IN HILLARY'S DEFENSE, UP TO A POINT
Hillary Clinton is getting a lot of flak for an apparent flip-flop, or dodge, or whatever it was she was supposed to have done last night in reference to Governor Eliot Spitzer's (now revised) driver's license plan for undocumented immigrants. (See the clip here or read the exchange on pages 35 to 37 of the debate transcript.)
Allegedly she endorsed the plan in an interview earlier this month. But have you read the original remarks? They're here, at a New York Times blog (taken from The Nashua Telegraph), and the assessment in that blog post was "She does say the policy 'makes a lot of sense,' which is close to saying she supports it but not quite." And the New York Daily News, reporting the original comments, headlined its story "Hillary Cheers, but Doesn't Back Spitzer License Plan." So she stopped short of endorsing it then as well.
But, you say, the point is that she won't give a straight answer to the question. But her answer is this (I'm summarizing): I understand why Governor Spitzer did what he did, but the real solution is to deal with this at the federal level.
Now, in many elections, candidates take stands on issues they'll never deal with because they're actually dealt with at another level of government. Mayoral candidates take stands on whether abortion should be legal. Would-be governors and city councillors declare positions on the Iraq War.
Hillary's essentially doing the opposite. She's saying this is an issue that should be handled at her level of government -- the president, working with Congress. She's saying the buck should be passed to herself, as a senator now and as (she hopes) the next president. She's saying that, in a rational country, a governor shouldn't have to solve this problem at all -- but since we don't live in a rational country (Bush is president), Spitzer was taking a reasonable shot at a stopgap solution. The real solution, in her opinion, is (as she said in the earlier interview) to actually pass a comprehensive bill like the one that just failed.
Of course, this is one of the rare issues on which there probably wouldn't be any more cooperation if we had a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress than there has been in the Bush years, because it's one of the few issues on which Bush's position has considerable Democratic support. So Hillary can't argue that Bush is engaging, as usual, in partisan warfare -- all she can say is that (as the saying goes) he has "failed to lead" -- and that (in some unspecified way) she wouldn't "fail to lead."
But that's different from saying she's talking out of both sides of her mouth.
By the way, in the near future we're going to find it hard to believe that she was castigated for this. That's because in the near future we'll acknowledge what's perfectly obvious right now: that immigration is yet another third rail of American politics, and that it's next to impossible for an elected official to deal with it, or even take a forthright position on it, without getting badly burned.
UPDATE An article by Adam Nagourney at the Times Caucus blog now tells us, "A Day Later, Clinton Embraces Spitzer's License Effort." Guess what? She's still saying essentially the same thing she's been saying since the Nashua Telegraph interview!
"Senator Clinton supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure to deal with the crisis caused by this administration's failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform,'" her campaign said.
Oh, that shifty Hillary Clinton with her slippery consistency!