There was much ado this week about the U.S. Senate’s condemnation of MoveOn, with Hillary Clinton voting against the resolution. But on September 26th, Clinton joined 75 Senators to pass a resolution calling the Iranian Army a “terrorist organization,” a Dick Cheney pipe dream that could lead us to another pre-emptive War. The mainstream media, however, was too busy declaring Clinton the Democratic presidential nominee. As the candidates gathered that night for another debate, the media said it was John Edwards and Barack Obama’s “last chance” to shift momentum – even though we still have over 3 months left before the first primary. As a frequent Hillary critic, I got a call that morning to be on “Hardball” to provide commentary. But they didn’t want me on their TV show to argue why Clinton should not be the nominee; they wanted me to predict she will lose the primaries and to “debate” someone who says she will win. I would not make that prediction – the whole thing seemed like a set-up – so they did not invite me on. But it speaks volumes about how the media is covering this race, as it blatantly cheerleads Hillary’s “inevitable” nomination.
At this point four years ago, Howard Dean had a similar lead in the polls as Clinton does now. But you didn’t hear the media laud his performance in the debates, talk about how the other candidates were running out of time or declare him the inevitable nominee. They peppered him with questions about whether he can win, and pounced on his every statement as a “gaffe.” That’s because unlike Clinton, Howard Dean was a threat to the establishment – and his nomination had to be stopped by any means necessary.
Granted, Clinton has run an impressive campaign. She has learned how to manipulate the netroots, for example, so that they don’t view her as the enemy. When the Senate considered a meaningless resolution to condemn MoveOn’s ad, Hillary wisely voted against it – knowing full well that the resolution angered the netroots and that her “no” vote would endear them. Barack Obama did himself no favors by abstaining on the vote, and his explanation failed to ease the pain that activists felt about how the Senate attacked MoveOn.
But as the neo-conservatives wage their campaign of fear and world domination, what vote is more important in the grand scheme of things – a resolution that (a) insults the netroots for an ad that they put in a newspaper, or (b) gives the White House an excuse to start a pre-emptive war with Iran? On September 26th, the Senate passed the latter resolution by a vote of 76-22. Just like her 2002 vote to authorize a pre-emptive War with Iraq, Senator Clinton voted “yes.”
Relying on intelligence by the same people who said that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment – sponsored by Senators Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) – said it was the “sense of the Senate” that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a “terrorist organization.” While not expressly advocating pre-emptive War with Iran, it allows the Bush Administration to take action against Iran consistent with the already declared “War on Terror.”
Knowing how the Bush Administration operates, they are likely to use this as an excuse to invade Iran. The Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, said Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, “gives this President a green light to act recklessly and endanger U.S. national security. We learned in the run-up to the Iraq war that seemingly nonbinding language passed by this Senate can have profound consequences. We shouldn’t repeat our mistakes and enable this President again.”
Virginia Senator Jim Webb was even more blunt, calling it “Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream.” For California voters, Senator Barbara Boxer voted “no” – but Dianne Feinstein voted “yes.” While Barack Obama did not vote because he was not present, he did issue a statement against it – suggesting that he would have voted “no.” Progressives have every reason to be angry and cynical about what just happened – we elected Congress to end the War in Iraq, not start War with Iran.
None of this matters, however, to the mainstream media because they’re too busy singing Hillary’s praises. Presidential primaries, unlike the general election, are when Democrats can vote with their “hearts” – rather their “heads.” We still have over three months before the Iowa caucus, and with many voters only just starting to pay attention there should be a vigorous debate about who should be the presidential nominee. But with the establishment candidate ahead in the polls, the media is too ready to simply call the winner without having an election.
Which is why the phone call I got from MSNBC’s “Hardball” was such a set-up. While the press spent a lot of time in late 2003 arguing whether Howard Dean should be the nominee, they are not interested about whether Clinton should be the nominee. They just wanted a discussion about whether she will be the nominee, and figured that I would be a good strawman. Given Clinton’s lead in the polls – coupled with the media coverage – nobody in their right mind would say unequivocally that she will lose the primaries. I would have argued “maybe,” but not “no.”
It’s true that Hillary Clinton has run a polished campaign, and her debate performances have enabled her to sustain her lead. But as the Washington Post pointed out, she only really blew one debate – the one at Yearly Kos in August, where she was caught defending money from lobbyists and said we are safer today than we were on September 11th.
That was no accident. Unlike the other debates run by the mainstream media, the Yearly Kos forum was run by bloggers – where candidates had to take unscripted questions from ordinary people. The promoters and moderators did not have an agenda to cement Hillary Clinton’s “inevitable” nomination, so it was a more free-flowing discussion.
“Unfortunately for Edwards and Obama,” said the Washington Post, “[the Yearly Kos] forum was not televised — meaning that not all that many people were exposed to a less-than-perfectly polished Clinton. By the next debate, Clinton was right back on script where she has stayed for the past month.”
Imagine if all the presidential debates were run like the Yearly Kos debate, where Hillary was not guaranteed predictable and softball questions. Imagine more gaffes like her statement that “lobbyists represent real people.” Do you think she would have such an “insurmountable lead” and be crowned the nominee before the voters have their say?
Somehow, I doubt it.
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