Wednesday, October 03, 2007

JFK, via Sorensen, passes the Torch to Obama: Can he keep it lit?

Jeff Berkowitz: Do you think the main reason why Barack Obama will win the Democratic Primary is his early opposition to the Iraq War in October and November of 2002?

Ted Sorensen (Former JFK speechwriter and counselor): For me, that is one of the most important reasons because I have just finished writing my memoirs and I have decided that John F. Kennedy’s central most important quality was good judgment and Obama showed superb, you might say superior judgment ...
If Obama goes on to become the Democratic Nominee for President, October 2, 2007 might be remembered as the turning point in this election. The campaign has become sluggish, Obama’s debate performances are not what they should be and the campaign seemed to be in need of a spark and perhaps a more aggressive, confident tone. Today might have provided all of that.

Springfield, IL, February 10, 2007: The Run starts

This is a campaign that officially started on a cold February 10, 2007 morning in Springfield, IL. That was a morning of images, especially of the image of an African-American Presidential candidate and his family being introduced to the nation. Yes, the nation had met Obama in July 24, 2004 when he gave the keynote speech to the Democratic convention. The speech electrified the nation and everybody watching it knew Obama would make a presidential run, but they weren’t quite sure when. As it turns out, the run came earlier rather than later.

Race and American Politics

Last February, the nation met Obama’s wife Michelle and his two young daughters, not so much to hear from at that time, but to see an American family that was intact, and happened to be black. This is a country that is more than ready to see a black family in the White House. Yes, there are bigots who will not vote for a black, a woman, a Jew, or what have you. But, as a whole, the nation would like to see a black family in the White house. Indeed, that black President- White House contrast is a welcome one, perhaps symbolic of the times. The vast majority of Americans want to believe this country, more than any, is well on its way to becoming a colorblind society. An Obama Presidency would validate that belief.

Hillary-Obama Face-off

As we head into the final quarter of the pre-vote campaign, Obama and Hillary each raised almost 75 million dollars for the Primary, with Obama ahead by a few million. Clearly, this is a Hillary-Obama face-off. Yes, Edwards could drag things out a bit if he wins Iowa, which he could do, but it is hard to see a path to victory for him.

Iowa and New Hampshire remain key, but with the vastly changed calendar, no one is quite sure of their impact on South Carolina, Florida, Michigan and Nevada, or of how the candidates’ performance in all of those early primary states will impact the 20, or so, February 5 primary states.

Hillary is the Chalk

As of now, Iowa is a statistical tie in the latest poll between Hillary, Obama and Edwards, and in the other early primary states, Hillary generally has a lead. Moreover, aside from the polls, Hillary is the chalk. The Clintons’ organization, the love, affection and respect in the Democratic Party for the Clintons, the Clinton networks, the “experience,” of Hillary and an almost flawless campaign this year means that Hillary clearly is the favorite.

Obama:Excitement and Judgment

On the other hand, the excitement factor is all Barack Obama. Youth, race, turning a new page, intelligence are all with Obama. But, most importantly, it’s the war, stupid. The Democratic Primary and perhaps the general election are all about the War. And, for most Democratic Primary voters, Obama got it right from the get go. As to the judgment factor, advantage Obama say the Democrat Primary activists.

War critic or War opponent?

Five years ago, Barack Obama was not just a “War critic,” as some, e.g., C-Span’s recent Iraq War Top Tier Presidential candidate program [See Road to the White House, October 7, 2007] mistakenly put it, he was a forceful and vocal “opponent,” of the War. On October 2, 2002, Obama stated, “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.” Obama stated he was not opposed to all wars, just “dumb wars.” On November 25, 2002, on “Public Affairs with Jeff Berkowitz,” Obama said, “I think I would have agreed with our senior senator from Illinois and voted Nay,” on the legislation to authorize the President to take military action.

And, on Tuesday morning, in his speech at DePaul University in Chicago, Obama said,

The American people weren’t just failed by a President [in his decision to take the country to war over Iraq] they were failed by…the majority of congress… that voted to give the President the open-ended authority to wage war in Iraq.

Hillary Clinton was a part of that majority, as was John Edwards.

Hillary failed the American People, Obama suggests

Of course, Obama is saying, albeit indirectly, that Hillary failed the American people with her Iraq War vote, authorizing military action by the President. Moreover, Obama said today, “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.” Obama didn’t say it, but that clearly is question No. 1 for Hillary.

There was much more to the speech, which broadly spoke of robust diplomacy being used to promote the interest of the U. S., challenging conventional foreign policy thinking and setting a goal of a nuclear free world. See here for a transript. However, the core of the speech was Barack Obama’s decision and judgment to put his political career on the line by “voting,” against the War in 2002 and his decision today to bring the focus of the campaign back to that decision.

Moreover, Obama argued more broadly that the U. S. has to challenge conventional Washington thinking. His decision in 2002 showed, argued Obama, that he can be counted on to challenge the conventional wisdom of Washington. In other words, he has better “judgment,” than Hillary and this offsets any advantage Hillary might have in “experience.”

Hillary's character issue

Further, the fact that Hillary was “for the War before she was against the War,” is not so damaging as a flip-flop. But, according to Charles Krauthammer [on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report with Brit Hume,” on Tuesday night], a more significant “character issue,” is raised by Hillary’s effort to say she wasn’t really voting for the War in 2002, but she was simply voting for more intense inspections in Iraq, etc. As Krauthammer emphasized, and as Democrat activists and more mainstream Democrats take note of Hillary slipperiness here, if the Democrats can’t trust Hillary to come clean on her true historical thoughts about the war, what can they trust her on?
Ted Sorensen brings the charm of JFK to the Obama campaign

Obama was introduced to the crowd yesterday morning by 79-year-old Ted Sorensen, a former speechwriter, counselor and confidant for President Kennedy. Sorensen asserted that Kennedy succeeded in the Cuban Missile crisis for three reasons, and he likened Obama to Kennedy on each one, saying Obama was the only serious candidate for President who had these JFK match-ups.

(1)Kennedy’s religious faith taught him that peacemakers are blessed, and Sorensen cited Obama’s anti-Iraq war views of 2002 for showing his similarity to JFK in this area

(2) JFK was willing to communicate and negotiate with his adversaries. Indeed, Kennedy said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” Obama similarly has said he would meet with any country’s leaders, including Cuba’s Castro and Venezuela’s Chavez, etc.

(3) Kennedy had that unique understanding of America’s role in the World that comes only from having lived abroad for a prolonged period of time (as the son of an Ambassador). Sorensen characterized Obama as having lived abroad for a serious period of time, as well.

After Obama spoke, we followed up on some of these points, generally, with Ted Sorensen:

Jeff Berkowitz: Do you think the main reason why Barack Obama will win the Democratic Primary is his early opposition to the Iraq War in October and November of 2002?

Ted Sorensen: For me, that is one of the most important reasons because I have just finished writing my memoirs and I have decided that John F. Kennedy’s central most important quality was good judgment and Obama showed superb, you might say superior judgment in opposing this travesty of a War and in recognizing that it made no sense at all. Saddam Hussein was an evil man who had nothing to do with 9/11, who had no WMD…and I think the Democratic Party as a party would be foolish to throw away its biggest advantage in 2008 by nominating as its presidential candidate someone who supported Bush on that terrible travesty of a War.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Richardson, Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at