Monday, May 19, 2008

Casualty of war

If Hillary Clinton’s pending defeat for the Democratic presidential nomination really does signal the end of the Clinton era of Democratic politics (or at least this iteration of it; 2012’s not that far off), the twilight of that era may parallel the end of the Bush era of presidential politics. This phase of the Clinton saga dovetails with that of the Bushes most notably in the one thing they have in common: the war in Iraq.

For President Bush, the war's evangelist-in-chief, emotional sparkplug and public face, the direct damage is obvious. The war that has cost us more than four thousand lives, and which will exact social and economic damage we can't fathom yet will forever be laid at the feet of the 43rd president, and no one else. All the revisionist spin in the world won’t change that.

For Clinton, pursuing among the last of her campaign’s contests in Kentucky and Oregon, the wounds may be as serious in another way. As one who supported the war from its inception, and who has consistently avoided the issue of whether she’d vote the same way now, Clinton began her campaign with a liability built in from the beginning. Her support of a dangerous and ruinous war, and her stubborn resistance to discuss how six years of hindsight might have an effect on her judgment today, compromised her standing with a public that's already expressed its opposition to that elective conflict — in the voting booth in 2006.

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The fact that she misread or ignored that clear signal to Republicans, coupled with the hubris of her virtual self-coronation when she announced her candidacy, cemented in the minds of voters a disingenuousness, a tone-deafness to the national mood that ultimately couldn't be ignored.

Clinton’s gradual backtracking from absolute support for the war, which we’ve seen on the campaign trail, was an early and frequent indicator of the half-truths and duplicities that followed.


Finally, with some recent rhetorical body blows to Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee, Clinton allied herself with John McCain — the Republican nominee — on matters of experience and national security, at Obama’s expense.

The result? While it may have scored some cheap points in the primaries, Clinton’s dance with the enemy underscores for voters nationally the long-held suspicion that her support for the Iraq war is only part of a wider Clinton triangulation agenda: presiding over a union of Democratic initiatives and Republican rhetoric. For voters with memories longer than the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, voters who oppose that rhetoric and its tragic consequences, the question has become a simple one: If I oppose the war, and she supports the war —how can I support her?

Lately, the primary exit polls haven’t much focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a front-and-center issue for how voters voted. Maybe the wars we’re fighting are so much a subtext of the national white noise, we’ve stopped isolating them as a line item in the attention span. But for many primary voters, Hillary Clinton is a wanton casualty of war. Among all the things that have hobbled her historic but tragically flawed presidential campaign, her support for the war in Iraq cost her early and, for those untold unpolled voters, too often.
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Image credit: Clinton: tk. Car bomb: SPC Ronald Shaw Jr., U.S. Army (public domain)

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