An exceedingly strange new respect, part 2

Yesterday in “An exceedingly strange new respect” I noted Noemie Emery’s column on Hillary Clinton. Emery traced the evolution of the respect at least some conservatives accorded Hillary Clinton as she found her footing opposing Barack Obama in the course of this year’s Democratic primary campaign.

Paul Mirengoff dashed some water on Emery’s salute to Ms. HIllary in “An old and limited respect.” Paul commented:

During the campaign, Clinton took more sensible positions on foreign policy and national security issues than Obama did. For me, the question was always whether the differences were real or opportunistic. Clinton for years had staked out a mostly centrist position on issues relating to national security. I assume she did this at least in part to position herself where she thought she might well need to be in 2008. Obama staked out a different position, the one that would assist him with his political agenda as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois and later, perhaps as a long-shot presidential candidate.

In 2008, both played the hand they had dealt themselves.

As Senator Clinton addressed key foreign policy issues in the fall of 2007 through the Iowa caucuses, she did so as the presumptive frontrunner and prohibitive favorite to win the nomination. She therefore adhered to positions and advocated policies that she planned to support in the general election campaign. Obama, on the other hand, positioned himself as the leftward-most viable candidate in a crowded field.

As I have previously argued here, the original thesis of the Obama candidacy was that, in a multiparty field, he could stake a claim as the Ivory Soap candidate on the issue of Iraq. His opposition to the war was purer than the rest of the Democratic field’s. Having been an Illinois state legislator at the time the roll was called in the United States Senate, he had not cast a vote to authorize it. Free of the encumbrance of responsibility at the time of the Senate vote, he could present himself to Democrats as a visionary opponent of a misguided war.

Senator Clinton had no such luxury. When Paul says she plays that hand she dealt herself, he is certainly right. Yet she could have played her hand a couple of different ways. Having cast her vote authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, Senator Clinton, unlike John Edwards, declined to apologize for it. She thought it would suffice to blame President Bush for botching the job.

Apologizing for her vote would also have required her to eat humble pie in a manner that appears to run against her nature. But I think her refusal to apologize is entitled to some respect, as is her support for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment supporting the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization in September 2007.

Moreover, Barack Obama did not simply play the hand he dealt himself. He dealt himself two hands. The first was the one he dealt himself as a long-shot candidate and McGovernite antiwar throwback in the primaries.

Playing that hand with a very cold cynicism, he hammered Clinton for supporting the Kyl-Lieberman amendment while he himself missed the vote and refused to take a position until after the vote occurred. Then the morning after Obama sewed up the Democratic nomination in June, he appeared before AIPAC and enthusiastically supported the position regarding the IRGC that he had previously castigated throughout the campaign.

The Kyl-Lieberman example is only a token of the second hand Barack Obama dealt himself — the one he dealt himself for the general election campaign. In the general election, Obama all but presented himself (to use Mitt Romney’s formulation) as something of a moderate Republican.

Having nailed down his party’s left-wing base during the primaries, Obama followed Richard Nixon’s adage and tacked to the middle for the general election. Indeed, on the question of taxes and even of Pakistan, he positioned himself to John McCain’s right.

Senator Clinton never made it out of the primaries, but her campaign had been oriented from the outset toward the general election. We can only wonder what steps she might have taken to present herself as a general election candidate. And perhaps only HIllary Clinton herself can fully appreciate the peculiar cynicism of Obama’s campaign. But it is difficult to accord it respect, limited or otherwise.

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