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13 February 2007
Monmouth College, New Jersey: Speaking before an audience at Monmouth College, Sen. Barack Obama apologized for the first blunder of his presidential campaign, calling it a "grave error in judgment" to state that "the lives of over 3,000 of the bravest young Americans were pointlessly squandered to hold onto another inch of worthless desert" in the Iraq war.
Obama, in an interview with the Des Moines Register, told the paper, "I am very upset with myself," he said. "The lives of our soldiers are never wasted . . . . What I mean to say is that those sacrifices have not been honored by the same attention to strategy, diplomacy and honesty on the part of our civilian leadership that would empower our troops to, you know, accomplish something. I demonstrated even worse judgement by suggesting that 'young men lacking the skills to enter the job market are forced to choose between either a life of prostitution or a meaningless existence as a grunt in our nation's military,' and I acknowledge and apologize for this."
Campaign analysts suggest the misstatement will hurt Obama's rising popularity with voters. A number of voters at the event commented that they were "hurt by the senator's words" and left wondering "what 'vacuous, nugatory existences' was intended to mean".
"I was with him for most of his speech," said Karen Miller, 36, of Trenton, NJ. "But when he described the families of the dead as 'trudging through their fruitless lives with another hardship on their shoulders,' I thought he took it too far."
So far, the Democratic leadership has largely refrained from commenting on the issue, although a high-pitched squeal of delight was heard from the New York section of the Senate offices.
"I can really sympathize with him," said Sen. John Kerry (D, MA), one of the few Democrats to comment on the issue. "I've been there. I've insulted the troops as well," he said, referring to a 2006 incident wherein he stated that uneducated students end up "getting stuck in Iraq" and "becoming dumb protestants." However, Kerry did add, "I probably wouldn't have used the phrase, 'another maggot-eaten corpse' in reference to that one mother's deceased son.
Senator Obama remained apologetic throughout. "Well as I said, it is not at all what I intended to say, and I would absolutely apologize if any of them felt that in some ways it had diminished the enormous courage and sacrifice that they'd shown for nothing. You know, if you look at all the other speeches that I've made, that is always the starting point in my view of this war." He then excused himself, stating that he had to run to his next meeting because, "it is in New York City, and if I'm not there by six, all of those big-nosed Jews will head to the delis to stuff themselves with bagels."