I decided to break up the last post because it was ridiculously long, which made it a little meandering and unfocused. So, here is Part II:
Last year, many conservatives in Louisiana argued that Governor Jindal’s election represented a mandate, a contention with which I disagreed, not because of his margin of victory but because of the abysmal turn-out. I can only wonder if those same conservatives would now argue the same thing about an Obama mandate, which seems self-evident considering both his margin of victory and the record turn-out.
And please forgive me and my hubris, but it’s difficult for me not to take a special satisfaction in Mr. Obama’s victory.
I remained a steadfast supporter of his candidacy for the past two years. Actually, I was rooting for him well before he announced.
Obama opposed the Iraqi War from the beginning. In hindsight, this may not appear to be a particularly bold position, knowing now what we should have known then. However, at the time, Obama was one of only a small handful of politicians willing to speak out.
It was a massive political risk. If we had arrived and had been greeted as liberators, if we had discovered huge caches of weapons of mass destruction, and if the whole war had only taken weeks and not years, Obama’s political career and his reputation would have been greatly diminished. His judgment and his patriotism would have been forever questioned.
But he recognized then what we all can clearly see now: The Iraq War was a huge miscalculation. It was a hastily-crafted decision, one that was sold to the American people on a body of lies and half-truths. It relied on our own collective emotional investment in seeking justice for the attacks of 9/11, and it was buttressed by an administration who played (masterfully) a paternalistic role– one that refused criticism and recklessly questioned loyalties.
For all the Monday morning analysis on how and why Obama won, there’s a critical point most seem to miss: It wasn’t just because of the economic crisis.
Obama also won because of his position on the War in Iraq. Two years ago, as he campaigned in the Iowan winter, Obama was the only candidate who could speak credibly about his position on the war. His record was consistent, as was his rhetoric, and in a country beleagured by two wars, a country yearning for a leader who could speak honestly and consistently, Obama resonated.
If Hillary Clinton had voted against the war resolution, it’s likely Obama would have not earned the nomination. But because of this critical difference and despite his inexperience, Obama could make a winning argument that it was judgment that mattered most.
This is the first major speech Obama delivered on the War in Iraq. Delivered on October 2, 2002:
Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.
The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.
My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.
I don’t oppose all wars.
After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
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.
Now let me be clear — I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.
He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses 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.
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.
So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.
You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.
You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.
You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn’t simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.
Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance, corruption and greed, poverty and despair.
The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not — we will not — travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.
Six years later, it’d be easy to call Obama prescient, but I believe he was simply being sensible.
Of the Democratic candidates for President, Obama and Kucinich were the only two candidates who had always opposed the decision to go to war with Iraq, but there was always a big difference between the two. Obama spoke in the parlance of hope. He consistently demonstrated his ability to speak to the best of America, and when he was critical, he refused to be cynical.
I first donated to his campaign in January of 2007, and for many months, I was, believe it or not, the only person in Central Louisiana who had contributed. For a while, I took a certain pride in being the first and only person from my neck of the woods who had given to Mr. Obama’s campaign. For whatever reason, I believed his nomination was inevitable, and more importantly, I believed (and continue to believe) that Mr. Obama represented our nation’s best and greatest hope for positive, monumental change.
And while I understood the passion behind the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, I never felt comfortable with a candidate who would force us to reopen the culture wars of the 1990s. Plus, Hillary voted to authorize force in Iraq, and instead of taking responsibility, she consistently deflected criticism of her vote back to President Bush. It seemed calculated. I thought John Edwards had a better answer for his vote: It was a mistake, and he regretted it.
Throughout the past two years, I encountered many other Central Louisianans who have contributed much more than I, and I commend their tenacity. This victory belongs to all of us.
Yes. We. Did.