Is Obama Too Much Of A Hawk For Democrats?

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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The day before President Obama’s Sept. 10 speech on the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to American security — in my judgment, one of the best speeches of his two-term presidency — a pundit I like and respect, Chuck Todd, the new moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” was interviewed on PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show.” He told Rose: “If [Hillary Clinton] were running to be the second woman president, I think she would not even be considered a front-runner. She’d be just considered another candidate.”

Put aside that Todd’s rather surprising opinion is contradicted by the facts.

Hillary Clinton would likely be the front-runner if she were a man, too, given her qualifications and experience as a leading participant in education reform, healthcare reform and in many other substantive areas.

She served as first lady of Arkansas for a decade and first lady in the White House for eight years, as a U.S. senator from New York for eight years, and as a widely praised secretary of State for 4 years.

She received roughly 18 million votes in the 2008 primaries — about the same as the total then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama received — including her election victories in such large states as Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Michigan, Florida, and California.

The only alleged “facts” Todd uses in support of his controversial reference to Clinton’s gender are, in fact, not facts at all. They are labels.

For example, Todd claims Clinton would not be a front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination because, among other labels, she is “much more hawkish than where the Democratic Party is on foreign policy,” and thus “she’s kind of out of step where the Democratic Party is going to be in 2016.” Note the word “hawkish” is a label, not a fact.

So are there any facts to support this conclusion that she is “out of step” with the Democratic Party in her foreign policy views? To the contrary.

In his Sept. 10 speech to the nation, Obama agreed with Clinton on the need to support the Syrian political opposition. Yet when Clinton took the same position in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, there was an explosion of commentary by pundits and on the liberal blogosphere that Clinton risked being “too hawkish” for the Democratic Party.

The word “hawkish” in association with Hillary Clinton, by the way, presently gets more than 100,000 hits on Google.

But the facts are that Clinton and Obama not only agree on the polices the president set forth in his nationwide speech — specifically to use U.S. air power and ground forces (though limited for now) to support and train Kurds and Iraqis in order to “degrade and destroy” ISIS — but also on the surge in Afghanistan, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the use of drones to target and kill terrorists.

Does that mean both Obama and Clinton are both too “hawkish” and “interventionist” so as to be “out of step” with the liberal Democratic Party base?

Let’s look at the inconvenient facts for those who say they are.

On the same day as the Todd interview, Sept. 9, a Washington Post/ABC poll found that two-thirds or more of the American people support airstrikes in Iraq and in Syria to stop ISIS and that “sizable majorities of Democrats” take the same position.

The important national organization No Labels, a bipartisan centrist group founded in 2010, got it right when it insisted that “our leaders put the labels aside and focus on fixing America’s most pressing problems.”

I hope all of us — Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, even pundits, bloggers and columnists (myself included!) — can refrain from using labels to describe political opponents and, instead, stick to facts as the basis for constructive debate, leading to real solutions to our problems at home and abroad.

Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).