledging Clinton’s decision was made not out of principal, but political calculation.

And besides, one could argue that Obama did have more at stake. Clinton wasn’t facing another election until 2006 at the earliest. Obama was about to launch a run for statewide office in Illinois, which had a Republican governor at the time. And it wasn’t clear that opposing the war was a smart political move. George Bush’s approval ratings were stratospheric. The vast majority of Americans were ready for and supportive of the war. It took courage for people to stand up to it then. Hell, when Howard Dean ran for President, making the case against the war 6-12 months in late 2003, he looked like a damned hero. Barack staked out the position early on, and it took guts for him to do it.

Senator Clinton’s poor decision on Iraq affects everything. She may have a wonderfully detailed day-care policy, but that won’t matter much if we can’t pay for it because we’ve committed so many hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for our occupation of Iraq. If you get the big things wrong, it affects everything.

And that’s why this is a battle for the soul of the party. Many of us want a President who is able to fuse his or her principles into his politics. Sadly, there isn’t enough in Senator Clinton’s record to suggest she’ll have the backbone or the intelligence or moral courage to make the right call on many of the big issues. And that she’ll be more inclined to continue the triangulations of the 1990s.

Simply: many of us are supporting Senator Obama because we think we can do better.