Yesterday at a campaign event in North Hampton, Iowa, Hillary Clinton had a testy exchange with an anti-war member of the crowd.
Referring to her recent vote in the Senate supporting the Bush administration in its attempts to get us into a military confrontation with Iran, as well as her 2002 vote in favor of going to war in Iraq and her continued refusal to admit being wrong about that vote, the attendee, Randall Rolph asked,
"Why should I support your candidacy, if it appears that you haven't learned from your past mistakes?"
Sen. Clinton's response was particularly concerning to me as a Democratic voter:
After defending the vote, Clinton finished by saying about the question, "somebody obviously sent it to you."
Rolph responded, "I take exception. This is my own research. Nobody sent it to me. I am offended that you would suggest that."
"Let me finish," Clinton answered, "I apologize. I just have been asked the very same question in three other places."
OK, I'm glad she realized right away that she had stepped over the line in making the accusation and apologized. But on a larger level, she just doesn't seem to get it.
There is a reason why she has been asked the question frequently. It's the same reason why Democrats, especially anti-war Democrats did very well in elections last year. The reason is that most people are sick and tired of the Iraq war, most people are sick and tired of the apparently reflexive reaction by the Bush administration and its supporters in Congress (which has included, unfortunately, Hillary Clinton) to take a hardline hawkish view towards everyone who disagrees with us, and most people are sick of the administration's unwillingness to consider alternative courses of action.
Further, in poll after poll after poll we have seen that most Americans want the U.S. out of Iraq, on a timetable if not immediately. Clinton may well be able to win the Democratic nomination, largely because those of us who want the U.S. out of Iraq are split between Obama, Edwards, Richardson, Biden and Kucinich, but to be honest, while I support Richardson myself (among other reasons, because he is the highest candidate in the polls who has promised to get every American all the way out of Iraq and is also the most qualified to be able to deliver on that promise), if it were a two person battle between Clinton and any of the above, I would support any of the above for the nomination. So she is lucky that the majority of the Democratic party is split so many different ways, but still is likely the last choice of most Democrats, and specifically so for one and one reason only-- Iraq.
But Iraq will be the central issue in next year's election, just as it was in last year's. And it is not only most Democrats who want us out of Iraq, but most voters. And that is where Hillary is definitely on the wrong side of things.
She may be gambling that in a race against a Republican, who certainly will sound like, if not embrace, George W. Bush on Iraq, saying we have to stay there until the cows come home, she can afford to take a hawkish stance and win the votes of liberals by talking about health care, education, etc.
But if so then it is not a wise gamble. I've blogged before about the dangers of the frontloaded primary system, in which we will have the nominees for November chosen by just forty-eight hours after the Super Bowl.
One huge problem with this is that it presents an enormous window of opportunity for a well-funded independent or third party candidate to jump in during the late spring or early or even mid summer, especially if the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees have just spent all spring attacking each other until most people don't want either of them. And in fact, this is not a theoretical scenario-- current NY mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who would not need to raise a dime, has dropped hints about running, possibly with Chuck Hagel, a retiring Republican Senator from Nebraska who is a Vietnam veteran and has come out strongly in favor of withdrawing from Iraq.
Such a scenario could result in a hawkish Hillary Clinton being in a very difficult position. Strong war hawks would likely continue to support the Republican nominee-- she might be lucky to pull off a handful but not enough to make much difference. On the other hand, Bloomberg or some other third party candidate would have the advantage of being able to triangulate an Iraq stance that favored getting out of Iraq-- hence agreeing with 2/3 of the electorate on the number one issue of the campaign while Hillary and the Republican were left to fight over the other one third.
As a partisan Democrat I will support the nominee no matter who it is, but I have to admit that I have a lot of reservations about whether Hillary Clinton either understands just how angry and frustrated most Americans are about Iraq, or frankly gives a hoot. Her response to Mr. Rolph's very appropriate question, ranging from flippant to arrogant, makes me thinks that she does not.