Hillary staying stubborn on war

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 7, 2005

The vast, inchoate pain of the deaths in Iraq has swelled the ranks of the anti-war movement to the dimensions of a politically viable force capable of capturing the Democratic Party. We briefly glimpsed their incipient power when Howard Dean, propelled by their outrage, almost upended John Kerry in the Democratic primaries of 2004. But now, fed by another year of a seemingly endless war and almost 2,000 American military deaths, the isolated pockets of anti-war activists are combining with mainstream voters, driven by the national angst over the war, to form a major political vanguard.

The most interesting aspect of this spreading political movement is that it has no leaders. All the usual suspects who might unfurl the banners and assume the position to which their political rank entitles them are, instead, learning the lessons of the last campaign and listing to the center, hobbled by their own records of backing the invasion in the first place.

Our current political situation resembles the ’60s so strongly that even the years seem the same, with only the decade changed. Iraq, like Vietnam, started in the early years of the decade. Administration policy in each engagement was sanctioned early on by Congress and ratified in the fourth year of each decade by an electoral victory. Anti-war sentiment gathered in the fifth year both times but found no leaders among the establishment of the Democratic Party.

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Back in the mid ’60s, all the usual leaders of the left – Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson, Edmund Muskie and Nelson Rockefeller – were backing the Vietnam War. Today, Hillary Clinton stands behind the war.

Will Clinton lose her claim on the leadership of the left as Humphrey did? Her support for the war might galvanize the appearance of new leaders in her party, just as the political vacuum over Vietnam led to the emergence of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Or will she switch and play the role of Robert Kennedy, discarding her backing of the war just in time to lead a crusade against it before the elections of 2008?

Does the New York senator understand the dimensions of outsider politics? Her advisers aren’t helping: Pollster Mark Penn’s dismissal of the idea of a left-wing revolt against Hillary as a “notion I would have to laugh at” may take its rightful place in the history of famous-last-words alongside those of Jim Jordan, John Kerry’s early campaign manager, dismissing the Howard Dean surge: “There are no votes on the Internet.”

In fact, the left may have the last laugh on this one. The massive liberal backlash against the moderate center of the Democratic Party and the growing unease at Sen. Clinton’s support for the war the grassroots hate will do much to shape the evolution of the 2008 presidential contest.

But the denouement might come sooner. This leaderless left may well find a candidate to field against Hillary in next year’s Democratic senatorial primary. It might be an Elizabeth Holtzman or Mark Green – or someone further from the mainstream, like Norm Siegel. As soon as the left gets the point that Hillary is not with them, the retribution is likely to be swift and sure.

So why is Hillary so stubborn on the war? Perhaps she simply believes it’s the right thing to do.

But, based on my experience with her, I’d suggest three other reasons: First, because she is always stubborn; it’s Hillary being Hillary. Second, she knows that for a woman to win, she has to be perceived as a hawk – a Margaret Thatcher or a Golda Mier. And, finally, she is so enjoying the company of the establishment, the obeisance of men in uniform, the pats on the back from her clubmates in the Senate that it is hard to turn away and face the cold world outside the establishment.

This column was co-authored with Eileen McGann.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for Dick’s new book “Because He Could” about Bill Clinton. Copyright 2005 Dick Morris, All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. www.caglecartoons.com Call Cari Dawson Bartley at (800) 696 7561 or e-mail: cari@cagle.com email for Dick Morris is dmredding@aol.com