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Clinton Cites Lessons of Partisanship
"I really think my experience uniquely equips me to be president at this time, both having gone through it, having been on the receiving end of it and -- in campaigns that were hard-fought -- maybe on the giving end of it . . .," she said.
"The overall assessment, given all of the mistakes that I made and all of the lessons that I've learned, is that we've got to put an end to it, but you can't just hope it goes away," she said. "You can't just wake up and say, 'Let's all just hold hands and be together.' You've got to demonstrate that you're not going to be cowed or intimidated or deterred by it, and then you can reach out and bring people who are of good faith together."
She said she has begun to attract support from contributors and voters who may have been skeptical of her in the past. Criticizing Bush, she said he has pursued a "50-plus-one" strategy "instead of saying, 'You know what -- there may be some people we will lose if we reach out' " to create a broader coalition.
"That's what I intend to do," she said. "I intend to win in November 2008, and then I intend to build a centrist coalition in this country that is like what I remember when I was growing up."
While acknowledging that she may have contributed to polarization, she did not specify how or when. Pressed to explain, she said: "I've talked about it a lot, and I think I will continue to talk about it in a lot of different ways."
On Social Security, Clinton declined to say whether she would support reduced benefits or increased taxes to ensure the system's long-term solvency.
"Let me tell you where I stand on Social Security, and maybe that will explain where I stand on all the particulars," she said. "First of all, I reject the conventional wisdom and the Republican talking points that Social Security is in a crisis. I do not agree with that."
She said she would follow President Ronald Reagan's example by appointing a bipartisan commission to study the issue and avoid making her own recommendations until it reports back.
"I'm not advocating any of it as a presidential candidate or as a president," she said. "But I am strongly advocating a bipartisan process, similar to what we had in '83, and when that gets set up, as I hope it will be when I'm president, then I'm going to see what the bipartisan members are going to come up with."
Clinton's position on Iraq continues to draw criticism from some rivals, who say she is prepared to keep troops in combat there longer than they would. She said she has been clear that calling for a withdrawal plan if she is sworn in as president would be a priority, but acknowledged that she is not ready to offer hard deadlines.
"It's one of these questions that I know what the satisfying answer would be -- saying, 'Oh, my gosh, they'll be out tomorrow,' or 'They'll be out in three months' or 'They'll be out in a year' -- whatever," she said.
She added: "I'm saying that, once you're president and the weight of this responsibility is on your shoulders, I want to be as committed to getting out as quickly as I can, but as clear that I have to look at all of these problems we're going to face."
Asked about reports that Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, who was one of President Bill Clinton's national security advisers, had been brought in to advise her campaign, despite his conviction on charges of stealing national security documents, Clinton said his role is strictly unofficial.
"I've known him for 30-plus years, and he is one of many people who offers ideas, but he has no official role in the campaign," she said.