Saturday, May 10, 2008


Why Clinton Lost: The Reason Nobody is Talking About

by organicdemocrat

Everyone but Sen. Clinton knows it is over. Everyone is busy with post-game analysis of why she lost. But the reason is so obvious that it is staring us in the face. Even the best analysis, from Karen Tumulty, does not mention it, perhaps because it is too obvious.

  1. She misread the mood and tried to run as a Washington insider/incumbent when the electorate was hungry for change.
  1. Her strategists didn’t have a good understanding of the nomination rules. Allegedly, chief strategist Mark Penn was actually ignorant of the proportional allocation rule and thought just winning the big states would be enough to secure the nomination.
  1. She underestimated the caucus states and chose not to put resources into them because she thought her core voters would be unlikely to caucus.
  1. She relied on old money for fundraising and didn’t tap into the new modes of Internet fundraising.
  1. She didn’t plan ahead for a long race and was very late to set up operations in states which voted after Super Tuesday.

What doomed the Clinton candidacy is of course, her vote in favor of the Iraq war. But, you say, so did most of her Democratic Colleagues in Congress.Yes, but none of them made it either. Apart from Kucinich, only Obama opposed the war from the beginning. Clinton was the best among the candidates that voted for the war: not only for her personal qualities, but also because of the formidable machine that she and her husband had built over the years. Between Kucinich and Obama there is no match.

It appears in hindsight that Sen. Clinton's Iraq vote was an early sign of the kind of candidate she would be. At the time she voted for that war, she was a freshman Senator. She was trying hard to establish her National Security credentials. She pulled strings to get on the coveted Armed Services Committee. She toured the world, at least on occasion with John McCain. She was trying to overcome what she thought would be her biggest liability as a Presidential candidate: a woman has to prove that she is tough, like Margaret Thatcher. What better way to show toughness than to show command of military matters? She worked hard to remove any doubt that she would be qualified to be Commander-in-Chief.

When Sen. Clinton stood up to speak on the war on Oct 10, 2002 the war was not a controversial issue among the establishment of this country. Many of the same pundits who escoriate her in the mainstream media today were braying in support of Pres. Bush. After 9/11, the Senator from New York had to be tough on terrorism. Pres. Bush had an approval rating of 64%, down from a high of 88% a year earlier, but still quite respectable. Even VP Cheney was at 54%. Congress had a rating of about 45%: quite good for that body. ( Congress as a whole always polls below individual members in their Districts). The anti-war protests appeared anemic due to the biased media coverage in the aftermath of 9/11. Quite a few Liberal Members of Congress protested the war, but they were marginalized as the `loony left' by compliant elite opinion makers. As in the letter which the DLC wrote to the members of Congress calling on them to support the President.

So it was quite easy to make the decision to support the war. She did not find it necessary to read the NIE: she already knew most of the experts personally and knew their views. That much of the evidence for WMD in Iraq was fabricated was obvious to most experts, but it is doubtful that Sen. Clinton ever even questioned it. The important thing was not to get caught on the wrong side of history, when many of her colleagues even on the Democratic side of the Senate was going to vote for it.

Yet 23 Senate Democrats voted against the war ( HT to GN1927 for correction. See comment below for complete list.) Also a Republican, Lincoln Chaffee. We must honor these honorable men and women who stood up when the nation needed them.

Fake mavericks like McCain rolled over and played nice. Sen. Clinton fully expected the Primary for Democratic nomination in 2008 to be a coronation: the real attacks would come from Republicans in the General Elections. So she was looking to the right and not the left as she made her decision. She made a crucial decision risking the lives of thousands of soldiers based on a mere political calculation.

And in case things went wrong there was always the fig leaf: she could always claim that the resolution only authorized the use of force, so it was not a declaration of war. Such distinctions loom large in the mind of lawyers, but rarely do they mater in politics. So a confident and resolute Sen. Clinton spoke in favor of House Joint Resolution 114 of the 104th Congress ( 2nd Session)

She knew then that she would be running for President. She did not know that this speech would destroy that bid. How could she? She had no original thought on the matter, no independent analysis to fall back on. She did not know specific classified information that should have raised serious questions because she had not bothered to read the NIE. She was mostly repeating in her speech the administration talking points that had also hoodwinked the New York Times, that Colin Powell had presented to the UN (to his own disgrace). She did not know that Cheney had pressured the analysts into producing papers that supported his views, because she had not dug deep into the matter.

So who could have known that this war was a dumb war? Only people who paid attention, even without any secret information available to Federal Government officials. Who knew that it was not Saddam Hussein but his mortal enemy the Al Queda that had carried out the attacks of 9/11, in spite of Cheney's claims? Everyone of course. But that was not enough for the pundits, the Congress or Sen. Clinton to oppose a war on Iraq. They let the confusion of Hussein and Al Queda stand. It was not lack of knowledge, it was lack of courage to act on what they knew. It was not only Sen. Clinton that failed. Most of the establishment of the country went along, to their everlasting shame: Judy Miller was the worst but opinion makers like Thomas Friedman, Jonathan Alter, establishment news sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Republic, all went along.

But they are not running for President. Sen. Clinton is and she has never recovered from her lapse of judgement. Why is no establishment writer pointing to that as the reason why she lost? Because they are all complicit in the original sin of supporting the invasion of Iraq.

How did a minor American politician, a mere State Senator in Illinois, get it right when all these towering giants did not? It is not that Barack Obama had better information. It is not even because he was smarter. He simply had the courage to say what he knew to be true. He would, strangely, trust that the people he was addressing were adults. This peculiar approach got him elected to the US Senate. It made him repudiate the support of the DLC:

I am not currently, nor have I ever been, a member of the DLC.It does appear that, without my knowledge, the DLC…listed me in their ‘New Democrat’ directory. Because I agree that such a directory implies membership, I will be calling the DLC to have my name removed, and appreciate your having brought this fact to my attention.”

As Sen. Clinton noted, she brings many years of experience to the table as does Sen. McCain. Sen. Obama brings a speech he gave in 2002. Here is the text of that speech:

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.

Only a few seconds of the film of that speech that survives. The words repeated by-some of his supporters- are powerful, even if, delivered without Obama's special diction.

This speech displayed the qualities with which he would defeat Sen. Clinton and win the nomination six years later. And six months after that he will defeat Sen. McCain in the General Electon and start a historic Presidency.

You are right, Sen. Clinton, Obama only brought to the table a speech he gave in 2002.
That was enough.

UPDATE: Arie Berman makes a similar point in The Nation

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