Politics & Policy

The Real Hillary

Is she hiding from us?

There are two Clintons campaigning these days and they are both named Hillary. The Hillary you’ve been hearing a lot of lately is putting on a moderate face–expressing reservations about abortion, appearing at events with Newt Gingrich and being a strong supporter of the war in Iraq.

While Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stall the nomination of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Clinton makes repeated public and private appearances on behalf of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While the Left made its critical push on filibusters, Clinton was nowhere to be seen on camera. And there were a lot of cameras. In fact, Clinton was getting some credit in the mainstream media for presenting Democrat proposals on immigration reform. Not enough to please the issue’s stronger critics, but enough to show she was serious about the issue.

The effort has seemingly paid off. Recent polls by Gallup and Fox News show Clinton with a net positive approval rating. Those same Gallup findings claim a majority would at least consider supporting Hillary for president. And unlike her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Clinton doesn’t have to worry about securing media attention or a strong base of fundraising support.

It could be tempting to see Clinton’s reported political concessions as genuine. After all, Bill Clinton based his entire political philosophy on triangulation. Even if most dismiss Clinton’s sincerity out of hand, there is no doubt her influence dominates Democrat circles and any moves to the center are worth noting. However, the temptation to credit Clinton fades when you measure both sides of her campaign strategy.

Though she has remained publicly quiet on both issues, Clinton will vote against the nomination of John Bolton and would support maintaining judicial filibusters. And while she has made verbal concessions to pro-life voters, nothing in Clinton’s voting record or stated views on abortion has changed.

Away from the cameras, Hillary Clinton gives her supporters something far different than her recent persona suggests.

Clinton let loose at a “Women for Hillary” fundraiser last weekend. Her rhetoric shifted quickly from someone in the center left of American politics to someone finding greater affinity with Howard Dean than Bill Clinton. Starting on the Bush administration, Clinton told supporters, “There has never been an administration, I don’t believe in our history, more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda.” Clinton went on to describe the GOP as “power hungry.” And while keeping criticism of the U.S. Senate mostly in check, Clinton described the Republican leadership in the House as, “a dictatorship of the Republican leadership.”

The appearance and content of Clinton’s speech seemed far from the “centrist” image the public has been presented with since at least 2002.

Clinton knows both her own potential campaign for president and the campaign against her have already begun. And the measures against her won’t come only from the right. For every moderate voter Clinton appeals to in advance of a possible 2008 general election, she takes the calculated risk of alienating someone from her core liberal constituency. This is why even though Clinton stayed out of public view during the filibuster fight, she told the “Women for Hillary” audience that Republicans would “destroy” the Senate to get their nominations and agenda through.

Over the weekend, DNC Chair Howard Dean received significant criticism for his latest verbal barrage against Republicans. The Dean comment receiving the most attention was his accusation that many Republicans have “never made an honest living in their lives.” There was a similar comment made this weekend against Republicans in power:

“I can tell you this: It’s very hard to stop people who have no shame about what they’re doing. It is very hard to tell people that they are making decisions that will undermine our checks and balances and constitutional system of government who don’t care. It is very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth.”

You could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking the missive was again fired by Dean. The tone and even the word choice fall right in line with material issued from Democratic headquarters in recent months. But the passage actually came from Hillary Clinton speaking at the same fundraiser.

Some may ask if Clinton’s dueling political personas really matter. What really matters is the detailed agenda she puts forward if she runs for president. But for the constituency who put character as a leading factor in deciding national elections, the echoes of Gore and Kerry are not too distant.

The late liberal icon Patrick Moynihan may have, as usual, been ahead of his Democrat colleagues on this issue. Though Moynihan’s daughter denies a rift, in excerpts from Edward Klein’s upcoming book on Hillary Clinton, the Moynihan family found Hillary to be a “duplicitous” figure who would “say or do anything that would further her ambitions.”

According to the book, Clinton had not yet entered public office when she attempted to take credit for a bill Moynihan himself had introduced. It was too much for the retiring senator, who had to make an early exit. Moynihan told Clinton he had to return to work in the Senate but in fact “went into an adjoining room and waited for Hillary to leave.”

Eric Pfeiffer writes the daily political “Buzz” column on NRO.


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