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Etan Thomas

Etan Thomas

Posted: November 2, 2007 02:08 PM

In Defense of Barack Obama


Barack Obama has been bombarded with a list of complaints in regards to the way he has been conducting his campaign. These criticisms have been mounting for some time, and seem to be growing more and more as we near the primary elections.

Robert Guttman, the director of the Center on Politics & Foreign Relations (CPFR) at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. wrote in a blog titled, "Is He Tough Enough to Be President":

What has happened to the "rock star" Obama that shot out of the gate so gracefully when he announced for president? It is good to be the candidate of hope but when your opponent is ahead of you by more than 20 points in national polls you have to be more forceful discussing your differences with her.

Obama, take off the gloves and really show you want to win this nomination and that you would be a much better general election candidate than Hillary.

Obama's supporters and fundraisers are looking for some fireworks. Hillary is too composed and her campaign too programmed to make a serious mistake so the only other way to cut her lead is for the other Democratic candidates to show some spark, some new ideas, and to attack her for some of her less popular positions.


Barack Obama's criticism of Clinton's efforts to overhaul health care as first lady, was a direct sign of disapproval with what Clinton has held so dear to her throughout this campaign. Her past work towards universal health care has been her badge of honor. Obama criticized her for not reaching out enough, and blamed that stubbornness as the reason her efforts failed saying, "The problem was that she closed the doors. She just worked with her own people. She locked out potential allies.'' This is a direct and clear cut attack on one of the main banners that she has been waiving throughout this election process.


During Tuesday's debate, Obama made a clear distinction between himself and Hilary Clinton. He voiced his disapproval with her policies, accused her of changing her position on issues and having an overall resemblance to the Bush/Cheney politics that we have suffered through for these past two terms. In his words:

It does not mean, I think, changing positions whenever it's politically convenient. And Senator Clinton, in her campaign, I think has been for NAFTA previously. Now she's against it. She has taken one position on torture several months ago, and then most recently has taken a different position.


She voted for a war, to authorize sending troops into Iraq, and then later said this was a war for diplomacy.

That may be politically savvy, but I don't think that it offers the clear contrast that we need. I think what we need right now is honesty with the American people about where we would take the country. That's how I'm trying to run my campaign. That's how I will be as president.

After the most secretive administration in memory, an administration that consistently misled the American people, we need a president who is going to be open and forthright I think last night's debate really exposed this fault line. Senator Clinton left us wondering where she stood on every single hard question from Iran to Social Security to drivers' licenses for undocumented workers.

I don't see how much more direct Obama can get. Even after the debate, the headline in the L.A. Times read "Obama failed to rattle Hilary Clinton". However, it appeared to me, that after every attack, Clinton simply refused to respond, ignoring the accusations by Obama and Edwards, and resorted to re-emphasizing her support and record for renovating the health care system and fighting "special interest" in Washington.

Chris Mathews on MSNBC's post-debate show declared, "Hillary Clinton would not answer the questions straight."

Then there are many who share the sentiments of Ariana Huffington in her blog post titled "Welcome to The Campaign Senator Obama":

And while Obama absolutely deserves recognition for his early opposition to the war, voters want him to do more than pat himself on the back for being right in 2002. They want to know what he is doing to end the war in 2007.

The last time funding for Iraq was on the table, Obama played it very close to the vest, refusing to say how he was going to vote ahead of time, and waiting until the measure already had enough votes to pass before voting against it. To his credit, he's already vowed to vote against any future funding requests that don't include a specific withdrawal date. But that's not enough. He needs to show leadership on the issue -- and leadership is all about demonstrating the ability to create a new consensus around what you believe.

There is another great opportunity that Obama has so far missed: to challenge Clinton's judgment on Iran. Of course, the reason he has missed it, is that his own position on designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization is more than a little muddled.

I couldn't disagree more. Barack Obama made his position on Iran crystal clear in Iowa over the summer during a speech on the future of the 4 year old war in Iraq, which he stressed has simply bolstered Iranian influence. Not only did Obama warn the Bush administration against expanding the war in Iraq to neighboring Iran, but he made the connection of the same exact "eerie echoes" of rhetoric that led to the catastrophe which is the Iraq invasion. In his words:

George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear loud and clear from the American people and the Congress: You do not have our support, and you do not have our authorization, to launch another war.

Obama explained that while in his opinion, he feels the Islamic Republic poses a "grave challenge" to U.S. interests in the Middle east. Their refusal of international demands to discontinue its nuclear fuel program and assisting and reinforcing Shiite Muslim militant groups. He still remains skeptical of the intentions of the Bush administration saying:

We hear eerie echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq in the way the president and vice president talk about Iran.


They conflate Iran and al Qaeda, ignoring the violent schism that exists between Shia and Sunni militants. They issue veiled threats. They suggest the time for diplomacy and public pressure is running out, when we haven't even tried direct diplomacy.

There is absolutely nothing muddled on this position.

In addition, during Tuesday's debate, Obama made his objection known in no uncertain terms in saying:

I don't think we should be talking about attacking Iran at this point...

Look, we have been seeing, during the Republican debates, the drum beat of war. The president has been talking about World War III.That is a continuation of the kinds of foreign policy that rejects diplomacy and sees military action as the only tool available to us to influence the region.

What we should be doing is reaching out aggressively to our allies, but also talking to our enemies and focusing on those areas where we do not accept their actions, whether it be terrorism or developing nuclear weapons, but also talking to Iran directly about the potential carrots that we can provide in terms of them being involved in the World Trade Organization, or beginning to look at the possibilities of diplomatic relations being normalized.

We have not made those serious attempts. This kind of resolution does not send the right signal to the region. It doesn't send the right signal to our allies or our enemies.

And, as a consequence, I think over the long term, it weakens our capacity to influence Iran.
Now, there may come a point where those measures have been exhausted and Iran is on the verge of obtaining a nuclear weapon, where we have to consider other options. But we shouldn't talk about those options now, when we haven't even tried what would be a much more effective approach.

More from Ms. Huffington's post:

According to the Times, Obama's "aides said that they had been struggling for weeks for a balance between offering a contrast with Mrs. Clinton and avoiding the anger that they said had marked Mr. Edwards's candidacy." Why? Given the current state of affairs in America -- and in Iraq -- what's wrong with expressing a little anger?
Why is it so absurd for people to understand that Obama says he does have these differences with Hillary Clinton, he does disagree with her on various points, but he's going to show that objection in his own way? He's not going to allow himself to be portrayed as the angry black man, which is exactly how the republicans would like to characterize him. Everyone saw what they did to Howard Dean after his outburst. After he showed some fire and anger, and where did that get him? No, Barack Obama does not need to go down that road; it will not be advantageous to him or his campaign. He is, in Tim Russert's words, "an extension of his law professor personality. His style is a little more low keyed, a little more laid back". That doesn't mean that he's not willing to fight for the good of this country, it simply means that he is going to allow his precise, articulate, calculated, objections, criticisms, ideas and thoughts to speak for themselves. Obama doesn't want to get into the mud slinging, slanderous, pointless, and quite juvenile side of politics that has absolutely nothing to do with his actual abilities to perform as president of the United States, and I respect him for that. He can make his objections clear without becoming what everyone seemingly wants him to become. He recently criticized Clinton for continuing Bush's secretive approach to executive power. In addition, the Obama campaign also circulated a stream of press releases criticizing Clinton for taking conflicting positions on Iraq, NAFTA and torture.

The Obama campaign just put out a memo that said:

Her campaign strategy is to tell the American People as little as possible, avoid the difficult issues, and try to blur as many differences as possible


While Clinton is holding impressive leads in most national polls, the most recent University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll, released last week, indicates that Clinton and Obama are in a statistical dead heat, at 29 percent to 27 percent. This tells me that this fight is far from over.