Robert Master of the Communications Workers of America and co-chair of the New York State Working Families Party...
There was great anticipation when Hillary Clinton took the stage.
Introduced by Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily’s List, as “the first woman President of the United States,” Hillary Clinton took the stage at the Take Back America conference to sustained applause.
She began by denouncing President Bush for his hidebound policy on stem cell research.
“When I’m President, I will lift the ban on stem cell research,” she said. “This is just one example of how the President puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families.” It shows, she said, just “how out of touch he and his party are. . . . We’re going to send them packing and bring progressive leadership to the White House.”
She followed that up with a powerful pitch about the Supreme Court.
She framed it around the story of Lilly Ledbetter, the Goodyear manager who was paid less than the male managers doing the same work. Ledbetter sued and won, only to have the Supreme Court recently overturn that verdict.“Different people on the Court would make a huge difference,” she said.
She rattled off a litany: “The Constitution shredded, secret tribunals, U.S. prosecutors silenced, U.S. scientists silenced, a natural disaster turned into a national disgrace, and a war in Iraq that has been catastrophic for our country.”
She called this “a stunning record of secrecy and corruption, and cronyism run amok, everything our founders were afraid of, everything our Constitution was designed to prevent.”
She talked about poverty, about the lack of college affordability, and about the poor treatment of veterans at Walter Reed.
She blamed the Bush Administration for being callous.
“Too many people today feel like they’re invisible to this government,” she said. “And they have reason to believe they’re being rendered invisible.”
Whether you’re a single, working mom, or a student who can’t afford college, or a wounded vet, you’re invisible to this Administration, she said.
“But you’re not invisible to me, and you won’t be invisible to the next President of the United States.”
She got an enthusiastic response to that, as well as to her line that she’s going to replace “the culture of corruption and cronyism with competence and caring again.”
She got big cheers when she said we need to “end the no bid contracts for Halliburton,” and when she talked about “the radical idea of appointing people who are actually qualified for the positions” they receive in government, and when she said she would establish “a public service academy just like our military academies.”
And her brief discussion of economic inequality in the country was also well received, as was her support for labor unions and her vow to “appoint people to the Department of Labor who are actually pro-labor for a change.”
Sounding like her husband, she said that “people who work hard every day” should not have to worry about being in poverty.
On an issue that burned her once, she said we need to “make sure every single American has quality, affordable health care. It is not a privilege, it is a right.”
Warming to the issue, she said: “I’ve been down this road before, it only makes me more determined that we’re going to get it done when I’m President.”
She brought in the Iraq War in the budgetary context.
“If we can find half a trillion dollars for a war in Iraq, we can find the money for the health care that they deserve,” she said.
She also made a strong argument for “universal pre-kindergarten,” noting that “there are states that look at how many prison spots they’re going to need by looking at the failure rate of third graders. I’d rather pay for pre-kindergarten than more prisons.”
She had another good line when she said that Bush has turned Washington, D.C., into “an evidence-free zone” on such issues as stem cell research, Plan B birth control, and global warming.
Hitting one more popular chord, she said, “We’re going to do everything to protect your right to vote,” and she enumerated several different ways that Bush disenfranchised students and African Americans.
“We are the oldest democracy in the world, and we need to act like it,” she said.
But then she got into trouble by returning to the topic of the Iraq War.
First, she tried to align herself with the crowd. “We need to end the war in Iraq and finally bring our troops home,” she said. “I voted against the supplemental.”
She also said that the United States has no reason to be a part of the sectarian war there.
But then she blamed the Iraqis for the mess.
“The American military has succeeded,” she said. “It is the Iraqi government that has failed to make the tough decisions.”
This brought the boo birds out in force, with the Code Pink contingent holding up signs saying “Lead Us Out of Iraq Now!”
Momentarily thrown off balance, Clinton sarcastically said, “I love coming here every year.”
She tried to regain her balance by saying she had joined with Senator Byrd to co-sponsor a bill deauthorizing the war.
But that didn’t mollify many in the audience, who continued to boo.
The crowd calmed down only when she said, “When I’m President, we’re going to have a different foreign policy. We’re going to start talking to people again.”
As she pushed through to the end of her speech, she seemed to lack energy.
She said she wanted to be the President who restores the good feeling people have about the country, around the country and at home.
And she ended by saying that America is “a great and good nation. America is not only ready for change, it is ready to become what we know it is, a country of hope and opportunity for all. Let’s make it happen.”
Off she went.