It should mean a great deal to progressives that in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination Sen. Ted Kennedy favors Sen. Barack Obama over two other colleagues he has worked with in the Senate. No one in the history of that institution has been a more consistent and effective fighter than Kennedy for an enlightened agenda, be it civil rights and liberty, gender equality, labor and immigrant justice, environmental protection, educational opportunity or opposing military adventures.

Kennedy was a rare sane voice among the Democrats in strongly opposing the Iraq war, and it is no small tribute when he states: “We know the record of Barack Obama. There is the courage he showed when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth.”

But that is precisely the truth that Sen. Hillary Clinton has shamelessly sought to obscure. Her supporters have accepted Clinton’s refusal to repudiate her vote to authorize the war, an ignominious moment she shares with other Democrats, including presidential candidate John Edwards, who at least has made a point of regretting it. It was a vote that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, 3,940 U.S. service members — five more on Monday — and a debt in the trillions of dollars that will prevent the funding of needed domestic programs that Clinton claims to support. And it doesn’t end with Iraq. Clinton has been equally hawkish toward Iran and, in a Margaret Thatcher-like moment, even attacked Obama for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against Osama bin Laden.

Clinton’s apologists include Gloria Steinem and too many other feminists, who should know better than to betray the women’s movement’s commitment to peace in favor of simplistic gender politics. It is disturbing, not because they conclude that Clinton is the best candidate, but because they refuse to challenge their candidate to be better. Does it not matter that Clinton’s key foreign policy advisers are drawn heavily from the ranks of the neoliberals, who cheered as loudly for President Bush’s war as did the neoconservatives? Are they not concerned that Richard Holbrooke, who exploited his experience and access to secret information during the Clinton presidency to back Bush’s Iraq invasion, is a likely contender for secretary of state should she win?

Sandy Berger, a key Clinton adviser, played a major role in convincing Kennedy’s congressman son, Patrick, to vote for the war authorization against what the younger Kennedy said was the advice of his father and his own better instincts. According to a Knight Ridder report at the time, “Patrick Kennedy said the most persuasive arguments for attacking Iraq came from members of the Clinton White House,” including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is often described as the foreign policy expert closest to Hillary. Patrick J. Kennedy refuses to be burned twice and now supports Obama.

Yes, if Hillary Clinton is the candidate, she probably will be better than the Republican alternative and, as Ted Kennedy made clear, deserving of our support. But isn’t it troubling that she can’t hold a candle to Sen. John McCain when it comes to fighting Pentagon waste or pushing for campaign-finance reform to curtail the power of lobbyists? Isn’t it disturbing that Sen. Clinton has received more money than any other candidate of either party from the big defense contractors, according to a report on the Huffington Post? Why have the war profiteers given her twice the campaign contributions that they sent to McCain, if not for the expectation that she is on their side of the taxpayer rip-off that has seen the military budget rise to an all-time high? It’s for the same reason that the bankers, Wall Street traders and other swindlers who produced our economic meltdown fund Clinton.

Hillary Clinton has made “experience” key to her claim to the presidency and tells us she will do the right thing from “day one.” The reality is that her extra four years in the U.S. Senate hardly provides better experience than Obama’s eight years in the Illinois state Senate battling for progress with the nation’s most hard-boiled politicians. And if she lays claim to her husband’s presidency, then she must also take responsibility for caving in to big media with the Telecommunications Act, selling out to the banks with the Financial Services Modernization Act, and killing the federal welfare program — a political gambit that deeply wounded millions of women and children. Her political career began with the Senate and she hit the ground running, but, as her craven support for Bush after 9/11 shows, it was in the wrong direction.

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