I read this Noam Scheiber item on The Plank with interest, as Noam's been on a bit of a roll lately with his campaign analysis, and earlier got the diagnosis of the problems with the Barack Obama and John Edwards campaign exactly right. But one thing that seriously undermines Obama's case for his judgment in the present debate over Hillary Clinton's yes vote on the Kyl-Lieberman Iran Resolution is that Obama himself failed to cast a vote on it. Nonetheless, here's the message the Obama campaign sent out to supporters today, urging them to march against the war in Iraq:
Many Republicans and even a few Democrats refuse to admit the mistake they made five years ago. And now we're seeing history repeat itself as the drumbeat builds for a war with Iran.
Once again, some politicians are more afraid of appearing weak than they are of being dragged into another war.
It's going to take your personal involvement to stop the march to the next war...
It seems to me that if Obama thought the Kyl-Lieberman Iran Resolution vote was as important a line in the sand on a march to war with Iran as he is now making it out to be, he could have taken the time to come back to Washington, give a speech on the issue, and urge all his Democratic Senate colleagues to vote no, too. And then he could have cast a vote himself.
A speech of that sort would probably have been enough to get Clinton to alter her vote, because the evidence suggests that pressure from less high-profile presidential competitor Chris Dodd has already helped move her (as well as Obama) toward a more decisive position on withdrawing from Iraq. Obama could have tried to unite the Democratic caucus of the U.S. Senate on this issue, and urged them to present a united front on this foreign policy question. Instead, he managed to be out of town on the day of the vote, and then did not issue a statement on it until 10 p.m. that evening. So much for "personal involvement" in stopping the U.S. from "being dragged into another war"!
Indeed, Obama's track record on controversial votes is something I've been thinking a lot about over the past few days, ever since he appeared to call for new regulations on abortion in response to a question from an anti-choice listener in Iowa on Saturday. According The New York Times Obama said:
there is a large agreement, for example, that late-term abortions are really problematic and there should be a regulation.
As there is no such movement toward a new late-term abortion regulation among any pro-choice group I am aware of, I asked Obama spokesman Bill Burton for elaboration on this over the weekend. He said:
Obama did not suggest that new regulations were needed or appropriate. He simply stated the fact that there is agreement that late-term abortions should be limited to the rare instances where the life or health of a woman is at stake. And he has consistently made clear that abortion regulations, such as the Federal Abortion Ban, that lack exceptions for the life and health of women are unconstitutional and endanger women's health.
Both those statement suggest some comfort with banning second-term abortions, however, as most states already ban early third-trimester ones, as Roe permits them to do. And Obama is correct in that there is very little public support for keeping second-term abortions legal. Still, it would have been easier to interpret Obama's statement if he had a clear voting record on this topic. Instead, Obama managed to absent his opinion from the Illinois legislature twice during votes on a partial-birth ban in Illinois -- voting present rather than yes or no -- muddying the actual record about his beliefs. Clinton in 2000 said that she would be open to a ban on late-term abortions, as well, but when push came to shove in the U.S. Senate, she voted against the partial-birth abortion ban which Bush signed into law in 2003 and which the Supreme Court upheld earlier this year. So her record is clear.
A third example: Just a few weeks ago, Obama managed to be absent from the floor of the Senate when it came time to vote on a controversial resolution to condemn MoveOn's advertisement about Gen. Petraeus. Clinton and Dodd voted against the measure; Obama issued a statement condemning the entire exercise as distracting theatrics.
All told, these episodes have started to make me wonder if maybe Obama would have somehow managed to be absent from the Senate the day of the 2002 vote on authorizing the use of force in Iraq, as well. It is a harsh thing to suggest, but his own campaign is now arguing that "we're seeing history repeat itself" when it comes to the power of a vote he decided to skip, and his track record on missing controversial votes is increasingly disturbing. U.S. Senators have a rare power -- there are but 100 of them for a nation of 300 million -- and when they chose to use their voices but not their votes, they are abdicating their duties as elected officials. If Obama really thinks Clinton said just yes to war with Iran, he needs to explain why he couldn't be bothered to say no.
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