On October 11, 2002, the United States Senate voted 77-23 to authorize the use of military force against the government of Iraq. Of the 23 Senators who voted against the resolution, 22 were Democrats and one was a Republican. Senator Hillary Clinton was not among them. She voted for the resolution. That was the day that she lost the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
The following is our analysis. It makes certain assumptions about Clinton's thinking and motivation. Obviously, these assumptions may be incorrect. If so, then our analysis is wrong, but, given the way events unfolded, we think they are reasonable.
The problem that Clinton has had during this campaign is that she never expected to have to run against a viable candidate who could attack her from the left on the issue of the war. If you look at the 22 Democratic Senators who opposed the war resolution, none of them were Senators being talked about as possible presidential candidates in 2004, let alone 2008. What she was looking to do was make sure that Republicans couldn't attack her in 08, or for that matter, in her re-election big in 06, as being weak on national security. She wanted, however, to give some public explanation that would give her some political cover from anti-war activists.
That reasoning explains the speech she gave explaining her vote. In that speech she argued that the Senate vote authorizing military force wasn't a vote for war. Of course, anyone who thought that Bush wasn't going to use the vote as an excuse to go to war was either naive or dumb. There was nothing in Bush's past behavior to indicate that he was going to do anything other than to go to war. Those two words have never been used to describe Hillary Clinton.
A lot of people were disappointed in Clinton for casting that vote. Her explanation didn't make a lot of sense. It made her appear that she was voting for war not because of principle, but because she wanted to increase her political marketability. The full extent of their anger, however, wouldn't be seen until 2008.
By then, the war had dragged on for over five years. Anti-war activists were frustrated beyond belief that they had not been able to stop the war. They were hungry for a candidate who had been against the war from the start. Barack Obama fit that description. The fact that he was also charismatic and African-American made him a formidable opponent.
His charisma would make sure that he would get the support of white, anti-war activists. The fact that he was African-American would make sure that he had significant support in Democratic primaries from the most reliable group of voters. He was, in retrospect, the worse candidate that Clinton could run against.
Imagine how different things would have turned out if she had voted against the Iraq War resolution. By 2006, when she ran for re-election in New York, she would have looked brilliant. Her 2002 vote would not have cost her any support during her re-election campaign. More importantly, she would have been the anti-war candidate in 2008. There would have been no constituency for Obama to have tapped into to help support his effort.
Not only would Clinton have gotten support from the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party, she would have gotten overwhelming support from the African-American community. She would have also gotten support from feminists in the Democratic Party. The race would probably have come down to her and a white candidate like Edwards. She would have easily won the nomination.
Instead, like so many of her Republican colleagues, her political future was seriously harmed by supporting Bush on the war. She didn't know it, but when she voted for the Iraq War resolution in 2008, she was voting against her own political future in 2008.