Obama: One Speech Does Not a President Make

handwriting-editorB_m On October 2, 2002, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama gave a speech to a crowd gathered in Chicago for an anti-war rally. It was an excellent speech, like all of Senator Obama’s speeches: well, written, filled with passionate phrasing and the rhetorical rhythms of his idols, Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.

…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 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…

Even just reading it, without hearing the Senator’s rich baritone embracing his words, there can be no doubt that it is a wonderful speech. But the difference between Senator Obama and Dr. King is that, while both could be described as inspiring orators, Dr. King was also an activist, putting his entire being into the actions necessary to turn his words into reality.

And what has Senator Obama done to act on the sentiments expressed in his speech? When he spoke before that crowd in 2002, he was free from the responsibility of having to make an actual decision on whether to support the war. He was an outsider, and he asks us to believe him when he says that if he were not an outsider he would have voted consistent with his opposition to the war. His actions don’t agree with that.

Since he was elected to the Senate in 2004, in every single vote on funding the war — the only indisputable power the Constitution affords Congress over the actions of the military — Senator Obama has voted alongside Senator Clinton to continue funding the war. He hasn’t continued his oratory in the Senate or in the pages of the Congressional Record. He hasn’t shown any great willingness to stand up to the majority of Democrats or the whole Senate to express his opposition to the war.

Even his own words don’t support his assertion that he would have voted against the Authorization to Use Military Force. On Meet the Press with Tim Russert in 2004, Senator Obama said:

“I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports.  What would I have done?  I don’t know,”


“There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage.”

The less said about the second statement, the better, but the first statement is honest and realistic. It takes into account the complexities of governing, when one has to compare and evaluate evidence and opinions from not only one’s own heart and gut, but from supporters, advisers, constituents, party leaders, and the effect of that decision on one’s future plans and ambitions.

There were 23 Senators and 133 Representatives who opposed the resolutions, and sadly none of them are still in this race for the presidency. The differences between the major Democratic candidates on nearly all other issues are very slim, so Senator Obama has declared this one distinguishing position as the bedrock upon which his campaign stands. He asks us to trust that his judgment, as evidenced by this one position — free from the danger of consequences and clear in the perfect vision of hindsight — will make up for his lack of experience, his undemonstrated leadership, and his reliance on passive notions such as “hope.”

Based on the experience of 2000 and 2004, when the electorate placed their trust in an unproven, lightly-experienced, “nice guy” who spoke of passive notions such as “compassion,” Senator Obama’s foundation appears to me not anchored in solid bedrock, but floating in a dangerous quagmire.