Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sully Sticks to the Hillary Script

If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, the Republican line of attack against her will be that she's a left-wing freak and/or that she's unprincipled and will say anything to gain political advantage. Mainstream pundits will be happy to advance the latter line of attack, especially if their darling McCain is the Republican nominee, and they can contrast principled Senator Straight-Talk against devious Senator Forked-Tongue.

Here at Citizen Cain, we don't endorse political candidates. But we do believe that pundits shouldn't slam politicians for moral failings without providing some evidence. But sometimes the pundit herd all advances the same script about a politician without ever seeing a need to evaluate whether it makes sense. Whether it's the script that W is a man of great honesty and moral character who is in touch with the concerns of the common man, or the script that Hillary's burning ambition to be president has caused her to distance herself from her past as a socialist and a dove, these scripts don't need to be true if pundits and the RNC all read faithfully from them.

So when Clinton expressed respect for the feelings of pro-lifers, while re-affirming her commitment to pro-choice policies, this was widely taken as a shift to the right. There was no need to show that she was contradicting previous positions, and pundits were free to ignore previous expressions of similar sentiments because to have acknowledged them would deviate from the script.

Andrew Sullivan has produced a variation of the meme that Hillary Clinton is unprincipled. Now that the political winds are shifting, he detects Hillary re-positioning herself to the left on Iraq. Marvel at what counts as evidence for Sully, in a Sunday Times piece titled "Hillary, straw in the wind of an Iraq deal:"

A good indicator of the way the wind is blowing in Washington is often the position of Senator Hillary Clinton. A human weather-vane, Clinton has been a long-time supporter of the Iraq war, has visited Iraq, kept close contact with the military, served on the relevant Senate committees, and made hawkish noises that helped her with her rural New York state voters, but slowly alienated her anti-war liberal base.

Now, as with the rest of Washington, she’s shifting a little with the breeze. Yes, she recently voted against both Senate resolutions demanding immediate withdrawal or a fixed timetable for withdrawal. But last week she sent out an e-mail to constituents, finessing things. “We are at a critical point with the December 15 elections that should, if successful, allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year,” she wrote.

She still opposes a rigid timetable. But she has made it clear that the Iraqi elections next week will be a critical milestone in the American effort. After that the Iraqis had better step up or the US will start stepping down.

Does Sully provide any evidence at all to justify calling Clinton a human weather vane? After supporting the war in Iraq, she now says that "if successful," the December elections "should . . . allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year." That's it. Check the article. This is the closest Sully comes to providing an example of a shift in Hillary's position. I leave it to the reader to decide whether suggesting that we might next year be able to reduce troop levels in Iraq counts as a unprincipled shift from Hillary's war support.

Sully even notes that Clinton's position is very similar to George W. Bush's:

How different is this from the position of the president? On the face of it George W Bush is still insistent on fighting until “victory”, but Washington’s little secret is that the difference between Clinton and Bush is not much more than rhetorical.

So if both Clinton and Bush supported the war, and Hillary has now shifted in the wind, and Clinton and Bush still have the same position, then surely that means that Bush has shifted in the wind too? Simple logic would say yes. But Sully is operating on a level far beyond simple logic. In fact, Sully is able to surmise, without any evidence, that Bush is ignoring short-term political gain and focusing nobly on the big picture:

Are next year’s congressional elections a factor? Much of Washington believes so. I don’t. This president doesn’t need to get re-elected; and he’s smart enough to know that his legacy will be determined far more by resilience and flexibility in Iraq than a few lost seats at home.

Ugh. If Sullivan wants to say that Hillary is unprincipled and Bush is the opposite, that's certainly his right as a pundit. But shouldn't he be required to provide some evidence?