The Choice

By Joe Campbell
October 4th, 2007

[digg-reddit-me]Here’s the full transcript of Obama’s speech at DePaul University.

And a choice excerpt:

As Ted Sorensen’s old boss President Kennedy once said – “the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war – and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears.” In the fall of 2002, those deaf ears were in Washington. They belonged to a President who didn’t tell the whole truth to the American people; who disdained diplomacy and bullied allies; and who squandered our unity and the support of the world after 9/11.

But it doesn’t end there. Because the American people weren’t just failed by a President – they were failed by much of Washington. By a media that too often reported spin instead of facts. By a foreign policy elite that largely boarded the bandwagon for war. And most of all by the majority of a Congress – a coequal branch of government – that voted to give the President the open-ended authority to wage war that he uses to this day. Let’s be clear: without that vote, there would be no war.

Some seek to rewrite history. They argue that they weren’t really voting for war, they were voting for inspectors, or for diplomacy. But the Congress, the Administration, the media, and the American people all understood what we were debatingBarack Obama in the fall of 2002. This was a vote about whether or not to go to war. That’s the truth as we all understood it then, and as we need to understand it now. And we need to ask those who voted for the war: how can you give the President a blank check and then act surprised when he cashes it?

With all that we know about what’s gone wrong in Iraq, even today’s debate is divorced from reality. We’ve got a surge that is somehow declared a success even though it has failed to enable the political reconciliation that was its stated purpose. The fact that violence today is only as horrific as in 2006 is held up as progress. Washington politicians and pundits trip over each other to debate a newspaper advertisement while our troops fight and die in Iraq.

And the conventional thinking today is just as entrenched as it was in 2002. This is the conventional thinking that measures experience only by the years you’ve been in Washington, not by your time spent serving in the wider world. This is the conventional thinking that has turned against the war, but not against the habits that got us into the war in the first place – the outdated assumptions and the refusal to talk openly to the American people.

Well I’m not running for President to conform to Washington’s conventional thinking – I’m running to challenge it. I’m not running to join the kind of Washington groupthink that led us to war in Iraq – I’m running to change our politics and our policy so we can leave the world a better place than our generation has found it.

I had read with a bit of skepticism that the Obama team was holding “the full Barack” back to avoid peaking too early as Howard Dean and countless other alternate candidates have. But this speech is something different. Clearly, succinctly making the case for an Obama presidency and one part of the tragedy that would be Clinton II. I bear no ill-feeling towards Hillary, other than a vague unease. And I admit that the more I have seen her, the more I have come to respect her. That said: she represents convention, political caution, and the establishment.

The Establishment

As someone who respects and studies the “establishment” – as represented by such elite opinion-makers as the Council on Foreign Relations, The New Republic magazine, the Brookings Institute, The Economist magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and a few other odds and ends – I believe Hillary is the candidate who best embodies what they have stood for and what they stand for today. She gives the answers they have scripted. She embodies the middle-of-the-road ideology embraced by most of these organizations, an ideology that focuses on economic liberalization and projecting strength and American power. This group is socially liberal, economically conservative, and hawkish on foreign affairs. They supported the Iraq war, immigration reform, Israel, combating climate change, and fiscally responsible policies. They are not some evil cabal as maintained by some conspiracy theorists, but rather are those who have taken it upon themselves to think deeply about these issues, those who are powerful enough to pursue their interests in politics, and those who once were in positions of significant power. Their contribution to the public debate is enormous. Their experience and conventions are well-worth hearing: if Bush had listened to them, he would have had a much more successful presidency. They did not push the Iraq war, but they acquiesced to it. They encouraged respect for military estimates and have been astonished by the Bush administration’s hubris and incompetence. It is largely because this group has been convinced that some form of universal health care is back on the table.

Hillary Clinton is campaigning as their candidate. But the funny thing is this: they have not embraced her yet. And while Senator Obama agrees with them in principle on many issues, he believes that these wise old men and women are part of the problem. And the funny thing is: many of them agree. The informal system that in so many ways has determined the policy and actions of America is broken. Not only did they get wrong the most important issue in the past decade, but they have been marginalized by the Bush administration which has not sought the held wisdom of non-ideologues.

The Choice

We need a president who will seek to challenge, reinvigorate, and reinvent this informal system. As a nation, we are headed into a half dozen enormous disasters on our current track – from the entitlement crisis to an invigorated islamist movement. We have been on this path for some time. This path has largely been set by the establishment, although the scope and consequences of our problems have been exacerbated intensely by the current administration. The wise old men and women do not know how to get us out; Hillary doesn’t know either. And neither does Obama.

But Obama sees and feels the problem – and Hillary does not. The choice we face is this: do we need a president who will be competent and strong, who will make few mistakes in the execution of her plans, who knows rather specifically what she wants to do, and who will oversee the downfall of American preeminence in the world? Or do we need a president who will make mistakes, who does not know precisely what he wants to do, who is intelligent and strong, but who sees the enormity of the challenge, and who stands an outside chance of reversing the decay and restoring America?

This presidential election should not, cannot be about which candidate will be the toughest on terrorism. What this election must be about is which candidate can rescue America from the precipice we are barely balancing on.

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