Well she didn't quite say that, but it's her basic retort to Obama's critique. I just did a Google search for 'Obama antiwar', and an Obama ad tailored to an antiwar Democrat popped up. There is no Clinton ad, no Edwards ad, and no Richardson ad. That's kind of strange, since Google adwords is an easy system to use. But maybe it's not an accident.
For some time, I've been confused about why Senator Clinton is able to maintain a solid lead in the polls despite being out of step on a key issue for Democrats: Iraq. Despite all the money - mostly from elites but also a boatload from small dollar donors - Obama is just not moving in the polls. The conventional wisdom is that his antiwar stance in 2002 would help him, so much so that Bill Clinton himself complained about media coverage of Obama.
|The conventional wisdom hasn't just been that Obama has a leg up on Iraq, but that the Democratic Party has a strong antiwar base. And sure, Obama is sending out emails with phrases that allude to Clinton's lack of judgment on authorizing the war, without naming her. But is this wise? Is the base of the Democratic Party really a straight antiwar group? I mean, if it is, then whey would Senator Clinton not face substantive criticism over her vote? There are no 527s going after her right now. I don't see any unions, or Moveon, or even any organized effort from the blogs to do anything about her campaign. Are we really 'antiwar?'
In looking at some of the polling data from 2002-2003, I don't think the story is that simple. There are a good number of Democrats that straight up opposed the invasion, but many of us were what I'll call 'antiwar but'. In March, right before the invasion, a CBS/NYT poll asked whether the US should take military action against Hussein even if the UN voted against it. 42% said yes, 55% said no. An antiwar majority, sure, but hardly overwhelming. In February, according to a Time/CNN poll, Democrats opposed the invasion by a 42% to 50% margin. Once again, an antiwar majority but not overwhelming. In early February, an LA Times poll found a 42% to 50% margin among Democrats. I'm struck by how the Democratic base had around 30% composition at that time that trusted Bush's instincts. So while being antiwar made you slightly more popular within the Democratic Party at the time, both antiwar and prowar positions were mainstream Democratic positions.
So that's one point. Another point is that while there's a great deal of polling on what Americans thought about Iraq, I can find very little polling on what Democrats thought about their leaders on the issue of Iraq. The Iraq vote was heavily politicized, positioned so that the Republicans could pick up seats in 2002. At the time, Democrats like Daschle thought they could take Iraq 'off the table' by voting for authorization and focus on domestic issues (how far we've come!). But this had some backing in the polls - prior to the midterms, by a 33%-22% margin, Americans said that a vote for sending troops to Iraq would help get their vote.
And now I'll come off the numerical game and discuss personally my recollections. I remember 2002-2003 as a very confusing time. I knew the situation was more complicated than Bush made it out to be, but Very Important People like Tom Friedman and Ken Pollack were advocating for the war. I still trusted these people. I went to seminars at Harvard's Institute of Politics where Iraqi refugees talked about the need to invade. I sympathized with Democratic politicians who wanted to vote for authority to use force, but with restrictions, like Joe Biden.
And lest we forget, there was this.
While Bush enjoys high job approval ratings from all groups of New Hampshire adults, his strongest supporters remain Republicans and conservatives. While somewhat less supportive, groups that usually give low ratings to Republican presidents -- Democrats, liberals, people with post graduate degrees, and residents of western New Hampshire -- also give Bush high job performance ratings.
So what does this have to do with Obama? Well, Obama's position on the war, though a somewhat popular position among Democrats at the time, was only that. While a lot of Democrats were antiwar, a lot Democrats were split, or confused, and wanted the use of force only if the UN authorized it. And Clinton/Edwards/Biden/Dodd basically fit in that overall bucket. So it's absolutely no surprise that the Democratic base believes Clinton when she says was stupid to trust Bush, but she'll end the war when in office. It's how a large plurality of Democrats think about the problem.
Now, it's far less forgivable that Clinton didn't come out for withdrawal until 2007, and up until 2006 didn't want timetables. But Obama didn't make arguments about ending the war that differed substantially from Clinton's. So both Clinton and Obama fit well within the mainstream of Democratic opinion in 2002-2003, and yet the dislike of Bush today is as strong among the 'antiwar' crowd as it is among the 'antiwar but' crowd.
Anyway, I just think that it's important to understand why Obama's critique of Clinton on the war isn't working. Lots of Democrats made that stupid judgment call as well, as are willing to forgive a bad decision from five years ago. And Obama's had five years to distinguish himself on Iraq, and hasn't.