Obama, Party Loyalty, and His Own Best Interest

There has been a lot of commentary already on the forum at Saddleback Church, but one Obama answer bears some further fact-checking.

In response to Pastor Rick Warren's request to provide "an example of where you went against party loyalty and maybe even went against your own best interest for the good of America," Obama gave two examples.

First, he cited the issue of campaign ethics and finance reform.  It was an audacious response, since Obama has decided that his own best interest has rendered inoperative his earlier commitment to public campaign financing.  In addition, his recollection of working with John McCain, and his suggestion that legislators should reject lobbyist-paid meals to eat at McDonalds, seems to have been faulty.  

But it was Obama's second example, and the way he explained it, that bears a further look.  As his second example, he cited the signature issue of his campaign:

I guess the other example from -- I'm not sure this was a more of a partisan issue, but it was something that I felt very deeply -- was when I opposed the initial decision to go into war in Iraq.  That was not a popular view at the time and I was just starting my campaign for the United States Senate and I think there were a lot of people who advised me, you should be cautious.  This is going to be successful.  The president has a very high approval rating and you could end up losing the election as a consequence of this.

Obama's oft-cited speech against the war was delivered on October 26, 2002, three months before he declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in the 2004 election.  It was a time when more people were warning of Saddam Hussein's possible use of chemical warfare against U.S. troops than were suggesting the war would be easily won and might affect a Senate election two years later. 

A better view of the relationship of the Iraq war to party loyalty during Obama's Senate campaign is provided by his July 25, 2004 interview on "Meet the Press," two days before his keynote address to the Democratic convention made him a national figure.  During that interview, Obama had this colloquy with Tim Russert:

MR. RUSSERT:  . . . The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said [Saddam] was an imminent threat.  They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war.  How could they have been so wrong and you so right as a state legislator in Illinois and they're on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees in Washington?

STATE REP. OBAMAWell, I think they have access to information that I did not have.  And what is absolutely clear is that John Kerry said, "If we go into war, let's make sure that we do it right.  Let's make sure that our troops are supported.  Let's make sure that we have the kind of coalition that's necessary to succeed."  And the execution of what was a difficult choice to make was something that all of us have to be concerned about.  And moving forward, the only way that we're going to be able to succeed is if, I think, we have an administration led by John Kerry that's going to allow us to consolidate the relationships with our allies that bring about investment in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

STATE REP. OBAMA:  I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?

STATE REP. OBAMAAt that time, but, as I said, I wasn't there and what is absolutely clear as we move forward is that if we don't have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we're going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  We can't withdraw the troops immediately?

STATE REP. OBAMA:  I don't think so.

Warren had asked Obama to provide an example of where he had gone against party loyalty and his own best interest. Obama cited a speech he had given as a state senator from a liberal district in Chicago.  At the time, he had no responsibility to cast a vote that would affect the outcome, nor (as he indicated later to Russert) sufficient information to do so.   

His "Meet the Press" interview shows that, in the midst of his run for the Senate in 2004, as he prepared to take the national stage, Obama put party loyalty (and his own best interest) first.  He fell in line behind his party's nominees, noting they voted for the war based on more information than he had available to him, and he did not suggest an end to the war but rather a "change in tone and a change in administration" so that "we succeed in Iraq."

That was the change he believed in at that point in time.

Rick Richman edits "Jewish Current Issues."  His articles have appeared in American Thinker, The New York Sun and The Jewish Press.
There has been a lot of commentary already on the forum at Saddleback Church, but one Obama answer bears some further fact-checking.

In response to Pastor Rick Warren's request to provide "an example of where you went against party loyalty and maybe even went against your own best interest for the good of America," Obama gave two examples.

First, he cited the issue of campaign ethics and finance reform.  It was an audacious response, since Obama has decided that his own best interest has rendered inoperative his earlier commitment to public campaign financing.  In addition, his recollection of working with John McCain, and his suggestion that legislators should reject lobbyist-paid meals to eat at McDonalds, seems to have been faulty.  

But it was Obama's second example, and the way he explained it, that bears a further look.  As his second example, he cited the signature issue of his campaign:

I guess the other example from -- I'm not sure this was a more of a partisan issue, but it was something that I felt very deeply -- was when I opposed the initial decision to go into war in Iraq.  That was not a popular view at the time and I was just starting my campaign for the United States Senate and I think there were a lot of people who advised me, you should be cautious.  This is going to be successful.  The president has a very high approval rating and you could end up losing the election as a consequence of this.

Obama's oft-cited speech against the war was delivered on October 26, 2002, three months before he declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in the 2004 election.  It was a time when more people were warning of Saddam Hussein's possible use of chemical warfare against U.S. troops than were suggesting the war would be easily won and might affect a Senate election two years later. 

A better view of the relationship of the Iraq war to party loyalty during Obama's Senate campaign is provided by his July 25, 2004 interview on "Meet the Press," two days before his keynote address to the Democratic convention made him a national figure.  During that interview, Obama had this colloquy with Tim Russert:

MR. RUSSERT:  . . . The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said [Saddam] was an imminent threat.  They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war.  How could they have been so wrong and you so right as a state legislator in Illinois and they're on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees in Washington?

STATE REP. OBAMAWell, I think they have access to information that I did not have.  And what is absolutely clear is that John Kerry said, "If we go into war, let's make sure that we do it right.  Let's make sure that our troops are supported.  Let's make sure that we have the kind of coalition that's necessary to succeed."  And the execution of what was a difficult choice to make was something that all of us have to be concerned about.  And moving forward, the only way that we're going to be able to succeed is if, I think, we have an administration led by John Kerry that's going to allow us to consolidate the relationships with our allies that bring about investment in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

STATE REP. OBAMA:  I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?

STATE REP. OBAMAAt that time, but, as I said, I wasn't there and what is absolutely clear as we move forward is that if we don't have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we're going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  We can't withdraw the troops immediately?

STATE REP. OBAMA:  I don't think so.

Warren had asked Obama to provide an example of where he had gone against party loyalty and his own best interest. Obama cited a speech he had given as a state senator from a liberal district in Chicago.  At the time, he had no responsibility to cast a vote that would affect the outcome, nor (as he indicated later to Russert) sufficient information to do so.   

His "Meet the Press" interview shows that, in the midst of his run for the Senate in 2004, as he prepared to take the national stage, Obama put party loyalty (and his own best interest) first.  He fell in line behind his party's nominees, noting they voted for the war based on more information than he had available to him, and he did not suggest an end to the war but rather a "change in tone and a change in administration" so that "we succeed in Iraq."

That was the change he believed in at that point in time.

Rick Richman edits "Jewish Current Issues."  His articles have appeared in American Thinker, The New York Sun and The Jewish Press.