We SUPPORT and ENDORSE JOHN EDWARDS, HILLARY CLINTON , Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Vilsack, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, John Kerry , Wesley Clark and their SUPPORTERS AND OTHER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES




Tuesday, January 23, 2007

'08 campaign draws on the careful Clinton centrism

'08 campaign draws on the careful Clinton centrism
By Peter S. Canellos, Globe Columnist January 23, 2007
WASHINGTON -- There was something, well, Clintonian in Hillary Clinton's comments after her recent trip to Iraq.
The New York senator refused to renounce her vote authorizing the war, but criticized President Bush's "losing strategy."
She refused to withhold funds for Bush's troop "surge," but said she would sponsor a bill capping the number of troops at the current level, which would do the same thing.
She also refused to impose a timetable for withdrawal, but declared that she wants the war to end as soon as possible.
These are not flip-flops of the type that Republicans skewered John Kerry for making. These views are the essence of the Clinton governing strategy: resolutely centrist, conscious of the need to massage public opinion, carefully couched to avoid any gaffes, determined to seek the most broadly acceptable route -- not the fastest.
Bill and Hillary Clinton have vastly different personalities, and some different values as well. But their approach to governing -- and plotting a presidential campaign -- is so similar that it has become a brand of Democratic politics: There's the left, the nearly extinct hawkish Southern branch of the party, and the Clintonian middle.
The Clintons vex liberals almost as much as conservatives. They pursue liberal goals but often seem to do so apologetically. Hillary Clinton is so determined to portray herself as willing to use force, and to buck up the American military, that sometimes it's hard to notice that she actually thinks the Iraq war was a mistake and wants to end it.
Conservatives regard the Clinton approach as a magic show designed to make liberalism look centrist. And many conservative pundits have driven themselves crazy trying to rip all the false beards and wigs off the Clintons' policies. To the right wing, Hillary Clinton is an antiwar leftist: All her carefully couched language is a game of subterfuge.
This may not be fair to the Clintons. Bill has long been preternaturally eager to please, which leads him to pursue policies that are broadly acceptable to everyone. And Hillary, despite her liberal reputation, may be a moderate at heart.
From her autobiography, "Living History," it's clear that her liberal reputation stems largely from the get-used-to-it attitude she developed as a woman pushing her way forward in Arkansas; feminism may be a dominant strain in her ideology, but so too is the Main Street conservatism of her beloved father, the owner of a drapery business who followed the Republican line on taxes and spending and self-reliance.
But however sincere she and Bill are in their moderation, their approach to governing is clearly designed to protect them from criticism. The best proof of the existence of the vast right-wing conspiracy is the extent of Bill's and Hillary's efforts to thwart it.
Consider the matter of refusing to fund Bush's "surge" in troops. It's widely accepted that Congress, which is responsible for approving all government programs, can block Bush's escalation of the Iraq war. Bush's supporters portray this action as denying funds to the troops -- as if they'd be left standing naked in Baghdad -- but it's a misleading image. The extra troops would come home or, more likely, would never go over in the first place. Bush might choose to provoke a constitutional crisis by claiming the power to use other government funds for a "surge," but even under that hardball scenario, the troops wouldn't be left without equipment.
Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton senses the futility of trying to refute the image of soldiers abandoned by the Democrats, and seeks to create a different metaphor: She favors "capping" the number of troops at existing levels. The effect would be the same -- no "surge" -- but the different terminology would allow her to argue that every single troop in Iraq is being supported: The Democrats simply don't want any more to be sent to the war zone.
"I'm not going to cut American troops' funding right now -- they're in harm's way," she reiterated last week, depriving the Republicans of their favorite argument.
After eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency, some Americans had grown tired of this song and dance. They yearned for a president who acted on his beliefs without hesitation. Now they're hoping to rein in a president who seems determined to continue an unpopular war in Iraq and perhaps start another one with Iran.
Hillary Clinton is betting that after eight years of George W. Bush, America is yearning for a president who keeps one eye firmly on public opinion.
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