THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 14, 2007
Obama's swing through Iowa was all about Iraq. After delivering his initial address in Clinton, he held four town hall-style forums in the eastern part of the state. Before taking questions he opened each event with a 15-minute condensation of his Wednesday Iraq speech. His campaign also distributed Iraq-specific campaign brochures to supporters. One of them is headlined, "BARACK OBAMA: Opposed to the Iraq War from the Very Start." Printed on one side are the particulars of Obama's plans for a US withdrawal from the country. On the other is the full text of a speech Obama delivered at an anti-war rally on October 2, 2002, in which he declared the looming conflict a "dumb" and "rash" war, and:
the cynical attempt by Richard perle and paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in thie Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and hardships borne... A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
(You can read the whole 2002 speech here.)
Another brochure that interested me featured the slogan "Experience you can't get in Washingon"--juxtaposed next to a shot of Obama walking outside the White House. Hmm....
There was a certain upflifting Americana to Obama's tour-at a packed outdoor Davenport amphitheater by the Mississippi river, for instance, he had to halt his remarks twice while long freight trains noisily clattered by a few hundred feet away. At another riverside event in Dubuque, Obama was suddenly drowned out by goofy calliope music from a gambling riverboat nearby. Obama tried to soldier through with dignity, expounding on the politics of hope before breaking down with a laugh and declaring, "That is really distracting!"
It was a winning moment for a candidate who sometimes came across as stiff and overly serious. It's always hard to read a crowd, but I found the response to Obama a little muted (although all the voters I interviewed were quite enthusiastic about him). Another reporter who's trailed him suggested that his long and somber remarks about Iraq might have deflated his crowds.
One reason might be this: Even though Obama repeatedly declared that "we can't wait" for George Bush to end the war, his audiences accepted his explanation that the Democratic Congress doesn't have the power to force George W. Bush to change course. It's not a terribly uplifting notion, and thus clearly something Obama wanted to dwell on. In Davenport a woman asked him whether Congress would insist on forcing a withdrawal timetable on Bush. Obama brushed her off with a two-sentence answer about how "we're going to have a difficult time" without the support of Republicans. But the next question, from a veteran with some arcane question about medical paperwork, prompted an exhaustively long reply.
I was surprised more people didn't press Obama, John Edwards-style, over the power Democrats have to withhold war new funding that does not impose a withdrawal timeline. No one queried Obama about this and he never raised it himself. After an event in Anamosa, however, I did hear a couple of attendees discussing this approach. "I was hoping he would talk more about that," said one ruefully. "Yeah, I thought he would say more," replied another. But Obama had his message and he was sticking to it. We'll just have to wait and see whether it helped him make any headway againt Hillary Clinton.