Wednesday, December 19, 2007

David Yepsen: "Two Birds With One Speech"

David Yepsen's blog in the Des Moines Register:
Barack Obama whacked both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards with one speech in Iowa on Tuesday.
Obama staged a foreign policy forum featuring two of Bill Clinton’s former advisors, then followed it up with an address criticizing the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq, a move supported by both Clinton and Edwards.

The forum featured Anthony Lake, a national security advisor to President Clinton and Susan Rice, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

In his speech, Obama said: “George Bush did not take us to war alone. Congress gave him that authority when it voted for a Resolution with the simple title: “A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq.” I opposed the war, and spoke out against it in 2002 when it was not politically popular. I said we needed to finish the job in Afghanistan, and that invading and occupying a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 was the wrong way to respond to the unconventional challenge posed by al Qaeda and Islamic extremism.”

Using former Bill Clinton advisors in a campaign against Hillary Clinton was a neat tweak of his foe. They were also effective counters to the argument that experience is needed in the White House and that he would lack it. Obama argues a little judgment is important too.

He added: “We also have to change a conventional way of thinking about foreign policy that values time spent in Washington over timely judgments; posturing over pragmatism; and fear of looking weak over the conviction to get things right,” he said.

Obama hit just the right tone with the address. He was able to criticize Clinton and Edwards without sounding too negative about it. (Their names were never uttered and not sounding too negative is always important in nicey-nice Iowa.)

The politics of the speech was pretty simple: Obama holds the narrowest of leads in a tight race with the two for votes in the Iowa caucuses. His main rival is Clinton, who he’d dearly like to defeat in order to give his campaign a big boost into the New Hampshire primary and later contests. Defeating Clinton in Iowa would also deal a hard, perhaps mortal, blow to the national Democratic frontrunner.

But part of doing that involves taking anti-Hillary votes away from Edwards and there’s no better way to do that with Iowa Democrats than to remind them how both Clinton and Edwards voted for the war.

“When I’m the Democratic nominee, I will offer a clear choice,” he said. “My opponent won’t be able to say that I ever supported the war in Iraq, or that I don’t support a clear timetable to bring our troops home. He won’t be able to say that I voted to use our troops in Iraq to counter Iran, or that I support the Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don’t like. And he won’t be able to say that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether or not it is ok for America to torture –because it is never ok.”

Obama added: “This isn’t about drawing contrasts – it’s about a change in our foreign policy that you can believe in. So when you consider who to caucus for, I ask you to consider my judgment and vision for new American leadership.”

It must be working. Obama’s narrow lead widened to 9 points in the last poll taken in Iowa, a fact that has both Clinton and Edwards feeling a little jittery.

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