Obama Slams Clinton's War Vote
By Alec MacGillis
BEAUFORT, S.C. -- After a heated stretch on the campaign trail, Barack Obama sought to tamp things down a bit in a rare interview with reporters here today, saying he did not begrudge Bill Clinton his forceful advocacy on behalf of his wife and that the tough competition with the Clintons was only helping to prepare him for the general election.
A few hours later, though, Obama delivered some of his strongest statements against Hillary Clinton's stance on the war in Iraq, criticizing her 2002 vote authorizing the use of force and her later statements that she had intended the vote as a prod to further diplomacy, not a move to war.
"I have been open about my reasons for opposing the war, but one of my opponents in this race, Senator Clinton, has tried, I believe, to rewrite history," Obama said at a roundtable discussion on veterans issues with several military officers here. "She voted for a resolution called and I quote, 'a resolution to authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces again Iraq,' and now she is saying that she wasn't really voting for war. She cast her vote after failing to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, ..which raised enough doubts for the majority of Democratic senators who read it that they voted against the war. We need accountability in our leaders. You can't undo a vote for war just because a war stops being popular."
He added, "This is not just about the past, it's about the future. Voters need to judge us on the judgments we've made and the lessons we've learned. Sen. Clinton has not said her vote was a mistake, she's simply blamed the civilian and military leader that carried out the policies she authorized. If you don't know why Iraq met the threshold for war, how can she know what that threshold will be in the future? When I'm president, the buck will stop with the Oval Office."
Earlier in the day, Obama had sought to avoid stoking the flames in a press conference in Kingstree. Asked what he made of the "bloody" back and forth with the Clintons, Obama said, "I don't feel the candidates are being bloodied up. This is good practice for me for me so, you know, when I take on these Republicans I'll be accustomed to it."
And asked specifically whether he worried that Clinton's criticisms of him might come back to haunt the Democrats in the form of diminished black voter turnout in November, if Clinton is the nominee, Obama demurred. "Black voters shouldn't blame senator Clinton for running a vigorous campaign against me," he said. "That should be a source of pride. It means I might win this thing. When I was 20 points down I was a 'person of good character' and my health care plan was 'universal.' The fact that we've got this fierce contest indicates I'm doing well and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
Obama struck a similar tone when asked about Bill Clinton's role in the campaign, in which he has served as one of Obama's most outspoken critics. "Let me sort dispose of the whole issue of President Clinton. I have said this repeatedly. He is entirely justified in wanting to promote his wife's candidacy," Obama said. "I have no problem with that whatsoever. He can be as vigorous an advocate on behalf of her as he would like. The only thing I'm concerned about is when he makes misstatements about my record. That's what I'm seeking to correct."
Obama was challenged about a tough radio ad his campaign put up today in South Carolina in response to one that Clinton put up yesterday -- but has since taken down -- which hit Obama for his recent comments about Republicans being the "party of ideas" in recent decades. A reporter asked whether Obama's ad, which charges that Clinton will "say anything but change nothing" was in keeping with his pledge for a high-minded campaign.
"If people are making false assertions about our record, we'll answer them, period. I think that's what voters expect," he said. "Remember early on in the campaign everybody was concerned, 'well, I don't know about Obama, he may be too nice, I'm not sure he's up to the rough and tumble.' My tone has not changed about where want to take the country, but I've always asserted we're not going to allow my record to be distorted."
Obama came close to cutting loose only once in the press conference, which was comically interrupted several times by principal's announcements over the intercom in the high school where it was being held. ("Junior ROTC students report to Room 127 east campus ... Miss Morris' class will report to Room 126.") Asked whether he thought he was getting a soft handling from the media, as Clinton alleges, Obama scoffed, saying that his campaign went for months last summer being panned as flat and ineffectual while Clinton was lauded for her formidable operation.
"And I have to say that we weren't out there griping everyday about it," he said. "We weren't complaining when other candidates were 'tireless' and 'inevitable' and their campaigns were 'flawless' and we were the gang that couldn't shoot straight. You didn't see us griping and moaning all the time."
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