Hillary’s Ongoing Dilemma

December 12, 2005

The Washington Post is apparently just now getting around to figuring out that Hillary Clinton has crafted a “vague stance” on the war in Iraq as she “eyes” the 2008 presidential election.

Imagine that: One of the leading lights of the mainstream media (MSM) characterizing as “vague” the policy position of the presidential candidate it will likely endorse in 2008, on the most central political issue of the day.

What they won’t share is that Hillary’s inscrutable policies on Iraq weren’t brought about by any principled, much less sophisticated, foreign policy analysis, but raw political calculations and opportunism.

A glaring truism about the Clintons — Bill and Hillary — is that they are first and foremost about acquiring and retaining power. All other considerations are subordinated. They are political liberals, not moderates, as conventional wisdom has graced them, who only adopt centrist positions when necessary to preserve their electability and popularity.

This was clearly true of Bill Clinton, who loved nothing more than demagoguing against the “rich” as he increased taxes on upper middle-income producers and used the military as an international Meals-on-Wheels.

He and Hillary earnestly sought to nationalize health care, and he only signed on to welfare reform after thrice kicking and screaming. And but for the forced austerity imposed by Gingrich Republicans he would never have swerved into balancing budgets he didn’t even aspire to balance when he took office. Yet the fawningly delusional MSM has perpetuated the myth that he was a fiscal conservative.

Now, we’re already seeing the same thing play out with Hillary Clinton as the aroma of 2008 wafts toward her nostrils. Whatever principles she has she will temporarily abandon or relegate to the backburner if necessary to further her presidential ambitions.

This has manifested itself most clearly in her nearly indecipherable position on the war in Iraq. I say “nearly indecipherable” because to call it totally indecipherable would be a slight to John Kerry, who holds the award for the most unintelligible stance on the war.

Smart Democrats know that no antiwar candidate is going to get closer to the White House than the Democratic presidential nomination. That’s why during the 2004 campaign we had to endure the excruciating spectacle of the antiwar, military-slandering John Kerry schizophrenically vacillating between a love affair with the Michael Moore base and “Reporting for Duty.”

Hillary is one of those smart Democrats. So she has been posturing as a hawk for well over a year now and trying to distance herself — at least for public appearances — from the kook base of her party.

But like the rest of us she didn’t seem to anticipate that her base would become so agitated over her quasi support for the war. They may have winked and nodded to John Kerry as he feigned toughness on terror during his campaign, but they’ve not yet been so forgiving toward Hillary.

This puts Hillary in a very difficult position. She is not used to being held accountable for anything, especially by her base. But she still can’t afford to come out full force against the war. And, like other Democratic presidential hopefuls, she can’t afford to support fully the president’s policy on Iraq, or she gives voters no reason to vote Democratic on the Iraq issue.

So far, she has gotten away with such indefensible tripe — articulated in a speech to Kentucky Democrats — as “I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit, and I reject an open timetable that has no ending attached to it.”

Translation: “I know, based on my party’s unsuccessful ploy in demanding a withdrawal timetable for Iraq, that I can’t go there, but I also know that the loony base is still insisting on withdrawal, so, like John Kerry, I’ll throw out gibberish and pray for no follow-up questions. In the meantime, I’ll just bark unceasingly over how we were tricked into the war in the first place and how we alienated our allies, which might have the dual benefits of distracting attention away from my incoherent position and mollifying the base.”

If Hillary had a principled position on Iraq, she wouldn’t have to torture logic to come up with one — or more. But even with the luxury of having no fixed principles on the matter, without a crystal ball unveiling the condition in Iraq two years hence, she can’t know for sure whether to go on straddling the fence or jump down on one side or the other.

It will be interesting to see what kind of policy pretzels she might bake over the next few years as she pretends to support our goals in Iraq without supporting President Bush, and attempts to appease her base without answering its secular prayers.