Gov. John Baldacci and Maine’s other Democratic superdelegates should respect the popular Maine vote and cast their support to Barack Obama. The people who attended the Maine caucuses have spent months watching these candidates in debates and talking with their friends and neighbors about the extraordinary choices in the next presidential election. They, rather than those in Augusta or Washington, have the best collective judgment on the ultimate question – who is best equipped to win in November and to lead the country in the post-Bush recovery? Personal loyalties are important, but they do not trump democracy.
I did not take my decision to support Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton lightly. The deciding evidence for me was an article in the New York Times Magazine last summer, “Hillary’s War” by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta (June 3, 2007). This was a thoroughly researched article for which Clinton declined to be interviewed.
According to the article, on Oct. 8, 2002, two days before the fateful Senate vote to authorize an invasion of Iraq, the Senate Democrats held a luncheon caucus to discuss the resolution. Florida Sen. Bob Graham, then chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, “forcefully,” in his words, urged his colleagues to read the 90-page National Intelligence Estimate which had been made available on Oct. 1 to the senators. Graham advised that this report was the deciding factor in his decision to vote “no.”
The report, released to the public in 2004, was in 2002 so highly classified that Clinton could not send her staff to read the report and brief her on it. She had to go herself to one of two secure locations in the Capitol complex to read it. This she declined to do, according to the Times piece. The report, had Clinton read it, would have revealed the tenuous basis for the trumped-up allegations of weapons of mass destruction that were being used to justify the invasion.
Hence Clinton’s campaign claims about her 2002 vote, “probably the hardest decision I have ever made” based on the “facts and assurances that I had at the time,” are misleading. More disturbingly, it is my conclusion that she based her vote on a Machiavellian calculation that in order to be elected in 2008, she had to appear “strong on defense” (although the vote was authorizing an offensive, not defense). To that end, she was not merely a passive follower of President Bush’s leadership on the war, but one of the most outspoken among Senate Democrats fueling fears of Saddam Hussein’s weapons arsenal. That calculus trumped her better judgment and the best interests of the nation, especially those men and women who have lost their lives or their health in Iraq.
Clinton has increasingly emphasized the value of her “experience.” Experience played an unfortunate role in her vote to authorize the invasion. In explaining her vote on the Senate floor, Clinton noted, “Perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, in the White House, watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation.”
As the Gerth and Van Natta article noted, “Bill Clinton served as her main counsel on the Iraq war vote.” President Clinton had, in 1998, authorized more than 400 cruise missiles and 650 air attacks against suspected WMD sites in Iraq. He was on record in asserting that Hussein had WMDs and would deploy them. He was wrong, but it is easy to see that his feelings would have had a powerful influence on Clinton.
I perceive Obama as one who is truer to his own principles, highly qualified to lead the nation, and who has crossover appeal to Republicans, independents and Democrats alike.
Choosing Clinton by superdelegate vote in defiance of the popular primary and caucus vote would be disastrous for the Democratic Party. It would be enough for me, a dyed-in-the-wool Nader Blamer for the Bush debacle, to consider voting for a third-party candidate.
In the end I would not, because I know Clinton is capable and far better than the alternative. However, there just might be enough disaffected Democrats and independents out there to, once again, tip a very delicate balance against a Democratic victory in November.
Sharon Tisher is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Maine.