Understanding The Obama Surge

I like Hillary. And I don't quite understand the visceral hatred she evokes in some people. But I also don't get why the Clinton camp likes to talk about "experience" and her "record."

She's only been a senator for seven years. What record? I called up my peeps in the Big Apple to ask if I've missed something. Did Hillary invent the Internet? Cure cancer? Rein in corporate power? What record?


Bottom line: other than Kucinich, any Democrat whose been in the House or Senate while Bush has been in office shouldn't be talking about their record.

But, if you want to compare Clinton and Obama's record, a good place to start is Congressional Quarterly.

"Judging by their Senate records, voters could pick either one of them and get more or less the same package. Clinton and Obama may...(talk) about their differences...but the reality is that their Senate careers have been more similar than their campaigns would ever admit," CQ reports.

"Their voting records are nearly indistinguishable. Although both have good working relationships with Republicans, Congressional Quarterly's annual vote studies show that Clinton and Obama both had strongly partisan voting records last year. In fact, both of them joined their fellow Democrats in mostly party-line roll calls more often than their own majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. In the past year, Clinton voted with her party on 98 percent of the questions that pitted a majority of Democrats against a majority of Republicans, while Obama's score was 97 percent. Reid sided with his party on only 95 percent of those votes."

CQ notes that both have had some successes but those are the exceptions to the rule. "Obama can claim credit for being a central player, along with Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, in the enactment of last year's lobbying and ethics law; Clinton's intervention at key points helped pave the way for the creation in 1997 of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP."

Pocketbook issues may be the Number One voter-concern, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is the defining moral/political issue of our time, which CQ barely mentions.

"There is one major disagreement that isn't reflected in their Senate records: Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, while Obama spoke out against it. Obama has won strong support from anti-war Democrats because of that difference, but because he wasn't in the Senate at the time, he wasn't able to cast an official vote against the war."

Missing from the CQ analysis is the fact that Clinton, unlike Edwards, has never come out and said: "you know, I was absolutely dead wrong about Iraq." Instead, she politiks the issue by doing the whole we-were-given-bad-info show, which is simply not credible given that people like me were writing about the lack of WMD in Iraq as early as 2000, based on explicit information provided me by former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter and other on-the-ground experts.

The idea that I had better intelligence on Iraq than Clinton is absurd and so is the I-was-misled line. No, the reality is, she didn't do her homework.

And, to top it off, she voted for Lieberman-Kyl amendment, declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which many see as the needed justification to green-light an attack on Iran and evidence that Clinton is stuck in her distorted pre-Iraq invasion judgement.

I'll admit I have a certain natural Gen X affinity for the Senator from Illinois - not because he's black. That's pre-millennial thinking. (The whole gender/race/Vietnam War/liberal-conservative hang-up the boomers are on ain't - yes, I said, ain't - an issue for us post-Civil Rights kids. Race and gender still matter, but not ultimately. It's like, even though we've never had a black or woman president, we're past that. You think the Bush twins have Lawrence Welk in their iPod? But I bet they jam to Will I Am, and probably even Kanye West, his Katrina emergency fundraiser remarks notwithstanding).

Again, I like Hillary; McCain too - as people. But, I don't vote based on whether or not I think it would be cool to break bread or have a beer with a candidate. And though I'm on the senior end of the generation that's making its presence felt in this surge of Obamaism, I'm not so naive to think presidential politics is THE ANSWER to America's problems.

In fact, I've written a number of columns explaining my view of U.S. "change"-history; namely that every step this nation has taken toward fulfilling its democratic (small d) potential was preceded by a movement - whether we're talking the abolition of slavery, woman's suffrage, labor rights, or civil rights. Obama speaks to that.

But, it's not his rhetoric or record that entices me. I'm intrigued because he's the only left-handed candidate in the field. See, I'm a southpaw myself. And lefties have a tendency to blaze their own path in this right-handed world, partly because lefties use the right (creative) side of their brain. And if there's one thing this Bush-fatigued nation needs is to regain its right mind.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com.

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