Dem Con, Saturday noon: Hillary's speech


By Tim Redmond

Shortly before Hillary Clinton takes the stage this morning, perhaps 200 cheering supporters are lined up just inside one of the side doors that lead into the cavernous convention center. The rest of the press folks are mostly hanging out on the raised press platform or in the media section, watching state party chair Art Torres vamp on the main stage, so I wander over to the Hillary crowd see what's going on. Bob Mulholland, the veteran political director of the CA Democratic Party, wanders over, too. "What are you all waiting for?" he asks. "Hillary!" they shout. "Well, I don't know why you're waiting here," he says, "She's already backstage."

But no: For once, big Bob is wrong. I can overhear a Clinton operative on her cell phone saying "one minute, folks, she's walking down the corridor." And then the door opens and out comes the senator, smiling and waving as she walks through the center of the packed main floor and makes her way to the stage. It's a great media stunt, and when she takes the podium, she shows what a pro she's become. She seems relaxed and at ease with the crowd, and her speech is lively. She talks about universal health care ("people tell me you've tried that before, and I say I'm proud I did"), makes a veiled reference to the insurance and drug industries, then shifts into energy independence and "doing education right."

It's all a nice stump speech that contains absolutely no new or substantive policy proposals -- and then she comes to Iraq.

Cliinton says nothing about the fact that she initially supported the war. She tries to duck around it, to the sound of a few catcalls and boos. Then she says that "the first thing I will do upon taking office is to then the war in Iraq and bring the troops home."

The press liasons tell us the senator will be available afterward for questions, so we rush to a side room, where we wait. And wait. And wait until after maybe half an hour Clinton shows up with Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Assembly member Fiona Ma and a handful of other Assembly members who have endorsed her. Nunez introduces her, talking about the "eight golden years" of the Bill Clinton presidency. (I remember those years, Mr. Speaker, and they weren't all golden.)

She takes a few questions. Hank Plante of SF's Channel 5 asks a truly lame question about what she would do for Northern California, and she gives a truly lame answer. She ducks a question on NAFTA. When she's finally asked about ending the war, she says, "that's what we're trying to do now."

She -- like most of the other Democratic leaders in Congress -- seems to have no answer for what the party will do when Bush vetoes the funding cutoff billl.

I keep raising my hand, but she doesn't call on me. The questions are cut off, and we are all locked in the room for five more minutes while the senator makes here grand exit.

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