Friday, October 12, 2007

Obama, Edwards Hammer Clinton on Iran Vote

The Los Angeles Times reports that two top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have hammered rival candidate Hillary Clinton for her recent vote to categorize Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization:

Five years after she voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is coming under attack from rivals in the presidential race for a recent vote that they say could bring the nation closer to war with Iran.

On Thursday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) added his voice to the criticism, comparing Clinton's vote on the measure to the "blank check" that he said she gave President Bush to wage war against Iraq.

Last month, Clinton joined a majority of senators in voting for a resolution that labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a government-sponsored military organization, a terrorist group. Obama said Bush could use the measure to justify a military strike against Iran.

Efforts by Obama and fellow Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards to highlight Clinton's Iran vote come as the two are struggling to break her campaign momentum by reviving questions about her 2002 vote authorizing U.S. force in Iraq. Clinton has refused to call that vote a mistake.

"They've been trying, and they haven't found a way that works," said Donald F. Kettl, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "My sense is that she's done a pretty masterful and smooth job in making the transition she needed to make from the original vote to the position she has now, which is more strongly antiwar." Clinton says that as president, she would immediately start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and that her goal would be to have them all out by the end of her first term.
Read the whole thing. Since it's not especially likely that the U.S. will be going to war with Iran any time soon, Clinton's vote was actually a safe bet. But by ripping into Clinton - far and away the frontrunner in the Democratic field - Obama and Edwards are hoping to chip away at her inevitability.

What I find interesting is Clinton's ability to have her cake and eat it too. With this vote she can claim firmness toward toward Iran, but should hard-left criticism kick up, she'd be safe enough to deny the terrorist-labeling legislation indicated increasing U.S. bellicosity.

Indeed, the vote illustrates Clinton's essential waffling on the issues, saying or doing whatever's best to fit the political circumstances of the moment. A week or two back, the Times ran a story on Hillary's squishiness, "
Clinton's 2008 Lead is Clear, Though Her Policies Often Aren't." Over the course of this year, many voters have become frankly flummoxed over Hillary's flexibility, which the article calls "nuance." In other words, Clinton's so ambiguous, her White House bid's getting to be this year's "Where's the Beef" campaign:

After 10 months of campaigning, Clinton has built an image among Democratic voters as a skilled and experienced leader, propelling her to the top of the opinion polls. But her policy positions are sometimes unclear. In some cases, Clinton has made statements on the campaign trail or cast votes as a senator that put her on different sides of the same issue. At times she has avoided specifics, leaving her options open.
Clinton says that Social Security is in jeopardy. But pressed in a recent debate on how to shore up the system's shaky finances, Clinton refused to offer any remedy. "I don't think I should be negotiating about what I would do as president," she said. "You know, I want to see what other people come to the table with."

On free trade -- a top-tier issue for labor unions and core Democrats -- her position is murky. Clinton has voted for at least three tariff-lowering trade deals, but voted against one. Appearing before free-trade supporters, she has praised the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement, which is loathed by many unions. But speaking to a union audience as a presidential candidate, Clinton said NAFTA hurt workers.

To counter criticism that she is beholden to special interests, Clinton has cited her work on a bill signed in 2005 overhauling bankruptcy laws. But others say that work is an example of something else: straddling an issue. She opposed the bill as first lady, voted for a later version as senator, then switched again to oppose it before a family crisis kept her from voting on the final bill.

Some people watching Clinton believe she owes the voters more answers....

Clinton's approach to the war is one issue where she has sent a nuanced signal.

"Are you ready to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home?" she called to the audience outside the New Hampshire statehouse over Labor Day weekend. A sure-fire applause line at Democratic rallies, Clinton works it into many of her speeches.

The New Hampshire crowd roared.

Later in her remarks, Clinton added that "we should end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home safely and responsibly and as soon as possible." But she did not lay out how much time it might take to withdraw "safely and responsibly." Nor did she mention something she had said in a debate one month earlier: that she thinks the U.S. would need to retain military forces to keep terrorists "on the run" in Iraq.

Bob Williams, 65, of Chichester, N.H., came out to the statehouse for Clinton's address. Asked whether he came away with an idea of when a full troop withdrawal might happen if she were president, Williams said: "I'm not sure." He later said he had heard little from Clinton in the way of "specific plans or commitments" for extracting the U.S. from Iraq.

There you have it!

Hardly anyone can figure out what Hillary's all about, at least in terms of policies. Politically, it's no surprise that she's all about power - that is, about winning-without-principle. After 2000, she made a reputation for herself as an accommodating centrist in the Senate. Her Iraq vote in 2002 was the right thing to do. Now, though, worried about the hard-left's grip on the party, and mindful of the electorate's pull to the center in the general election, Hillary satisfies herself with vapid evasions on the truly important question facing the voters in this campaign.