Among progressives, there are basically two categories of Barack Obama supporters.
The first consists of those who-for a variety of reasons, and coming from a variety of perspectives-deeply believe in his message of "change" and "progress." This belief is most commonly based on a feeling that Obama’s candidacy signifies tremendous strides in the battle to end racism, and that the prospect of his presidency represents light at the end of the seemingly interminable tunnel of the George W. Bush years.
The second major category of Obama supporters consists of those who are skeptical that the candidate's vague rhetoric of "change" obscures the realities of his agenda, and who feel uneasy at best with the elements of Obama’s platform about which he has been more specific. These supporters throw their weight behind Obama, in spite of their reservations, for one basic reason: He is not John McCain.
There is likely considerable overlap and gray area between these two positions. And certainly, these two camps generally share admirable qualities in common. They are both motivated by a genuine hatred of the Bush program of war, torture, and repression; by a desire to bring that program to an end; and by the hope of a far better planet. However, these two groups of Obama supporters have something else in common: They are both being asked to entrust their own longing for a genuinely better world-and their ability and energy to work for such a world- to a person whose vision of the future is perhaps slightly less ominous than that of John McCain.
Since when is “better than McCain” a valid yardstick to evaluate whether someone offers a solution to the problems facing the world? We can and must dream higher, and act bigger than that .The people of this country, and of the world, desperately need and deserve better.
To understand why this is so, there is no better place to start than Obama's June 4 speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The Background for Obama’s AIPAC Speech
A bit of context for this speech is in order. Obama's address to AIPAC was significant for several reasons. First, he had officially won the race with Hilary Clinton only one day earlier, so this was pretty much the first major address Obama gave after emerging definitively as the Democratic nominee for president. Secondly, the AIPAC address came on the heels of a speech Bush gave marking the 60th anniversary of Israel, in which Bush had attacked those who “seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.” This comment, together with Bush’s labeling of this position as the “false comfort of appeasement” was almost-universally interpreted as a condemnation of Obama’s position that the U.S. should be willing to negotiate with Iran. Third, and most importantly, his speech came at a time of intensely- escalating threats by both the United States and Israel against Iran. To cite just one example, Israel reportedly carried out a “rehearsal” for an attack on Iran during the same week as Obama’s speech to AIPAC.
In his speeches and writings, Obama has sometimes tried to distinguish his stance on Iran from that of Bush and Hilary Clinton. For instance, the first item that pulls up when you click on the "foreign policy" section of Obama's Web site (barackobama.com) is an excerpt from a speech he gave in Iowa last November. The excerpt begins, "When I am this party's nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq; or that I gave Bush-Cheney the benefit of the doubt on Iran; or that I supported Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders we don't like." Obama has said he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Obama was critical of Hilary Clinton’s infamous comment in early May that the U.S. could “obliterate” Iran if Iran attacked Israel.
For these reasons, many of Obama's supporters-those enthusiastic and otherwise- conclude that electing him will prevent, or at least greatly lessen the prospect of, a U.S. attack on Iran.
It is against this political backdrop that Obama delivered his speech to AIPAC, providing in the process a very strong sense of where he actually stands on this issue. In order to let Obama's words speak for themselves, here are some particularly choice quotes:
* "I have been proud to be part of a proud bipartisan consensus that has stood by Israel in the face of all threats. That is a commitment that both John McCain and I share. Because support for Israel in this country goes beyond party."
* "There's no greater threat to Israel -or to the peace and stability of the region- than Iran." (empahsis added)
*"I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything." (the crowd responded with sustained applause)
* "Let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Don't be confused." [emphasis added]
* “Sometimes, there are no alternatives to confrontation. But that only makes diplomacy more important. If we must use military force, we are more likely to succeed-and will have far greater support at home and abroad –if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts. That is the change we need in our foreign policy. Change that restores American power and influence.” [emphasis added]