Desperate in NH: Fibbing About Obama and Iraq?

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 6:11 PM EST

Campaigning in Dover, New Hampshire the day before the primary, Senator Hillary Clinton once again pounded Barack Obama for being big on talk and small on deeds. And before a crowd that could barely fill half of a modest-sized gymnasium, she continued to claim that Obama is a disingenuous politician, no noble and inspiring force of change. Using the thin opposition research her campaign operatives have managed to unearth on her rival, she recited what's becoming the campaign's regular litany of Obama's alleged hypocrisies. Saying you oppose the Patriot Act and then voting to extend it—"that's not change," she declared. Saying you're against special interest lobbying and then having a lobbyist co-chair your New Hampshire campaign—"that's not change," she thundered. Saying in a campaign speech that you will not vote to fund the Iraq war and then voting for $300 billion in war financing—"that's not change," she exclaimed. After the event, in an interview with Fox News, Clinton was even sharper. She referred to Obama's (and John Edwards') "hypocrisy," and said, "Senator Obama has changed many of his positions." Voters, she insisted, deserved to know this: "Talk is, as they say, cheap."

Her charges against Obama have generally been weak—standard truth-stretchers for standard political campaigns. But in casting Obama as a phony on the Iraq war, Clinton has veered close to outright lying.

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Yesterday, in an interview with CNN, Clinton said:

If someone is going to claim that by their very words they are making change, then if those words say... I'm against the war in Iraq and I'll never vote for funding and then, when they go to the Senate, they vote for 300 billion dollars' worth of funding [for the war], I think it's time for people to say, "Wait a minute, let's get real here." There's a big difference between talking and acting, between rhetoric and reality.

Did Obama actually vow, as Clinton said, to never vote for funds for the Iraq war? If he had, he would indeed be a major promise-breaker—and a fraud on a critical issue for Democratic voters. This was a powerful allegation.

I sent an email to a Clinton spokesperson who specializes in opposition research, asking for a citation to back up this charge. He quickly replied with a link for a page on a Clinton campaign website that contains a quote from a speech Obama delivered in November 2003, when he was running for Senate:

Just this week, when I was asked, would I have voted for the $87 billion dollars [in a war funding], I said no. I said no unequivocally because, at a certain point, we have to say no to George Bush. If we keep on getting steamrolled, we are not going to stand a chance.

Is it possible to read that statement as a promise never to vote for Iraq war funds? Not by any reasonable interpretation. In fact, during Obama's Senate campaign, he explained his opposition to this particular war funding bill in detail. From a September 29, 2003 Obama press release:

Obama challenged the Congress to 'stand up to the misplaced priorities of this Administration' by delaying the $87 billion for Iraq until the President provides a specific plan and timetable for ending the U.S. occupation, justifies each and every dollar to ensure it is not going to reward Bush political friends and contributors, and provides 'investment in our own schools, health care, economic development and job creation that is at least comparable' to what is going to Iraq. 'It's not just Iraq that needs rebuilding. It's America, too,' Obama said.

Perhaps as an opponent of the Iraq war, Obama could have been expected to vote against funds for the war once he reached the Senate. But he, like Clinton (who now opposes the war) and other Senate Democrats, have continually voted for funds, while attempting (albeit unsuccessfully) to attach conditions and timetables to that funding. Because Clinton cannot attack Obama on the policy—given that they have voted the same—she has accused him of being a hypocrite. But where was the beef?

I sent the Clinton oppo guy a follow-up email:

I looked at the quote [you cited]. He was clearly speaking about the $87 billion package. But what Sen. Clinton told CNN was that Obama said, "I'll never vote for [Iraq war] funding." He doesn't say that in the quote. Was she accurately quoting him?

I received no response.

As Hillary Clinton was leaving Dover, I attempted to put the question to her. She had just finished the interview with Fox and another with a local station. Inside the gym, I was two feet away from her. "Can I ask you one question about Iraq and Senator Obama?" I inquired. She looked at me for a nanosecond and walked away.

During her speech to supporters at Dover, Clinton said, that it's important to disseminate information on all the candidates "so voters can make a well-informed decision.... I will do whatever I can to make sure voters have the information they need." But ascertaining that this information is accurate is apparently not on her to-do list.