Monday, May 19, 2008

they are who they are

Yglesias finds a postmortem of the Clinton campaign as it circles the drain, a laundry list of things she should have done differently, and notices an odd omission: no mention of her vote for the Iraq War.

Yglesias argues, and I think correctly, that the Obama campaign wasn't just aided by Clinton's cynical warmongering; it was justified by it. For all Barack's strengths, the central "issue" distinction he had with Hillary all the way through Iowa was that he was against the war from the start. That was it. Remember the endless judgment vs. experience debates? And yet apparently on that issue alone Obama was able to sway liberals and college-educated voters away from Clinton. It should be mentioned as well that African Americans fight and die in our wars in disproportionately large numbers, and typically are keenly aware of this fact. Thus Clinton's losing battle for the black vote may at least partially trace back to her war vote as well.

Remember, unlike Hillary, Barack is young enough that he could have waited to run for president until he accumulated more experience, and in fact had originally planned to do exactly that. He must have seen an opening this year, and what else could it have been?

As a strong Obamacan, I have to admit that it was the war that initially drew me to him as a presidential candidate. If Clinton had voted against the war, I don't know that the other stuff would have been enough for me to go with him.

Then again, this is quickly becoming an "If Hillary Clinton were someone other than Hillary Clinton" argument. The mindset that led to her vote to authorize military force in Iraq is the very one that drove, most obviously, her vote for the Iran resolution, but that cynical and tone deaf approach to politics, the willingness to sacrifice sound judgment on the altar of political expediency, also explains the flag-burning amendment, her anti-video game violence bill, her vote for the 2005 bankruptcy bill, and the retainment of Mark Penn. It's also the same cynicism that drives decisions to tar Barack with the "left wing" brush, which is not only hypocritical but is the classic Clinton shiv into the kidneys of the party's base, a reviled tactic now commonly referred to as "triangulation" (Et tu, Hillary?). And, of course, this cynicism is also evidenced in her eye-rolling transformation, without hint of irony, into a Boilermaker-drinking working class hero.

I would have definitely voted for a Hillary Clinton excised of all this baggage, but at that point aren't we really talking about someone else entirely, some fictional current Senator and former First Lady who merely resembles Hillary Clinton?

Which brings me to another point, which is perhaps best explained by historical analogy. It regards the otherwise hapless Confederate Major General George Pickett. Pickett was the eponymous commander of Pickett's Charge, the epic climax of the Battle of Gettysburg, a disastrous mile-long march into concentrated Union fire that cost Pickett the majority of his division, General Lee the battle, and the Confederacy an opportunity to march on Washington itself. Years later someone asked Major General Pickett how it was that the South failed to win the battle, and Pickett famously replied, "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it."

In a battle between real candidates, it now appears that beating Obama would have required something much more than changes in strategy. This was a year of particularly strong Democratic candidates, and yet Barack beat them all, even while spending some of that time being used as a punching bag by the entire Republican establishment for his opinion on talking to enemy nations. This year's John Edwards, for instance, was a far stronger, more wily opponent than the 2004 Edwards that gave Kerry and the entire Democratic establishment a decent run, and Hillary Clinton whupped his ass. Perhaps this primary was less about Hillary's mistakes than about Barack's strengths as a candidate.

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