Clinton Cites Lessons of Partisanship

By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed back against criticism from fellow Democrats that she is too polarizing to unite the country as president, arguing that the political battles she has been through make her uniquely equipped to bring the nation together and build a centrist governing coalition.

In an interview aboard her campaign bus, Clinton (N.Y.) acknowledged that she has contributed to the divisive politics of the past decade but said she has learned from those experiences. She said that if she becomes president, she will attempt to assemble a broad, centrist coalition on such key issues as health care, energy independence and national security.

The former first lady called President Bush's political and governing strategy of concentrating primarily on his party's base for support "a tragedy" for the country's politics.

"I actually think that in a way, the fact that I've been through so much incoming fire all these years is an advantage," she said, adding: "It's been my observation that when you're attacked continually in American politics, you either give up or get disoriented or you either lose or leave -- or you persevere and show your resilience."

Clinton offered insights into the governing priorities she would bring to the White House, speaking cautiously about extricating the nation from Iraq and urgently about health-care reform. She also said she will take no position on how to fix Social Security and made it clear she does not regard it as a front-burner issue.

"I do not believe it is in a crisis," she said of the retirement program. On Iraq, Clinton continued to avoid being pinned down on how quickly she would withdraw U.S. troops, saying she would begin moving the military out if elected but refusing to give what she described as "the satisfying answer" -- a date when those forces would be gone entirely.

Clinton was similarly vague about how she would handle special interrogation methods used by the CIA. She said that while she does not condone torture, so much has been kept secret that she would not know unlesselected what other extreme measures interrogators are using, and therefore could not say whether she would change or continue existing policies.

"It is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn't doing. We're getting all kinds of mixed messages," Clinton said. "I don't think we'll know the truth until we have a new president. I think [until] you can get in there and actually bore into what's been going on, you're not going to know."

The interview, held as her bus sat parked outside an event site in Cedar Rapids on Monday, came in the middle of an important campaign swing for Clinton. She is in a tight battle for Iowa with both Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.).

On a tour dubbed the "Middle Class Express," Clinton rolled out her economic overview, and Tuesday in Webster City she unveiled a proposal that would provide tax cuts of up to $1,000 to help Americans start a 401(k) retirement plan. She is to travel to New Hampshire on Wednesday and plans to propose a new education funding formula there on Thursday.

Her economic proposals included what she said would be a renewed commitment to fiscal discipline, higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and programs aimed at easing economic uncertainties among middle-class families. They include housing assistance, making college more affordable and the universal health-care plan she outlined last month.

Clinton spoke at some length about her rivals' criticism that she carries too much political baggage from the conflicts of her husband's administration to be an effective and unifying president.

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