When Hillary Clinton spoke last year at the Campaign for America's Future's Take Back America conference, she was booed for telling the assembled progressives that she opposed setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq. Since then, Clinton has moved left on the war, introducing legislation in February calling for a timeline, but such moves haven't calmed her more liberal critics. And so, as the press corps dutifully filed into the Washington Hilton this morning to witness Clinton's return to the annual gathering, the question hovered over Washington: Would there be another booing?
Clinton avoided talk of the Iraq war for most of her speech. She led with a pledge to lift the Bush administration's ban on stem cell research. The crowd cheered: Yay science! Then she moved on to the story of a woman whose sexual discrimination suit was recently thrown out by the Supreme Court. The crowd applauded: Yay women! And so on and so forth, through all the liberal erogenous zones of income inequality and corporate responsibility and health care, winning cheers along the way.
But all that was just a prelude to the main event--the war moment. The Code Pink women clutched their pink signs in anticipation. At last, it came: "Finally, four long years after our president stood on that aircraft carrier...," Clinton began. The crowd rumbled. This was what they had been waiting for.
Clinton explained why she voted against the supplemental. Murmurs, grumbling from the audience. We've done our thing, Clinton continued. We're mired in "a sectarian civil war that we have no business being a part of," she said. "The American military has done its job. Look at what they accomplished: They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They gave the Iraqis a chance for free and fair elections..." But, she said, "the Iraqi government... has failed." The Code Pink gals rose, the boos drowned out the senator, and she stopped talking for a moment.
But, this year, the boos were not about Clinton's position on the war--"end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home," she said today--but rather her reasoning. Sure, she says she wants to end the war. But instead of admitting that the whole thing was a mistake to begin with and saying she's really really sorry about that time she sort of helped start it all, she says it's the Iraqis fault for pissing away our democratic gift.
Then, a second wave of cheers erupted, this time from folks holding Hillary signs. "I see the signs, 'Lead Us Out of Iraq Now,'" she said, recovering, as if she had anticipated a cool reception and planted a lifeline within reach. "That is what we are trying to do." She closed her speech with a remember-the-glory-days anecdote about American flags in Eastern Europe and regaining America's respect in the world. As she left the stage to her new theme song, the packed room began to empty. A man took the podium and pleaded with the mob to come back: "After Nancy Pelosi, we're going to have our corporate governance session in this room, since Michael Moore is not coming. He sends his regrets..."
By Elspeth Reeve