Antiwar Democrats Are Less Critical As Clinton Takes A New Tack on Iraq
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) drew only modest boos at a gathering of liberal activists yesterday, a sign of how well her changing position on Iraq is playing in the antiwar wing of her party.
Last year, speaking at the Campaign for America's Future conference, Clinton was loudly hissed when she said it is not "smart strategy" to set a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq. This year, the same group applauded Clinton as she described a bill she introduced to deauthorize the war and the recent vote she cast against funding it, both positions she has adopted since becoming a candidate for president in January.
"She's been kind of slow to come to the antiwar position, but she's there now," said Robert Borosage, the co-director of the D.C.-based group that hosted the conference. "Her position on the war has improved dramatically."
Activists from Code Pink, an antiwar group whose members often wear pink uniforms, waved signs that said "Lead Us Out of Iraq" and shouted the same message at Clinton as she spoke. "I love coming here," she said with a laugh, adding: "I see the signs, 'Get us out of Iraq.' That is what we are trying to do."
Jodie Evans, one of the founders of Code Pink, said Clinton should do more to stop Congress from funding the war and should apologize for voting to authorize it. The group booed loudest when Clinton criticized the Iraqi government because it was like "blaming the victim," Evans said.
But Bob Fertik, a liberal blogger who attended the conference last year and did not like Clinton's remarks then, said he appreciates where the candidate is going. "This time she tried to be with us," he said.
Clinton's remarks were the latest sign of the dramatic shift in the war debate among those in the Democratic field. A year ago, future Democratic presidential candidates Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), as well as Clinton, opposed a Senate bill sponsored by Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) that would have set a deadline of July 2007 for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
In more recent votes, all four candidates have supported legislation that includes timelines.
"Just about everyone of them in the past mouthed that timelines are a bad idea," Feingold said in a interview. "Now they are voting with me, so I think they must be hearing it from people."
For Clinton, the shift has been even more pronounced. Her campaign announcement speech barely mentioned Iraq, focusing as it did on her domestic policy achievements. On her first campaign swing through Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton was asked frequently about her war position, with pointed questions about whether she would say her vote to authorize the war was a mistake. The intensity of the antiwar feeling in the early-voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa surprised her aides.
Over the past few months, her campaign rhetoric has changed, and so have her actions in the Senate.
Last month, Clinton co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to withdraw authorization for the war, voted against $95 billion in war funding and backed a bill calling for the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by March 31. On the stump, she now cites all those efforts after uttering her standard line: "If President Bush doesn't end this war in Iraq, I will."
Some rivals have suggested that she has changed positions for political reasons and is not aggressive enough in opposing the war. A day before Clinton's appearance at the "Take Back America" conference, former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) said that "strength and conviction" are needed in Congress to stop funding the war. He called on Congress to avoid "triangulating," the term made ubiquitous by President Bill Clinton's careful positioning between the two parties.
Clinton aides say their candidate's position has changed in response to frustration in both parties that Bush has not changed course -- except to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. "The circumstances have continued to devolve," said Philippe Reines, her Senate spokesman. "They have changed in Iraq, and they've changed here at home."
Whatever her motives, Clinton's moves on the war have improved her political prospects in Iowa and New Hampshire. As she has emphatically called for troops to be withdrawn, a stance Edwards had adopted earlier, he has had to make more subtle points to show the distinctions between their records. And on a recent trip to Iowa, only one voter asked Clinton about her position on the war. Of course, resistance to her remains.
In an informal straw poll of the activists at this conference by the political Web site Politico.com, Edwards and Obama received more votes than Clinton. And some activists want her to adopt the position of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who has said that no troops should remain in Iraq once U.S. combat forces leave. Clinton has suggested that a small force should remain to ensure that al-Qaeda does not take control of Iraq.