Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rivals ganged up on her at Tuesday night’s presidential debate, taking her to task on a range of issues including the Iraq war and Social Security – and for what they clearly characterized as Hillary’s flip-flopping.
Chief rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards were particularly harsh on the New York senator during the MSNBC-sponsored debate at Drexel University in Philadelphia. They were joined by Christopher Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joseph Biden and Dennis Kucinich.
Even moderators Tim Russert and Brian Williams showed Clinton no mercy, peppering her with tough questions that put Hillary on the defensive.
Here is a sampling of the anti-Hillary exchanges:
Obama: [Bringing about change] does not mean, I think, changing positions whenever it's politically convenient. And Senator Clinton, in her campaign, I think has been for NAFTA previously. Now she's against it. She has taken one position on torture several months ago, and then most recently has taken a different position.
She voted for a war, to authorize sending troops into Iraq, and then later said this was a war for diplomacy.
I don't think that it - now, that may be politically savvy, but I don't think that it offers the clear contrast that we need. I think what we need right now is honesty with the American people about where we would take the country. That's how I'm trying to run my campaign. That's how I will be as president.
Edwards: Senator Clinton says that she believes she can be the candidate for change, but she defends a broken system that's corrupt in Washington, D.C.
She says she will end the war, but she continues to say she'll keep combat troops in Iraq and continue combat missions in Iraq.
To me, that's not ending the war, that's a continuation of the war.
She says she'll stand up to George Bush on Iran. She just said it again. And, in fact, she voted to give George Bush the first step in moving militarily on Iran – and he's taken it. Bush and Cheney have taken it. They have now declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.
I think we have to stand up to this president.
And then, finally, she said in our last debate that she was against any changes on Social Security – benefits, retirement aid, or raising the cap on the Social Security tax – but apparently, it's been reported that she said privately something different than that.
Russert: Senator Clinton … because in terms of your experience as first lady, in order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the president, the advice you gave?
Because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012.
After Hillary evaded giving a direct answer, Obama jumped in.
Obama: We have just gone through one of the most secretive administrations in our history.
And not releasing, I think, these records at the same time, Hillary, that you're making the claim that this is the basis for your experience, I think, is a problem.
Part of what we have to do is invite the American people back to participate in their government again. Part of what we need to do is rebuild trust in our government again.
And that means being open and transparent and accountable to the American people. And that's one of the hallmarks of my previous work in the state legislature, in the United States Senate, making sure that Americans know where our money is going, what earmarks are out there, what kinds of pork barrel spending is being done, who's bungling money for who.
And that, I think, is part of the job of the next president, is making Americans believe that our government is working for them; because right now, they don't feel like it's working for them. They feel like it's working for special interests and it's working for corporations.
One last point I want to make – part of the reason that Republicans, I think, are obsessed with you, Hillary, is because that's a fight they're very comfortable having. It is the fight that we've been through since the '90s.
Edwards: Another perspective on why the Republicans keep talking about Senator Clinton is, Senator, they may actually want to run against you, and that's the reason they keep bringing you up.
What I would say is, Senator Clinton just said that she believes we desperately need change in this country. And I agree with that. I actually think we have a system that's broken; it's rigged; it's corrupt. And it does not work for the American people.
And it's time we start telling the truth about that – too much influence from entrenched interests, insurance companies, drug companies, oil companies, too much influence from Washington lobbyists.
And so the question, I think, that voters have to ask themselves is: Do you believe that the candidate who's raised the most money from Washington lobbyists, Democrat or Republican, the candidate who's raised the most money from the health industry, drug companies, health insurance companies, the candidate who's raised the most money from the defense industry, Republican or Democrat - and the answer to all of those questions is: That's Senator Clinton.
Will she be the person who brings about the change in this country? You know, I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in the tooth fairy. But I don't think that's going to happen. I really don't.
And I think that if people want the status quo, Senator Clinton's your candidate. That's what I believe. If they want real change, then they need somebody who tells the truth about a system that doesn't work, who believes that this may actually be the first generation we're all worried about. This being the first generation that doesn't leave the world and America better for our children, unlike 20 generations that came before us.
Russert: Senator Clinton, I want to clear something up which goes to the issue of credibility. You were asked at the AARP debate whether or not you would consider taxing, lifting the cap from $97,500, taxing that, raising more money for Social Security. You said, quote, "It's a no." I asked you the same question in New Hampshire, and you said "no."
Then you went to Iowa and you went up to Tod Bowman, a teacher, and had a conversation with him saying, "I would consider lifting the cap perhaps above $200,000." You were overheard by an Associated Press reporter saying that.
Why do you have one public position and one private position?
Clinton: Well, Tim, I don’t.
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