Suffice it to say that (in my opinion) Obama's hour yesterday on Meet the Press was not his finest hour.
I had been very impressed with the video of his speech at the JJ dinner the night before so I was curious whether he would choose to maintain the tone of promising new policies (with specificity) to change America's direction or revert to his vague promise of a new tone (with generalities) that implies to me a style of compromising with the right wing which is just a new way to triangulate. My two biggest frustrations with Obama as a Senator has been his consistent pattern of repeating Republican talking points at the outset of his explanation of his position and then his refusal to actually provide leadership on any of the key issues (Supreme Court nomination, defunding the Iraq war etc.)
The transcript of the entire interview is available here
For me, there are three sections of the interview that stand out.
First was when he was asked what are the arguments of the 1990's that he wants to help put behind us. He answered:
Well, look, when we think about, let’s say, foreign policy, we have had a tendency to, to argue along the spectrum of you’re either a hawk or a dove. Either you’re willing to engage in military action and oftentimes think military action first and diplomacy second, or you’re a dove, you’ve got post-Vietnam syndrome, you’re suspicious of any military action. I think that the way we have to think about it is to say that right now we live in a dangerous world. There are times where we’re going to need to act militarily. We should not hesitate to act on behalf of the national interest. But we have to understand that we’ve got more power than just the military at our, our disposal, and that’s something, obviously, the Bush administration has forgotten.
Now in my opinion - that's a nice sentiment but totally meaningless and non-responsive to the question. Is the argument of the 1990's that he claims he wants to "get beyond" the whether you are a hawk or a dove ? I actually don't remember that being much of an argument in the 1990's. Or is he just once again find a reason to repeat a Republican talking point accusing the Democrats of having a "post-Vietnam syndrome".
Then when he was asked about his own quoted statement that Hillary Clinton had not been fully truthful with the voters about what she would do as President and asked specifically "on which issues has Hillary Clinton not been truthful?" he answered:
Well, I think that what Senator Clinton’s been doing is running what’s considered a textbook Washington campaign, and what that says is that you don’t answer directly tough questions. You don’t present tough choices directly to the American people for fear that your answers might not be popular, you might make yourself a target for Republicans in the general election. So on Social Security, for example, she has maintained, it appears, that if we just get our fiscal house in order that we can solve the problem of Social Security. Now, we’ve got 78 million baby boomers that are going to be retiring, and every expert that looks at this problem says "There’s going to be a gap, and we’re going to have more money going out than we have coming in unless we make some adjustments now." Now, I think that Social Security is the single most important social program that we have in this country, and I want to make sure that it’s there not just for this generation, but for next generations. So that means that we’re going to have to make some decisions, and it’s not sufficient for us to just finesse the issue because we’re worried that, well, we might be attacked for the various options we present.
But then when asked by Russert to explain his shifting positions (first everything was on the table then raising retirement age was off the table) he reverted to a promise to convene a meeting in which "all options are considered". It sounded to me like he is being very "Hillary like" in not giving a direct answer to what his plan for social security will be other then "considering all options".
Finally when asked by Russert to explain the fact that despite having given a speech against the war in 2002 (before he was elected to the Senate) there has been no difference in position from Hillary's since being elected to the Senate in 2004 and that in July 2004 he had said "I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don’t know," in terms of how you would have voted on the war. and "There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage." And "I think" there’s "some room for disagreement in that initial decision to vote for authorization of the war." He answered that those quotes were made during the Democratic Convention "when we had a nominee for the presidency and a vice president, both of whom had voted for the war. And so it, it probably was the wrong time for me to be making a strong case against our party’s nominees’ decisions when it came to Iraq."
I actually understand that he decided in 2004 that for Political reasons (supporting the Kerry campaign) he didn't want to criticize Kerry's vote for the Iraq War resolution, but wasn't that an example of doing exactly what he criticizes the others for doing. Wasn't that not being honest for political reasons. Why can't Obama at least admit that he was wrong for not having continued to speak out against the Iraq War Authorization vote in the summer of 2004. Why can't he admit that he was wrong for criticizing those in the Progressive Wing of the Party who were calling for a deadline for withdrawal of troops back in 2005. Why can't he admit that he was wrong for continuing to vote to give George Bush a blank check in funding the war in Iraq.
I preferred the Obama who was fired up on Saturday night at the Iowa JJ dinner over the one who showed up Sunday morning on Meet the Press. But I also preferred the Obama who spoke out against the war before getting elected to the Senate to the one who has served very cautiously in the Senate since being elected in 2004.