By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An awkward moment for Obama

My friend and former Phoenix colleague Michael Crowley has beaten me to it.

Yesterday I was listening to the podcast of “Meet the Press,” which this week featured Sen. Barack Obama. For the most part, it was standard-issue Tim Russert, as Obama easily batted away questions of the tired old “how can you be for campaign-finance reform when you raise money from special interests” variety.

But, as I was driving past Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Custom House, I nearly had to pull over for this exchange:

Russert: [O]ther critics will say that you’ve not been a leader against the war, and they point to this: In July of ’04, Barack Obama, “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 then this: “There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage.” That was July of ’04. And this: “I think” there’s “some room for disagreement in that initial decision to vote for authorization of the war.” It doesn’t seem that you are firmly wedded against the war, and that you left some wiggle room that, if you had been in the Senate, you may have voted for it.

Obama: Now, Tim, that first quote was made with an interview with a guy named Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” during the 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.

Obama — shading the truth then, telling it straight now? Not a very good campaign slogan. Or as Crowley writes, “Obama might argue that there’s a difference between speaking as a nominee and speaking about the nominee. Still, even by his own account, this episode hardly seems to live up to the tough standards he set last night” — referring to a rousing speech Obama had given in Iowa the night before.

In July 2004, Obama went beyond cooling down his rhetoric in order to accommodate John Kerry and John Edwards, and his explanation for that now is cynical. Obama’s flagging campaign has caught a few sparks in the past week. It will be interesting to see whether he did himself any real damage yesterday.

Update: Media Matters reports that Russert creatively sliced and diced Obama’s comments from three years ago. No surprise there. But what concerns me is what Obama said yesterday.

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1 Comment

  1. Zach Everson

    Interesting perspective, Dan. I picked up on Obama’s comment too, but had a different response. I thought it was refreshing to hear a politician say that he had to down play his own sentiments to stick to the party line. Rather than coming up with some roundabout justification whereby he could claim to be consistent, he was honest. Be it in business, family matters, or politics, people temper their opinion all the time to provide a united front. Give Obama props for being upfront about it.

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