COLUMBUS, Ohio — New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, on Monday pressed Democrats to adopt a tough stand on national security and urged the party to show a united front to counter “the hard-right ideology in Washington.”
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Speaking to the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist group that helped her husband, Bill Clinton, secure the White House, the senator delivered a broad speech that touched on foreign policy, health care, education and fissures within her own party.
“It’s high time for a cease-fire,” Clinton said.
The speech was coupled with the announcement that Clinton had been chosen to head the DLC’s “American Dream Initiative,” described by the organization as a national conversation with business, political, labor, civic and intellectual leaders on an agenda for the country and party.
The chairmanship will allow Clinton to travel the country next year, when she is seeking another term in the Senate. The job will be an opportunity to burnish an already high-profile image that frequently energizes Democrats while also helping anti-Clinton Republicans raise campaign cash.
‘Let's start by uniting’
“Let’s start by uniting against the hard-right ideology in Washington,” Clinton said. “All too often we have allowed ourselves to be split between left, right and center.”
Clinton made it clear in her speech that Democrats should take a tough stand on combating terrorism, calling for a “unified coherent strategy focused on eliminating terrorists wherever we find them.”
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she echoed calls from the DLC to increase the size of the military, while calling for smarter decisions on deploying forces.
“There is a broader and stronger coalition against terror,” she said.
She also spoke of a focus on health care, noting that during her husband’s presidency she attempted to tackle that issue, but little progress has been made.
“Today, we spend more of our income on health care with no end in sight,” she said.
Accent on ‘common ground’
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, another frequently mentioned 2008 candidate, called for a positive, progressive agenda. “We can’t afford to be anti-, against everything,” Vilsack said. “We’ve got to be for something.”
Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, also the subject of 2008 speculation, said Clinton “is a very strong front-runner” but told activists the party’s future lies in the Midwest. “Our success as a party will be determined largely by how well we do here,” Bayh said.
Some have suggested Clinton has carefully tacked a course toward the political center as the speculation about 2008 grows.
In January she used an appearance before abortion-rights advocates to call for “common ground” on the issue.
In addition, Clinton joined with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to push for health care legislation like a single system for medical billing that all insurers and providers would use to save time and money.
Moderating her positions, or not?
Clinton has also taken a tough stand against violence in video games and on television, and against illegal immigration. She sought out a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which allowed her to take high-profile trips to Iraq and put a foreign policy arrow in her quiver.
“It doesn’t surprise me that she’s becoming more moderate,” said Leroy Comrie, a city councilman in the New York borough of Queens. “I think the country is becoming more and more moderate, more and more conservative.”
Al From, founder of the DLC and a close ally of both Sen. Clinton and former President Clinton, disputes that view. He says Hillary Clinton hasn’t changed much at all.
“She hasn’t done anything that’s changed what she’s done for 15 years,” said From, arguing that Clinton has always been every bit the moderate her husband was.
On abortion, “she’s always been for legal, safe and rare,” said From. “She was a strong supporter of welfare reform.”
In addition, From said, she pushed Arkansas into the lead in establishing charter schools while her husband was governor. “She was the leading education reformer in the country,” said From. “She has been steadfast on national security.”
In From’s view, Clinton suffers from something of an identity crisis nationally. After her husband was elected president, she headed an effort to overhaul the nation’s health care, an unsuccessful move that opponents characterized as putting the country on a road to a government-controlled national health system.
For most voters, that failed health care effort was their introduction to her, said From, who sees her recent moves as simply moving the focus back to her traditional issues.
Though Clinton was joined at the meeting by three other potential Democratic 2008 presidential candidates, most of the buzz focused on her.
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