By Sarah Phelan
Photos by Charles Russo
Last week I witnessed presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s deliver a very powerful speech at the Women for Obama event in San Francisco. Obama spent a lot of time talking about his opposition to the war in Iraq and his plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2008, as well as other issues that women really care about like health care and equal wages for all.
Obama still had his toothy, crinkly edged smile and easy going style, but a fierceness came into his voice when he talked about the cost of the war to the troops and their families. And I wasn’t the only military mom in the house who appreciated Obama’s honest talk about Iraq.
Up on stage with Obama, alongside San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, was Kim Mack. Mack, who is executive director for Sacramento for Obama, talked about why she is for Obama--and one big reason was her 23-year old son Bobby, who has been serving in Iraq for a year.
I caught up with Mack a week after I heard her speech. It was the day after Bush’s delivered his "troop withdrawal" speech, and Mack wasn’t happy about it at all.
“What Bush said is just a smoke screen,” Mack told me. “The Iraq war is a key issue in the election, and if Bush doesn’t do something, the Republicans won’t have a prayer in 2008. But for Bush to say, ‘Oh yes, I’m doing something, but not for a year, and just the surge troops.’ I’m irritated that Bush continues to politicize the issue. I don’t feel the Bush administration cares about the troops at all. And I can;’t even stand to look at Bush any more. I feel he has a total disregard for what is most precious to people.”
Mack says she was really proud of Obama when he voted against the last funding bill, in spite of the warnings that his vote would be spun as “not supporting the troops.
“My son says that the body armor is substandard, the weapons misfire and they can’t get replacements. If something happened to Bobby, I wouldn’t know why this had happened. There’s nothing honorable about this war.”
Mack has been against the war in Iraq, since the beginning, but her son wasn’t. At least, not until he got to Iraq.
“He wasn’t there two weeks, when he called and said, ‘You were right. We are being killed in the crossfire. Before we came here, Al Qaeda wasn’t here, but now they are everywhere, terrorizing people.’ He says he has talked to a lot of people, who’d rather have Saddam than the current situation. At least he has a way to reconcile being there, because he’s a medic and he takes care of folks.”
Asked why most Americans aren’t protesting the war, Mack said, “American people are like ostriches, they like to keep their heads in the sand, if something doesn’t affect them personally. I’ve had people tell me, your son’s over there, you just need to get over it. People just don’t have the ability or the desire to understand.”
I told Mack that I was moved to tears when she shared the pain of having a loved one shipped off to an unjust war.
“It’s easy to speak well when you’re speaking from the heart,” said Mack, who believes this heartfeltness explains why Obama was dynamite at the Women for Obama event.
“The thing about Obama is that he really cares, he’s really genuine. We need someone real, who has common sense judgment. You can support our soldiers and not support the war. The soldiers are young kids. They think what they are doing is right and they’ve been put into a politicized position. They are pawns in a political game.”
So here's the take home message for all the presidential candidates in the 2008 election. Those of us with loved ones in Iraq--and the numbers are growing--don't have our heads in the sand. We want a president who has the guts to speak the truth about Iraq and start withdrawing the troops now. And that's why women are for Obama.