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Hillary On Obama's Anti-war Cred

Like Matt Yglesias, I don't entirely get what Hillary Clinton is aiming for by raising questions about Obama's war-opposition. Yes, Obama toned down his opposition once he arrived in the Senate. But, as Matt says, "Russ Feingold's not his opponent. Hillary Clinton is." And, at pretty much every step of the way, Hillary was either where Obama was or to the right of him on this issue.

If you parse Hillary's words, the hope seems to be to undercut what she sees as Obama's greatest strength, thereby unraveling the entire rationale for his candidacy. She said yesterday on "Meet the Press" that, "He should've followed what he said in his speech, which was that he would not vote for funding in '05, '06 and '07. That is inconsistent with what he is now running his campaign on. The story of his campaign is premised on that speech." Later, when Tim Russert pointed out that she'd voted for all the war-funding in question, she added, "I did. I never--I'm not premising my campaign on something different."

Set aside the question of whether Obama's campaign is premised on his opposition to the war. (I'd say it's a real advantage, but far from the entire premise.) Either way, it's hard to believe that focusing on what people were saying back in 2002 is going to help Hillary.

One relevant analogy here is John Kerry's Vietnam War record, which various Rove-affiliated hit-men poked imaginary (but incredibly damaging) holes through. True, you wouldn't have thought a discussion of who was doing what in the mid-1960s would have hurt Kerry and helped Bush. But that only worked because Bush himself wasn't leveling the accusations. Imagine how laughable it would have been for Bush to personally question Kerry's war heroism, and you see the flaw in this approach. (Now, if the Clintons had sicced some shadowy "war opponents for truth" squad on Obama, we might have something to talk about...)

Two other quick points from "Meet the Press":

1.) I found Hillary's second crack at MLK/LBJ plausible and sincere, even if it was somewhat different from what she said the first time out:

First, with respect to Dr. King, you know, Tim, I was 14 years old when I heard Dr. King speak in person. He is one of the people that I admire most in the world, and the point that I was responding to from Senator Obama himself in a number of speeches he was making is his comparison of himself to President Kennedy and Dr. King. And there is no doubt that the inspiration offered by all three of them is essential. It is critical to who we are as a nation, what we believe in, the dreams and aspirations that we all have. But I also said that, you know, Dr. King didn't just give speeches. He marched, he organized, he protested, he was gassed, he was beaten, he was jailed. He understood that he had to move the political process and bring in those who were in political power, and he campaigned for political leaders, including Lyndon Johnson, because he wanted somebody in the White House who would act on what he had devoted his life to achieving.

That is, except for this line, which seemed a little gratuitous and not necessarily true: "Clearly, we know from media reports that the Obama campaign is deliberately distorting this."

2.) Hillary's defense of the lawsuit filed last week by the Nevada State Education Association--the local teachers union, which has several officials closely aligned with her campaign--was completely implausible. The point of the lawsuit is to shut-down the nine "at-large" caucuses slated to take place in casinos. They were set up this way to give service-employees who work Saturdays a chance to participate. Here's the relevant exchange with Russert:

SEN. CLINTON: I think their [the Nevada teachers union's] concern is to have as many people participate as possible, which is certainly what it should be. This is now in the courts. The courts and the state party will have to work it out. But I don't want to disenfranchise anybody. I want...

MR. RUSSERT: So why not drop the lawsuit and let people vote?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, that's up to the people who brought it.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, what's your view?

SEN. CLINTON: But Tim, as I understand it, there are a lot of people working at many places who won't be able to work. The places for doing the caucus are not at their workplace across the state. I mean, that's--the caucus idea is for neighbors to get together to argue and talk about their choices. The problem is that if you have a limited period of time, as I've pointed out long before anything happened in Nevada, you're going to essentially leave people out who can't be there during those one to two hour periods of time. And so, you know, I haven't read the lawsuit. The coverage of it seems to suggest that some people are saying, "Well, wait a minute, what about us? Those are not our workplaces. We have to be at work. How are we going to participate?" It's up to the courts to work that out.

So lemme get this straight: The problem with caucuses is that they exclude too many people. And so the solution is... to exclude more people--people the state party has gone out of its way to try to include? Not sure I see the legal principle at work here...

Update: Michael Sean Winters has more about Hillary and MLK/LBJ on his new America magazine blog.

--Noam Scheiber