Friday, September 19th, 2014

Obama: Clinton too much like McCain

SUMMARY: At the heart of a speech promoting his own candidacy, Barack Obama charges that Hillary Clinton and John McCain are too much alike at a time when Democrats need to present a clear contrast.

Barack Obama's speech in Denver on Jan. 30, 2008, was destined to be eclipsed by the news cycle. He gave it only a few hours after John Edwards dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination, shortly before Rudy Giuliani also dropped out, a few hours before the last Republican debate before Super Tuesday, and the day before he debated Hillary Clinton one-on-one.

But in the speech, Obama laid out his sharpest arguments yet for why he should be the Democratic nominee instead of Clinton.

"I know it is tempting — after another presidency by a man named George Bush — to simply turn back the clock, and to build a bridge back to the 20th century," Obama said.

This election, he said, "is about the past versus the future. And when I am the nominee, the Republicans won't be able to make this election about the past because you will have already chosen the future."

He then went on to outline a number of positions where he said he differs from Clinton: on accepting money from lobbyists, on health care policy, and on trade. Arguably, his sharpest words were on foreign policy, where he argued that Clinton's positions are too similar to McCain's:

"It's time for new leadership that understands that the way to win a debate with John McCain is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; who agreed with him by voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don't like; and who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed."

We checked into Obama's charges on foreign policy and found he was mostly on solid ground in pointing out his differences on three of four issues. On one item, we found him to be Barely True.

* On Iraq: Obama refers here to the 2002 vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq, widely considered to have given President Bush the authority for the invasion. Clinton voted for the measure, as did McCain. Obama was not in the U.S. Senate at that time, though he did give a speech opposing the war while an Illinois state senator. We found this claim to be True .

* On Iran: Here he is referencing a vote in September 2007 on a measure known as the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization. Clinton voted in favor of the amendment, which McCain co-sponsored. Obama advisers argued at the time that the Kyl-Lieberman amendment could be used to justify a military attack on Iran. That remains a contentious issue, which we found Half True in a previous ruling. But Obama's main point is that Clinton and McCain were on the same side, and that is correct. So we rate Obama's statement Mostly True. (For more detail on this item, see our story here .)

* On the Bush-Cheney policy on diplomacy: Hillary Clinton has specifically stated that she deplores the Bush administration's attitude toward diplomacy, saying it is insufficient to promote U.S. interests. However, it's not unreasonable to say that Clinton and McCain share a skepticism about having the president conduct face-to-face diplomatic meetings directly. We found this statement to be Barely True. (See the full item here .)

* On the use of torture: In 2006, Clinton said that if there were a "ticking bomb" scenario where a captured terrorist has sure knowledge of an imminent attack, then there should be a narrow exception in the law for the use of torture. She later changed position and said it should never be the policy of the United States to condone torture. Obama accurately characterized her change on this position, so we found this item to be True. (Details are here .)