Hillary Draws Big Crowd and Same Question

Niall Stanage sends in this dispatch from Dubuque:

Hillary Clinton faced the question that won’t go away yet again last night – this time at an otherwise successful campaign event at the University of Dubuque, Iowa.

A male member of the overflowing crowd condemned the former first lady’s standard response to attacks on her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. The man charged that the senator’s oft-repeated explanation – that had she known then what she knows now, she would have voted differently – seemed like “a way of saying ‘I’m not responsible for my vote’.”

Hillary countered, “I have said many times that I take responsibility for my vote.” But she quickly moved on to criticize the president’s tactic of a troop increase in Iraq.

Referring to the Bush plan as an “escalation policy”, Clinton asserted that the strategy amounted to nothing more significant than “putting a fist in the water. When it goes in you’ll see the ripple effect, then it will close around your fist. When you pull out, you’ll see the ripple but it’s not going to change much.”

She added, “The Iraqis have to decide they want to stop killing each other.”

Clinton was received enthusiastically by a crowd that organizers estimated at 1300. Even so, the rally had little of the emotional resonance or political drama of events earlier in the day, when Mrs. Clinton, her husband and Senator Barack Obama all traveled to Selma, Alabama to mark the 42nd anniversary of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ civil rights march.

One spontaneous moment came as Mrs. Clinton bemoaned America’s declining international reputation. She noted that anyone who had recently traveled abroad would have heard “folks saying, ‘what’s happened to America?’” A voice from the crowd spat out one word: “Bush”. As the room erupted in cheers, Mrs. Clinton, smiling broadly, said, “This school has a lot of smart students.”

Faced with a question from the floor about the downside of free trade agreements such as NAFTA – a policy championed by her husband when he was president — Mrs. Clinton sympathized. “The benefits never trickle down, do they?” she asked rhetorically.

One question to the Democratic front-runner came from a female supporter who asserted that “women have been cleaning up after men since the beginning of time.” Mrs. Clinton responded with a story about a minister who introduced her by saying that it was Eve who got humankind into this mess, and it would take another woman to get us out. And this time, she left it that.