South Carolina Primary Preview

by Rick Rockwell

The question this weekend in South Carolina is whether this primary will re-ignite Barack Obama’s candidacy* or whether it is time to polish Hillary Clinton’s crown.

Unlike the caucuses in Nevada last weekend, Sen. Obama (D-IL) needs to step up again and stop Clinton's machine. Obama did give Sen. Clinton (D-NY) some anxiety by taking the Iowa caucuses. But if Obama can't take down she who would be Queen this weekend, the race will be over.

Some are already worried about the heated rhetoric in the Democratic campaign, fearing both Clinton and Obama are giving the Republicans ammunition for the general election. Forget that reasoning for now, although it does have some credibility. If Clinton's momentum is not stopped in South Carolina, she will roll inexorably to the nomination. Do we really want this race to be over in January or early February?

Here's the main reason to vote against Clinton: the Iraq War.

Clinton is the biggest war hawk of the Democrats. Right now, she promises to start moving troops home within 60 days of taking office. Can you believe her? This is at least the third position she’s taken on Iraq. She likes to point out Obama’s inconsistencies, but she is the most inconsistent on Iraq. Typical for the Clinton machine (and much like her husband) she is taking the position that shows up best in focus groups. Forget leadership. Forget forging bold policy. She’s ready on Day One to do what ever she feels like, no matter what she promises now.

Clinton also sounds a lot like President George Bush when she discusses the need for national security trumping human rights.

If you want the real anti-war Democrats then you need to look to names like Howard Dean (now the head of the Democratic National Committee and responsible for a great Congressional election strategy in 2006), Al Gore (now a Nobel Prize Winner, among a passel of other awards he’s collected since 2000), or Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). (Kucinich is now officially out of the 2008 presidential derby.) They all took the heat for their positions when the idea of war was popular.

Sure, Obama opposed the war in his famous 2002 speech, but as Clinton likes to point out, he has softened his rhetoric ever since. Also, his voting record is far from the revolutionary leadership needed on this all-important policy topic.

If only former Senator John Edwards had a better voting record. But he doesn’t. He made the mistake of voting to authorize the war too (one of many votes Edwards is constantly having to explain) but at least he apologized for caving in to the Bush administration.

So where does that leave Democrats? Well, if you look at the last month, it means Democrats are arguing over the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as race politics gets played out in the first Democratic primary in the South. Or this week, they started arguing about why Obama would call the Republicans “the party of ideas” and which Democrat secretly admires Ronald Reagan more. So as usual, the Democrats are beset on tiny issues of nuance while ignoring the biggest issue for the country: the Iraq War.

Only Kucinich has the guts to do this, and the rules in the House of Representatives make it difficult for him to stop the legislative process. But instead of campaigning, one of these brave Senators should go back to D.C. and filibuster until the Senate removes the war authorization. One Senator can shut down the process because the Senate runs on unanimous consent. Think that wouldn’t get some TV coverage?

Barring that, Obama needs to get even tougher with Clinton in the next debate in Los Angeles. Not only should he point out Clinton’s war policy inconsistencies, but he should demand her apology for her vote as proof she has really changed her mind. (On the stump in the past day or so, Obama has followed this strategy and put Clinton's vulnerabilities on the war front and center.) If he’s going to squabble with her, it should be about something that really matters.

However, South Carolina will tell us all whether that strategy is a week too late.

*A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll – one of the polls that has consistently tracked the race correctly – shows Obama had an 18-point lead in South Carolina on Jan. 23, so his revival is quite possible. That poll shows Clinton dropped 14 points in the past week, and Obama gained five points, as both were statistically tied in the state a week ago.

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:

(Political graphic by The Heretik, who offers graphics for use via Photobucket.)

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Anonymous said...

Thank goodness South Carolina breathed life back into Obama's campaign.

Then on top of that comes the Caroline Kennedy endorsement which is very big. I think the entire Kennedy family are very troubled to see a former President, Bill Clinton, out lying and using dirty tricks to help his wife get elected. The Caroline Kennedy endorsement in a way could be seen as a consequence of Bill Clinton's astonishing behavior but in the final analysis, I think the Kennedy endorsement is a recognition and endorsement of Obama's vision.

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