Hillary Promises the Moon and the Stars (and a Comeback)

022908 clinton1 web Hillary Promises the Moon and the Stars (and a Comeback)HOUSTON—Hillary Clinton contrasted herself with Barack Obama last night in a new way: she claimed to be more progressive on space exploration.

Houston is home to the Johnson Space Center, where NASA’s manned spaceflight programs are based. And Clinton urged a large, fervent crowd at Delmar Fieldhouse to “be sure we have a president who wants to keep sending Americans into space so that we can continue to map the heavens.”

“One of the differences” between her and Obama, Clinton said, is that she “want[s] Houston to remain the capital of the space race.”

“I don’t want to be sending Americans into space on a Chinese- or a Russian-made vehicle,” she said. “I want that work done right here in Houston.”

She seemed to be alluding to Obama’s plan to fund new education initiatives in part by delaying for five years a NASA program called Constellation. The program aims to send astronauts to establish a settlement on the moon—a “lunar outpost,” in the space agency’s words. From there, it is hoped they could eventually journey onward to Mars.

When Obama laid out his plan in November, a Clinton spokesperson told The Washington Post, “Senator Clinton does not support delaying the Constellation program and intends to maintain American leadership in space exploration.”

The remarks on space came in the midst of a relatively brief but energetic appearance by Clinton, who may have been buoyed by the announcement, earlier in the day, that her campaign had raised $35 million this month. The crowd here numbered around 3,000, was overwhelmingly female and included a sizable Hispanic contingent. Women and Hispanic voters have proven among Clinton’s most loyal supporters during the election campaign.

A promise from the candidate to “fix our broken immigration system” elicited loud applause, as did a reference to her having been endorsed by the family of Cesar Chavez and by Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Chavez (and is believed to have come up with the original version of “Yes We Can).

But the most striking moment of Clinton’s 20-minute speech came when she related a story she said she had been told in southern Ohio. The arena hushed as she outlined how a young woman who had been having complications with her pregnancy had been unable to afford a visit with a doctor and had then been turned away from a hospital as her health problems persisted. The woman did not have the $100 upfront payment the hospital demanded, Clinton said.

“When she finally went into labor, the baby was dead,” Clinton added. She then revealed—to gasps from the audience—that the woman herself died 15 days later. “This cannot continue to go on in America!” Clinton proclaimed.

She also used the dramatic story to pivot into her favorite line of attack against Obama’s health care plan.

A “big difference” between her and him, she asserted, was that she was “not going to leave anybody out.”

Clinton also delivered standard stump lines about strengthening national security, expanding access to college education and protecting the environment.

It seemed that she meant for the speech to be populist in style as well as substance, dropping her g’s in an imitation, apparently, of the people she was talking to.

And seeking to bolster the sense of a candidacy on the rebound, she told the crowd, “I have a feelin’ it’s beginnin’ to grow. We’re movin’. We’re gonna make it happen on Tuesday.” (She said much the same in Ohio earlier in the day.)

Clinton’s speech here did not begin until almost 10 p.m. even though the doors had opened almost three hours earlier. One section of the crowd, though, enjoyed its own entertainment—courtesy of a female Elvis impersonator in its midst.

The look-alike, 45-year-old Lucy Salazar, told me she felt an empathy for the New York senator because “as a female Elvis impersonator—and I’m a girl mechanic, too—I know what it’s like to have to prove yourself all the time.”

She also insisted that the King would “most definitely” have supported Clinton: “Elvis loved and cared for the people. He was a very caring person and so is she.”

Salazar, turning back to the crowd, demonstrated some Vegas-period Elvis moves and yelled (in character), “Don’t y’all forget to vote for Hillary, y’hear?”

She followed that up with a denunciation of Obama as “nuthin’ but a hound dog.”