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Hillary’s dilemma

Posted by Richard on December 9, 2005

A few weeks ago, I told a friend that Hillary was going to have to move away from her hawkish stand on Iraq or she’d have trouble getting the Democratic nomination. She has, to a degree. But Dick Morris pointed out in a recent column that she has an insoluble dilemma. On the one hand, Morris argued, Hillary has to appear strong and credible on national security to have any chance of being elected:

Hillary became a hawk in the first place because she realizes that the chief obstacle to a female presidency is the concern by both sexes that a man might be better at handling issues such as national defense and security. To have a realistic chance at winning the White House, the Hillary Clinton of It Takes a Village and healthcare reform must take a back seat to Hillary the Hawk, an American incarnation of the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir and Indira Ghandi.

As if to underscore the point, her friends and aides have worked with the Hillary supporters at ABC to craft the weekly show “Commander in Chief,” portraying a Hillary-like female president coping successfully with national-security issues.

On the other hand, the anti-war left increasingly dominates the Democratic Party:

As happened in the 1960s, a new left is emerging around opposition to a war, leaving behind old-style liberals who support the invasion and grinding them underfoot. Hillary could be marginalized in 2008 just as Hubert Humphrey was in 1968 and she is determined to prevent it.

Recently, Hillary has moved to the left, embracing what Morris called a "muddled middle ground": she was "misled" into supporting the war and wouldn’t have done so if she’d known then what she knows now, but we can’t withdraw now or set a timetable; we can, however, promise to leave eventually and maybe set some "milestones." Morris thought this "political pretzel" wouldn’t fool anybody:

The right knows that she is, at best, an unreliable ally and, at worst, an insincere one. The left will not accept anything less than full-out opposition to the war. And our troops in the field — and their families back home — likely will not find much comfort in learning that Sen. Clinton wants them to risk their lives for a mistake.

The more I think about it, the more I believe I was wrong, at least in the long run. Hillary may have briefly flirted with moving left on the war, but I think she’s going to decide to remain hawkish, while desperately trying to figure out how to get the nomination without pandering to the anti-war crowd.

I’m sure that she and Bill have looked beyond the superficial poll stories about "waning support for the war" and realize that an anti-war candidacy would be a huge loser, a la McGovern. I’ll have more to say on that subject later.

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