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You Must Do More Than Vote 'No' To Become President

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The so-called "compromise" supplemental bill that continues funding for George W. Bush's Iraq disaster but does nothing to compel him to change course, passed Congress yesterday with a 280-142 vote in the House of Representatives and a 80-14 tally in the Senate. Fourteen Senators voted against the bill rubber-stamping Bush's failed policy, including Democratic presidential candidates Chris Dodd (D-CT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL). But although they cast the same vote yesterday, the stature engendered by these three candidates could not possibly be more different. On the one hand, you have Dodd, who came out strongly against this bogus compromise early in the week -- as he has dependably done on a host of other important issues -- and who said loud enough for the world to hear that he objected to caving in to Bush, failing our troops and breaking faith with the American people. In other words, Chris Dodd behaved like a leader. And, while many will probably say that Senators Clinton and Obama opposing the non-compromise was a product of political calculation -- their campaigns would have been dealt a harsh blow had they gone along with it -- I give both of them credit for voting their conscience and beliefs. Here's my problem: Neither of them showed me, as a voter, what it will take to get my support when the New York primary happens next year. The Iraq war is the defining issue in our nation right now, and the response from people who want to be the next president seems an entirely reasonable litmus test by which to measure the degree of support they deserve. Dodd's response was to show leadership before the vote and urge Senate colleagues to follow his lead in stopping the madness of King George. "Half-measures and equivocations are not going to change our course in Iraq," said Dodd earlier this week. "If we are serious about ending the war, Congress must stand up to this President's failed policy now - with clarity and conviction." Similarly, while no longer in the Senate and not in the position of voting, John Edwards has made very clear that he too is willing to stake his candidacy on opposing continuation of our involvement in the Iraqi civil war and has also been out in front on letting those views be known. "The president continues to play political brinksmanship over the war and that has put Congress and the country in an unnecessarily difficult position," said Edwards on Monday. "We need to stand our ground against this president. You cannot negotiate with him. Congress should send him the same bill back to him again and again until he realizes he has no choice but to start bringing our troops home." And where were Clinton and Obama in the days leading to the vote and when backbone and conviction were the order of the day? Nowhere that mattered. Senator Clinton issued a press release last night explaining why she voted against the supplemental bill and, on Wednesday, sent a letter to General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking that Congress be notified of "...any existing plans for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, or provide an explanation as to why such plans have not been properly created." All well and good -- but what about the major vote on the biggest issue confronting our country? Queue silence and crickets chirping. And it saddens me that Barack Obama, who I want to support so much, did no better, with a press release after the vote proclaiming "Obama Votes to Demand Changed Course in Iraq," but not much else in advance of the vote everyone was watching. Obama, as he can do so well, spoke passionately on the Senate floor on Monday, saying that "the sacrifices of war are immeasurable" and "Iraq has not been a failure of resolve, it has been a failure of strategy Â- and that strategy must change. It is time bring a responsible end to this conflict is now." Where was his eloquence and leadership in driving both himself and those around him to stand up, be strong and fight this president on this particular vote? I am by no means writing off the presidential candidacies of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They're both formidable people, with sharp brains and good hearts, who would both likely become excellent presidents. But, for this week and for the last month or two, true leadership in the face of troubled times has been shown by Dodd, Edwards and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who has also been clear in his opposition to the Iraq occupation. These are the people who truly seem to get what Americans said at the ballot box in November and who are willing to put themselves and their aspirations on the line to speak that truth and attempt to persuade others. It's commendable that Senators Clinton and Obama voted correctly on Thursday -- now they need to begin the real work of catching up to those who are actually leading. You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com. Update: Senator Chris Dodd has released a short video, shot on the campaign trail today, in which he informally discusses the disappointing vote in Congress yesterday on the Iraq supplemental bill, saying " I'm not going to stop and I want you to know that." Please go take a look.
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Bob Geiger is a writer, activist and Democratic operative in Westchester County, NY.
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