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Last Tuesday's debate ended with the Senator from NY telling us she "would be fine" no matter how the election turned out in terms of result. It was actually one of her best moments of the campaign. There were some of us who saw this as a sign of hope (excuse the pun). Not because -as some others suggested -there was some signal of concession from Clinton in those remarks. Rather it seemed (at least to me) that there was the possibility that the remaining primary contests and the balance of the campaign could be conducted in an atmosphere of healthy mutually respectful debate. Sunday morning I woke to the clock radio and the sound of the same senator's voice screaming that her fellow Democrats should be "outraged" at the way her opponent's campaign flier had characterized her health plan proposal. She was telling Obama he should be ashamed of himself. "Shame on you, Barack Obama!," she said. The flier in question characterizes Clinton's health plan as compelling people to purchase coverage "whether they can afford it or not." This was the prime source of her outrage -this "twisting!" She was also angry that the fact that the previous Clinton administration (wherein she claims to have garnered so much "experience") had been instrumental in enacting the NAFTA agreements -that this was taken to be a tacit endorsement of the policy from her. "Shame"? By Clinton's own description of her own health care plan it would involve unspecified "penalties" used to engender "individual mandates" to purchase insurance in order to attain "truly universal" coverage. As yet the nuts and bolts specifics (her supposed strong suit, remember) have yet to materialize on those "penalties" -We don't yet know what coercive force will be behind these individual "mandates" -those that would apply so "universally" after all. On NAFTA, the senator from NY now maintains she was against it from the start. We may not have heard about it at the time, but the First Lady was supposedly imploring President Bill Clinton not to sign NAFTA. It's all there in her book, she says. That wasn't tacit approval, that was some form of silent suffering. To suggest otherwise... "Shameful!" Columnist David Sirota, read the book, Clinton's memoir,"Living History" -he noticed the senator describing NAFTA as one of a number of " Bill's successes" not a bone of contention between them. He also points out that her chief strategist, Mark Penn, heads a firm that is right now pushing to expand NAFTA into South America. Last Fall Senator Clinton was asked in the forum of a public debate if she thought "Ross Perot was right" when he criticized NAFTA in past debates with Al Gore. (Remember that "sucking sound"of jobs heading over the border? Remember pointer and the easel full of visual aids? The ears? ) Hillary Clinton laughed. "All I remember is some charts," she said. When pressed on the question she admitted the agreement had been a mistake "to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would." At the time, Senator Obama, criticized her for only then admitting the "extent" of the mistake. "I think it's important to note that Senator Clinton was a cheerleader for NAFTA for more than a decade," he commented. That was November of last year. Yet the voice that was hollering about shameful politics Sunday Morning was complaining that this was "something right out of Karl Rove's playbook!" The implication was that this was some form of last minute subterfuge, a specious political torpedo, that had the senator from NY feeling supposedly shocked and dismayed. Here's Barack Obama in a somewhat quieter voice in answer: "I'm puzzled by the sudden change in tone unless these were just brought to her attention. It makes me think that there was something tactical about her getting so exercised this morning." That's a fairly shameful rhetorical device Obama is using there -known as "understatement'. After Clinton claiming she was "honored" to have participated in the process with Obama on Tuesday night, she has resorted to some of her most cynical and manipulative political theater yet: Reacting in mock shock and horror to what have been recognized points of difference between her campaign and Obama's -for months! There may be someone practicing politics "out of Karl Rove's playbook" here, but it isn't Barack Obama. The substance of Senator Clinton's charge is less important than the style right now. Saying something as loud and and brazen as "Shame on you!" to the other candidate for her party's nomination has gotten her some media attention. And once again she has pinned her hopes on the premise that a well shouted argument might prove persuasive -for some only hearing the half of it. Once again, Hillary Clinton is willing to "do what it takes" to win. This "pragmatism" has even been one of her selling points for her candidacy. She claims to know "how it's done." Her only problem is that so many of us hope she is wrong.
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Tom driscoll is an opinion columnist, poet, performiing songwriter (let's just say he writes).
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