Hillary Clinton is the presumptive front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency. It's something that my own analysis confirmed, as well as what a slew of public opinion polls have been saying for almost all of 2007. Part of this seems to be Clinton's ability to blur any real distinctions between her and the other top tier candidates, Barack Obama and John Edwards. As Chris Bowers notes, she has essentially eliminated any deficits she had faced demographically with Obama, and she has now begun to eat into Edwards' already-thin support.
If one examines her campaign closely, though, all you will find is this: Hillary Clinton is the DLC candidate for the presidency - not only because of her brand of cautious, timid politicking, but also because of the way she portrays herself at campaign events. In the next few days, I will be taking a comprehensive look at Clinton's positions and rhetoric to make the case for Clinton being the DLC candidate in 2008.
Part I: Going AWOL on Foreign Policy
Clinton's campaign materials are startlingly missing when it comes to issues of national security and other foreign policy affairs. Whereas other candidates such as Obama and Bill Richardson devote an ample amount of space to their beliefs on various foreign policy matters, Clinton devotes one link to Iraq, while she gives only a little more space to other foreign policy matters, focusing on issues that aren't even on the mind of most candidates (Northern Ireland, much more of an issue during her husband's administration, is given equal time as Darfur, a much more pressing issue). Granted, foreign policy is probably Clinton's weakest area; it is where she has taken the most heat from the grassroots and the netroots, particularly for her refusal to admit she made a mistake in voting to authorize the war, as well as asinine comments that America has better homeland security under the Bush administration than it did before.
But it also speaks to the DLC's quietness on the matter of foreign policy. They were big cheerleaders of the war before it started; see this piece from DLC ally and the aptly misnamed Progressive Policy Institute by Will Marshall. While critical of the reasons used by Bush to invade Iraq, he instead says we should occupy the country to make it a democracy, which is arguably worse. In addition, they were at the front of calling for 'unity' once the bombs started dropping:
Now is the time for Americans to unite in support of the president and our troops as they finish the job left undone in 1991 as quickly and humanely as possible. The time is over for recriminations about how we reached this point of confrontation with Iraq, and whether we could have reached it with more support.
Does the DLC still hold the same beliefs? Unlikely; similarly, Clinton's position on the war and other national security affairs have changed over time. That being said, her lack of substance on the issues mirrors the same lack of substance that the DLC's website has when it comes to foreign policy (which, for the DLC, apparently only includes national security; they have nothing about any other foreign policy 'ideas'). It's telling that the amount of material generated by the DLC, the PPI, and other centrist organizations stopped talking about foreign policy when the worst outcome did materialize in Iraq - as many of us predicted would happen 5 years ago. They just stop talking about it.
Clinton, on the other hand, has to address the topic at the debates, given that Iraq and national security matters are going to dominate the Democratic primary and after that, the general election. She keeps referring to her vaunted 'three-point plan' on Iraq (which, if her website is any indication, is a few sentences long; it also needs new dates), but aside from that, what else does she think needs to be done? It's hard to say, given what she's said at the debates so far:
I'm very proud of the Congress under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid for putting together a piece of legislation which says we will fund our troops and protect them, we will limit the number of days that they can be deployed, and we will start to bring them home.
And I think that is exactly what the American people want. This is not America's war to win or lose. We have given the Iraqi people the chance to have freedom, to have their own country. It is up to them to decide whether or not they're going to take that chance.
But I think that the real question before us: Is what do we do now? How do we try to persuade or require this president to change course?
He is stubbornly refusing to listen to the will of the American people. He threatens to veto the legislation we've passed, which has been something that all of us have been advocating for a number of years now.
And I can only hope that he will not veto it. And I can only end by saying that if this president does not get us out of Iraq, when I am president, I will.
I am a senator from New York. I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11, and I have seen firsthand the terrible damage that can be inflicted on our country by a small band of terrorists who are intent upon foisting their way of life and using suicide bombers and suicidal people to carry out their agenda.
And I believe we are safer than we were. We are not yet safe enough. And I have proposed over the last year a number of policies that I think we should following.
I thought the best way to support our troops was to try to send a very strong message that they should begin to come home. That is the best way to support them. And I thought that vote was an opportunity to do so.
Everybody on this stage, we are all united, Wolf. We all believe that we need to try to end this war. In two nights you're going to have the Republican candidates here. They all support the war. They all support the president. They all supported the escalation. Each of us is trying in our own way to bring the war to an end.
The differences among us are minor. The differences between us and the Republicans are major. And I don't want anybody in America to be confused.
COOPER: Senator Clinton, would you agree with Senator Biden? American troops should got to Darfur?
CLINTON: I agree completely that what we need to do is start acting instead of talking.
That means accelerating the United Nations peacekeeping forces along with the African Union. It means moving more quickly on divestment and sanctions on the Sudanese government, including trying to use the diplomacy to get China involved.
And, finally, it does mean a no-fly zone. We can do it in a way that doesn't endanger humanitarian relief.
I happen to agree that there is no military solution, and the Iraqis refuse to pursue the political solutions. In fact, I asked the Pentagon a simple question: Have you prepared for withdrawing our troops? In response, I got a letter accusing me of being unpatriotic; that I shouldn't be asking questions.
Well, one of the problems is that there are a lot of questions that we're asking but we're not getting answers from the Bush administration.
Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.
I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.
And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.
Well, I have a three-point plan to get out of Iraq, starting with redeploying our troops, but doing it responsibly and carefully, because as many of the veterans in this audience know, taking troops out can be just as dangerous as bringing them in. And we've got to get out of Iraq smarter than we got in.
Secondly, we've got to put more pressure on the Iraqi government, including withholding aid from them if they don't begin to stabilize the country themselves. And thirdly, we need an intensive diplomatic effort, regionally and internationally.
But if it is a possibility that al Qaeda would stay in Iraq, I think we need to stay focused on trying to keep them on the run, as we currently are doing in Al Anbar province.
Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals. And it may well be that the strategy we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence -- but remember, we've had some real difficult experiences with actionable intelligence -- might lead to a certain action.
So you can think big, but remember, you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don't need that right now. (Chorus of boos.)
I didn't include every single foreign policy-related quotation, but having watched all of the debates to date, I feel comfortable that this represents an accurate cross-section of what Clinton has said to date regarding foreign policy during the debates (is there a transcript for the Yearly Kos debate? I could not find one via Google).
What becomes clear? First, Clinton is more in her element when she turns blame towards Bush and the Republicans for Iraq as opposed to setting out clear ideas about how we should get out. What was particularly galling, I thought, was her use of the Al Anbar province as what we should be doing in Iraq. That's a great sentiment and all, except we don't have enough troops - by far - to go through and sweep the entire country (much less Baghdad) to decrease the violence. And despite the escalation, the casualties in Iraq have been higher than ever. Furthermore, that argument gives more ammunition to the right wing that Democrats are seeing that the surge is working.
Secondly, she hasn't really given much thought to foreign policy issues in general. Her answer to the Darfur question seems quite similar to Joe Biden's detailed stance on Darfur, perhaps in part because she answered the question right after Biden. It's in line with the lack of detail on her website and in line with what appears to be a general disregard for non-national security-related foreign policy matters.
Third, Clinton is being deceptive on what her position on Iraq really is. In today's New York Times, an article details how Clinton (along with Obama) would leave an unspecified force inside Iraq for an indeterminate amount of time. That's quite unacceptable, but it seems to be a slow shift on the Democratic side from total withdrawal (which, of the serious candidates, only Richardson supports) to something less, an issue LithiumCola details in his excellent diary, Exit Creep. Given her hawkishness on defense, though, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Clinton, despite her common refrain of ending the war if Bush doesn't, isn't being completely honest.
Lastly, the image of Clinton as strong on national security - similar to that of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani - may very well come from her emphasis that she was a New York politician on September 11th. As a New Yorker, this infuriates me more than just about anything else in politics, and I chronicled my problems with her words a couple months ago. What we need right now isn't someone who is 'strong' in the hawkish sense on national security. We need a candidate who is sensible about national security matters and understands that with America's standing in the world as low as it is, there are more important priorities than swinging around a big stick.
(also posted at Open Left)