Choosing One’s Enemies Wisely

Conventional political wisdom holds that presidential candidates must tack toward the extremes of their party in order to secure the nomination and then race to claim the center for the general election. The trick is not to drift so far to the extremes that it becomes rhetorically difficult to credibly move back to the center. Consequently, if a candidate has little competition in the primaries, it is easier to linger around the center. This is what gives incumbent presidents such an advantage. Many times they are unchallenged in the primaries. With no tug from the extremes, their base secure, they can reach toward the center to persuade less partisan voters.

Among Democrats or those independents who might vote in Democrat primaries, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reports that Senator Hillary Clinton leads her nearest rival, former Senator John Edwards, 41% to 14%. Not only is the lead large, but John Edwards does not arise from the Left end of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton is not currently being pulled to the Left in the 2008 race.

The Iraq War may prove to be the most divisive issue in 2008. Senator Clinton voted to authorize the President to use military force in Iraq. In October 2002, Hillary Clinton took a hard line against Saddam Hussein when she argued:

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.”

Should the War in Iraq prove successful, she could credibly claim that she supported the war all along. Senator Clinton realizes that a potential perceived weakness of a woman seriously running for president for the first time could be national security. One calculation is that she is given so much deference by the Left of her party, that she can remain relatively hawkish on the war with little consequence to her support with the Democratic base.

However, it now appears that she is being dogged at recent fund-raising events by a group a far-Left feminists call Code Pink. Code Pink’s positions include support for Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. The group from Code Pink interrupts her speeches with angry chants of “Troops out now.”

Senator Clinton could not be more fortunate in selecting her enemies. She may be undergoing her equivalent of her husband’s “Sister Souljah Moment.” In 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president, he earned the reputation as a panderer, one who promised everything to every Democratic constituent group. Democratic competitor Paul Tsongas coined the term “panderer bear” as a clever anti-Clinton retort.

Sister Souljah was a rapper who had made some extreme and divisive statements. Clinton repudiated her statements in front of an African-American audience changing his reputation from a special interest panderer to a moderate who would standup to special interest groups. It helped get him elected.

If Senator Clinton continues to stand up to the extreme anti-war Left, she may convince the moderate electorate that she shares their values even if it conflicts with extreme parts of the Democratic base.

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