On Native Ground
IS HILLARY CLINTON THE NEXT PRO-WAR DEMOCRAT TO FALL?
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Sen. Joe Lieberman's sorry hide has been nailed to the wall, and there is rejoicing in the land (except from the lobbyists, pundits and political hacks who make up the permanent occupation force of Washington).
And while I am pleased to see a discredited, humiliated Lieberman forced to cast his lot in with his friends in the Republican Party, I won't be completely convinced that the revolution is here until New York U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's hide is nailed to the wall beside Joe's.
The conventional wisdom is that Lieberman lost because he consistently supported the Bush Administration on the Iraq war. But that isn't the sole reason why Lieberman lost to Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Democratic primary.
The Democratic Party's big problem is that people like Clinton, who also supported the invasion of Iraq, are trying to change the subject now that things have gone horribly wrong.
Clinton, Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. John Edwards and Sen. John Kerry - to name four prominent Democratic senators with presidential aspirations - all voted in October 2002 to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq.
Of the four, only Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, has publicly apologized for his vote. He is no longer a senator and he supports a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Kerry, who ran for president in 2004, co-sponsored a Senate resolution with Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to set a timetable for a withdrawal. Kerry and Biden are both up for reelection to the Senate in 2008.
Biden and Clinton, who are on the short list to run for president for the Democrats in 2008, are more circumspect in their opposition to the war. They both rail against the incompetence of the Bush Administration in its execution and hope no one remembers that they supported the war in the first place.
The only one of those four who is up for reelection this year is Clinton. On the surface, she doesn't seem to have to worry. She's raised $45 million for her reelection campaign and has a strong organization.
Clinton voted for the war, like the rest of the Democrats who wanted to run for president, because she was afraid of looking like a wimp if she opposed it. Until recently, she was only slightly less strident than Lieberman in her support of the war. But even she has noticed that 60 percent of Americans now oppose the war, according to a recent CNN poll. It's no longer "the wackadoo wing of the party," as Michael Goodwin of New York's Daily News inelegantly put it, that opposes the war. It's now mainstream political thought.
But as was the case with Lieberman, it's not just support for the Iraq war that makes progressives shun Clinton. It's her pro-corporate, Republican-lite stand on the issues. She opposes universal health care, as you might expect from someone who is the second leading recipient of campaign donations from the health care industry. She's been cozying up to media baron Rupert Murdoch. She thinks free trade agreements such as NAFTA are great. She opposes gay marriage, supports more restrictions on immigration and voted for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.
In other words, Clinton is not exactly the wild-eyed radical that right-wing talk radio hosts have been savaging for the last 15 years. She backed Lieberman in the primary, although she left it to her husband to campaign for him in Connecticut.
Hillary Clinton has an outsider challenge in New York's Democratic senatorial primary. He's labor activist Jonathan Tasini, whose Websitefeatures four videos that spell out his progressive ideas and positions. Unlike Lamont, he's not a millionaire businessman from a old-money family. He's the former president of the National Writers Union who won a Supreme Court case that successfully challenged the right of media companies to republish writers' work on the Internet without compensation. (Disclosure: My wife and I were plaintiffs in that case.)
Tasini has only raised $150,000 to Clinton's $45 million. He's way behind in the polls, at 13 percent as of last week. He has received virtually no media attention. But six months ago, Ned Lamont had similar polling numbers and was also seen as a hopeless longshot.
The real test as to whether there is a shift in the Democratic Party is how Clinton fares in the New York primary on Sept. 12. Will she too be punished by voters for trying to have it both ways on Iraq, or will she get a free ride to a second term in the Senate?
Again, the conventional wisdom says Clinton has to act tough to convince voters that Democrats aren't wimps when it comes to national security issues. But before the White House is allowed to get away with the "vote for Democrats and you will die" meme, let's look at the record.
The Bush Administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was to launch a war against a country, Iraq, that had no involvement in 9/11. It has spent the last five years promoting the notion that the rule of law and constitutional protections are legal niceties that thwart the war on terror. We've seen kidnappings, torture and illegal detentions abroad and an unprecedented spy program at home. And after almost five years, there appears to still be absolutely no understanding at all about even the most basic elements of the Middle East political situation.
A majority of Americans are tired of seeing their young people come home in flag-draped coffins from a war that didn't need to happen. They are fed up with a reckless foreign policy that has increased the threat of terrorism worldwide. Most of all, they are sick of politicians who won't listen to them and are still pretending that everything is fine.
Given all this, Democrats don't need to posture, as Hillary Clinton has, to prove their toughness. All they have to do is point out where Mr. Bush has failed and show they have an alternative plan that might work better. That's why Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman and why Democrats and Republicans alike who support the Bush Administration's policies are in deep political trouble.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.