New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama desperately want Democrats to believe that they are serious about serving the American people as the next president of the United States.
But the party faithful – along with the independent and even Republican voters who may be asked to consider these contenders – would be well advised to distrust any claim of conscientiousness from this pair.
Clinton and Obama — along with fellow Democrats Joe Biden, of Delaware, and Chris Dodd, of Connecticut, and Republican John McCain, of Arizona — are not even serious about serving in their current positions as members of the U.S. Senate.
When the Senate voted Tuesday of the Peru Trade Agreement, a critical test of U.S. economic policy that raised fundamental questions with regard to how this country will frame its economic ties to hemispheric neighbors, the five senators who would be president were the only members of the chamber who missed the vote.
If we are to trust their statements with regard to the issue: Biden and Dodd would have voted against the Peru deal, while Obama and Clinton would have supported it.
But senators who don’t bother to show up get the out of being able to rewrite history – including their own statements. And that appears to be more important to Clinton, Obama and their fellow senator-candidates than doing the job to which they were elected.
Would the presence of Obama, Clinton or the other contenders have changed the practical result of the vote? No. The Senate approved the Peru deal by a 77-18 majority, meaning that, in the words of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, “Congress (has) passed another job-killing trade agreement that will shut down our factories, hurt our communities, and send more unsafe food into our kitchens and consumer products into our children’s bedrooms.”
But if the standard that is applied to senators seeking the presidency is that only their positions on close votes matter, then Clinton would have been wise to skip the fall 2002 vote on whether to permit President Bush to attack Iraq. Then, she could have played the issue different ways, depending on the crowd she was talking to – just as Clinton, and to an even greater extent Obama, cynically portray themselves as corporate critics when they are in front of labor and farm audiences and corporate allies when they are shaking down Wall Street donors.
The fact is that the votes senators choose to skip tell us just as much about them as do the votes they cast.