Des Moines, Iowa — “Welcome to Solidarity Fest” is the interesting greeting emblazoned on the huge blue banner hanging over the stage where former president Bill Clinton is hand-waving and lip-biting his way through the task of introducing his wife. She stands off to one side, slightly slouched forward, hands clasped, waiting for her cue, which evidently is a story about a New York City firefighter who became a Democrat after 9/11. The former president appears to choke up briefly as he recalls the details. According to him, he was golfing one day a few weeks ago with some friends when suddenly his caddy grabbed him and said, “I’m not really a caddy”:
In my real life, I’m a captain in the New York City Fire Department. And on 9/11 your wife was the first person that knew that a lot of us would get sick and some of us would die breathing what we had to breathe to do our jobs in those awful days. And when the United States government denied that we could possibly be hurt, and they turned away from us and didn’t care what happened to us, she fought for us. […]
Before 9/11 most of us firefighters thought we were Republicans. We have a little different attitude now. We need somebody in the White House who never forgets what life is like people like us. I would do anything in my power to make her the next president, and so should you.
Following this not-so-thinly-veiled attack on the Republican frontrunner, he surrenders the spotlight to his wife (the hero’s hero), who ascends the podium to the sound of loud cheering and applause. As soon as it dies down, she begins shouting. She shouts out a thanks to the AFL-CIO for sponsoring Solidarity Fest, and then she shouts about how happy she is to be back in the state of Iowa. Her jerky, stiff-armed gestures stand out in sharp contrast to her husband’s rollicking delivery, and her voice sounds hoarse and tired.
This Labor Day rally in Des Moines was the last stop for America’s most famous political couple as they wrapped up a two-day, two-state test-drive of the campaign themes she’ll rely on this fall. The first two were obvious before Hillary even took the podium: Draw heavily on her husband’s popularity with Democrats, and undermine Rudy Giuliani’s record on 9/11 while bolstering her own.
But a less predictable theme emerged during Hillary’s stump speech. On her list of four big goals for America — which included such predictable and generic offerings as “reclaim the future for our children” — she put “reform the government in Washington” at number three.
That’s a surprising shift of emphasis, considering her status as the candidate with the most campaign cash and the most Washington experience among the top three Democrats. In fact, one might say it’s because her opponents are attempting to paint her as an out-of-touch insider that’s she’s dialed up the rhetoric on reform. The shift also comes as questions about one of Hillary’s biggest donors are multiplying.
The bizarre fundraising scandal came to light last week when the Los Angeles Times reported that a major Democratic fundraiser named Norman Hsu was a wanted fugitive in California (he pleaded guilty to grand-theft charges in 1992 and subsequently disappeared). Hsu has since returned to California to face sentencing, and Hillary has given the nearly $23,000 she received in contributions from Hsu to charity.
Unfortunately for her, that’s not the end of the story. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Hsu might have been involved in an illegal plot to reimburse a Bay Area family for tens of thousands of dollars in donations he “bundled” for them and gave to Clinton’s campaign. The FBI is reportedly investigating the matter, but so far her campaign has not divested these funds. Her husband told reporters in New Hampshire Sunday, “If the other people say they gave the money of their own accord then I think she should keep it.”
The Clintons have had their share of shady fundraising scandals, and John Edwards actually referred to one of these recently (“the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent”). With the Hsu story threatening to remind people even more vividly of these episodes, Hillary has decided to incorporate a reform theme into her fall campaign swing.
“We’re going to have to reform the government,” she told the crowd at the Iowa State Fairgrounds Monday. “I mean, it’s just become almost unbelievable, what’s going on in Washington. If you’re closely connected, you get a no-bid contract, no questions asked. We’re going to end no-bid contracts, and we’re going to send those cronies packing out of Washington [cheers, applause].
“We’re going to move toward public financing [of federal elections] and try to take the money out of all politics and the political decisions,” she added.
Just under one month ago, Hillary was at the Yearly Kos convention in Chicago defending her decision not to join Barack Obama and John Edwards in their pledge to decline all campaign contributions from lobbyists. She stood up to her opponents and a roomful of progressive bloggers and made the valid point that most lobbyists represent “real Americans” and their interests in Washington.
That was, of course, before Norman Hsu made his debut on the front page of the several major newspapers. As the primaries approach, I expect Hillary’s newly discovered passion for cleaning up Washington will pop up just about every time he does.
– Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.