Hillary Clinton has used the Democratic debates to lecture Barack Obama in matters of foreign policy. Today she got one from him about the influence of lobbyists.
Responding to a question about whether she would refuse to take money from lobbyists at a debate at the YearlyKos convention in Chicago, Clinton adopted a strident posture rarely seen in the course of her invariably disciplined campaign.
After John Edwards challenged the Democratic candidates never to take “a dime from Washington lobbyists,” Clinton was asked why that was not a persuasive position.
“I think it’s a position that John certainly has taken” said Clinton. There was some snickering from the large crowd as she added that after her long career, she doubted “anybody seriously believes I am going to be influenced by a lobbyist.”
At that, the audience at the gathering of liberal bloggers and internet activists erupted in hisses and hoots.
The Senator went right back at them.
“You know, I have been waiting for this,” she said. “This gives us some real sense of reality of my being here.
“I will absolutely be on the front lines of the change that we need.”
She said lobbyists represented “real Americans,” including nurses, social workers and corporations “which employ a lot of people.”
Moments later, Obama entered the discussion, saying, “I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don’t have disproportionate influence.”
He spoke specifically about the drug company lobbies.
“Now Hillary,” said Obama, “you were talking about your efforts [to reform health care] back in ’93. You can’t tell me that money did not have a difference. They are not spending there just because they are contributing to the public interest. They have an agenda.”
After the debate, Obama strategist David Axelrod pounced, saying, “I can’t say I’ve ever heard a more fulsome defense of lobbying before,” and that Clinton’s comments “certainly stood out.”
Axelrod also offered a more direct criticism. “I don’t think this is a time in our history when lobbyists need champions,” he said.
Not to be outdone, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson got in a shot at Obama while giving his own take on the exchange over lobbying:
“We exist in a system in which politicians have to raise money in order to have competitive elections, and some campaigns are going to make different decisions about who they get their money from,” he told reporters. “I believe that Senator Obama takes money from lobbyists in Illinois, but not lobbyists in Washington. That’s a distinction they obviously think is important… Every campaign will make their own decision — we’ll make ours.”