SOTU-OLOGY….Tea leaf reading at the SOTU last night:
When Bush proclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt,” Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated.
Tell me again that Obama and Clinton now have the same position on the war in Iraq. I didn’t hear you clearly the first time.
Close analysis of who claps when is a venerable tradition at State of the Union addresses, so this is fair enough. But since I’m obviously totally in the tank for Hillary anyway, let me take a crack at explaining why a sometime Obama skeptic doesn’t find this especially convincing. (And yes, I know it was just a small jest. But it’s an opportunity to make a point anyway.)
To me, it all comes down to this: Yes, Obama opposed the war, and he opposed it for good reasons. He deserves a lot of credit for that. At the same time, taking a position when you’re watching from the sidelines is a lot different from taking a position when you’re in office and have to pay attention to the political winds more closely. So how has Obama done on that score? Let’s be honest: since he entered the Senate, Obama has hardly been a leader of the antiwar caucus. In fact, his opposition to the war has been pretty muted and his voting record has been nearly identical to Hillary Clinton’s. This strikes me as a more telling indication of what Obama would do as president than a speech he gave five years ago when he was in the Illinois legislature.
I don’t mean this as a huge criticism of Obama. Electoral realities are electoral realities. But it does lead me to be generally unimpressed with cost-free symbolism like declining to clap for the surge. The real question is, what will he do once he’s in office and he has to make good on his symbolism? Based on his track record over the past couple of years, my guess is that his real-world policy on Iraq would be about the same as Hillary’s. Maybe a little bit better if he surrounds himself with better advisors, but that’s about it.
I expect that Team Obama will have a different opinion. Have at it in comments.