Obama, Clinton Accused of Timidity

Barack Obama styles himself as the candidate free of typical Washington thinking.

But in the view of Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen, the freshman Democratic senator is just as enmeshed in outdated thinking as the dynastic presidential rival he hopes to topple.

"Conventional political wisdom is that if you talk about reducing spending on the Pentagon you become weak on defense -- that it's political suicide," Cohen told ABC News. "Despite the fact that we've proven that the population support this, they still believe it."

"And, you know," he added, "I think that's what Obama thinks."

Cohen is more than an ice-cream mogul. He heads Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a group whose goal is to shift $60 billion in federal funds away from the Pentagon and toward education, health care, energy independence, job training and deficit reduction.

To influence the 2008 presidential race, Cohen's field organizers have attended more than 500 campaign events and have found 9,000 Iowans who have signed pledges to support the candidate who wins the group's endorsement later this fall.

In the past, the Iowa caucuses have been so sparsely attended that even a small number of votes can make a big difference.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was catapulted to the Democratic presidential nomination after defeating John Edwards by roughly 6,900 votes in Iowa.

Getting Specific on Reducing Weapons

To win the group's blessing, a candidate must get specific in pledging to phase out nine different weapons systems.

"We deliberately did that so we can actually hold their feet to the fire,' said Cohen. "It's much more of a confirmed position than just 'Oh, yeah. I'd cut Pentagon waste.'"

Cohen's group is endorsing a weapons-reducing plan created by Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former Reagan assistant secretary of defense.

Korb said the U.S. government could save $25 billion by reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal from 10,000 warheads to no more than 1,000; $23 billion from scaling back development of weapons like the F/A-22 fighter jet and the DDG-1000 stealth Destroyer ship; $5 billion from eliminating two active Air Force wings and one carrier group; and another $7 billion through additional Pentagon efficiencies.

Favorites Emerge

Cohen's group will not make an endorsement until November, but favorites are already emerging.

While Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton have voted against Iraq War funding that does not include a timetable for withdrawal, they have only backed $5 billion worth of Pentagon cuts, according to Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. Those savings would be achieved by ceasing the development of the "reliable replacement warhead" nuclear weapon that President Bush supports, and by scrapping construction of a new plutonium processing facility.

"The tendencies of the front-runners is to not take positions on anything," said Cohen. "It's to try to stay as vague as possible."

Cohen sees Edwards as "a lot freer" of the conventional wisdom than Obama and Clinton are. The former North Carolina senator has agreed so far to $22 billion in Pentagon cuts, according to Cohen's group.

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