Doing What They Do Best

Posted on November 1, 2007

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While Democrats have been whistling past the graveyard for the last six years when it comes to fighting wars and legislation their constituency oppose, they have certainly gotten good at one thing in the last year: bashing each other.

In this case, Hillary Clinton, the unctuous front runner for the Democratic nomination, was the target of an incredibly unfair and fact-less pile-on by her opponents last night on MSNBC’s quadrillionth candidates debate. The altercation has gotten much press in the meantime, and Chris Matthews on Hardball used it as the centerpiece of his show today, roundly castigating Clinton for being evasive (and, oddly, going after her for not using the word “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants”. He called this pandering. Can someone regulate this guy’s medication?)

But actually Clinton gave one of the few bullshitless answers of her career when Tim Russert asked her if she supported NY Governor Spitzer’s plan for allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses.

–from the New York Times Transcript

SEN. CLINTON: Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It’s probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum.

Note, she said it twice. She didn’t say that giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens was a blast, or that it alone would solve the immigration problem or anything else. She said that Spitzer was attempting to fill a vacuum left by the lack of comprehensive immigration reform. What followed was a cowardly and embarrassing display of pile on. First, Dodd attacked Hillary for her desire to give this “privilege” to undocumented aliens. Clinton replied:

SEN. CLINTON: I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it. And we have failed —

SEN. DODD: Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it.

Note, again that she, in fact, did not say that it should be done and that she did say it made sense. She did say that she understood why Spitzer was doing it, but she did not say that she agreed that it should be implemented. This is called remaining consistent on a complicated issue. Russert joined in, redirecting the question to Clinton again more pointedly:

MR. RUSSERT: Do you support his plan?

SEN. CLINTON: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha. It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem….Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York we want to know who’s in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows. He’s making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.

What is most amazing in all the media brou-ha-ha over this episode is that Clinton is taking the kind of nuanced position that is so lacking in our for-us-or agin-us discourse and is literally being treated like she has made the biggest misstep of all the candidates both Democratic and Republican. This in a race where Romney calls Obama Osama, any chance he can get and Giuliani knowingly makes up statistics about testicular cancer death rates to condemn government health care. On the contrary, this is a rare example–especially rare for Hillary Clinton–of a politician insisting on not kow-towing to reactionary rhetoric on a sensitive subject.

And indeed, Clinton held the line under the lights and under attack from three separate interlocutors. Edwards, who fancies himself the star of a Capra film lately, diverted the next question topic posed to him so he could get a chance to attack Clinton, accusing her of saying “two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago.” Then Obama joined in with:

“…part of leadership is not just looking backwards and seeing what’s popular, or trying to gauge popular sentiment. It’s about setting a direction for the country, and that’s what I intend to do as president.”

This from the man who always seems to leave the senate chamber whenever there is a controversial vote–the Betraeus Ad, Iran–so that he won’t have to take responsibility for having done anything.

And to cap it all off, here I am defending Hillary Clinton, who is poised to round out a twenty year Clinton-Bush oligarchy and who will probably bomb Iran if Bush doesn’t get to it first. If she’s the only candidate showing any integrity, good god we’re f&!#@d.