Two very different ordeals

Jeb Babbin looks back at the Saddleback forum and sees “a grand slam” for McCain. In Babbin’s view, McCain was able to accomplish three things that are central to winning in November: (1) shore up his status with conservative voters, (2) persent his compelling life story with quiet eloquence, and (3) demonstrate that, on the issues, he is a man of depth and conviction.

Babbin notes the contrast between the candidates’ response when asked to describe their most difficult, “gut-wrenching” decision. McCain talked about his decision not to accept release from a North Vietnamese prison. Obama cited his decision to oppose going to war with Iraq.

McCain’s decision speaks for itself. But why was opposing the war a gut-wrenching decision for Obama? Was it because he thought the decision was a close call on the merits? That would make this a genuinely gut-wrenching experience. However, I don’t believe Obama has ever indicated that, for him, this was a close call. Indeed, at Saddleback he said he was convinced that we lacked strong evidence of Saddam having WMD, and believed that there would be serious post-invasion difficulties that would adversely affect our overall fight against terrorism. Given these beliefs, the decision to oppose the war, if viewed on the merits alone, should not have been a gut-wrenching experience for Obama.

More likely, the decision was gut-wrenching because Obama recognized that it might come back to haunt him politically. In fact, Obama began his answer to Warren’s question by referring to the “political consequences.” But to the extent Obama believed that avoiding war with Iraq was plainly the proper course, it speaks poorly of him if the politics of the situation made it an ordeal to oppose the war.

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