What Hillary Told the Kossacks

Posted: Aug 07, 2007 3:53 PM
What Hillary Told the Kossacks

In a special session at the YearlyKos convention, Hillary Clinton praised left-wing bloggers and promised she would provide universal internet access, full benefits for same-sex couples and pre-kindergarten that caters to children who don’t speak English if elected President.

She began by telling bloggers a secret: “Don’t tell anybody, but I actually read blogs.”

“Don’t share that,” she warned. “And, I find myself, you know, sometimes saying, ‘Oh, c’mon’ and sometimes saying ‘Oh, you know that’s a really good point’ and trying to figure out how to work that into an argument I am making or legislation I am drafting.”

Before appearing on the YearlyKos main stage for a presidential forum with other Democrats seeking the nomination for President, Clinton held a “breakout” session with “Kossack” bloggers of the DailyKos website. When convention participants registered for the conference, they were asked to pick which Democratic presidential candidate’s breakout session they would like to attend. Then, each attendee was given a colored bracelet that would only grant the participant access to the selected candidate’s session.

A YearlyKos organizer said that Barack Obama’s session reached maximum capacity first, then John Edwards and finally Clinton’s. The media was given unlimited access to each of the breakout sessions, but several of them overlapped each other.

The DailyKos community revolted when a scheduling conflict caused her campaign to cancel her breakout session the night before. She previously scheduled to speak to the National Association of Police Organizations Convention that morning.

Upon hearing the news of her cancellation, one diarist posted a blog titled, “Effing Hillary Jilts Kossacks!”

In the end, however, Clinton made time in her schedule to talk to the bloggers. In a 12 p.m. Saturday session at the McCormick Place Convention Center, Clinton lauded DailyKos.

“I only wish that we had this active and fighting a blogosphere about fifteen years ago,” she said. “I think about what if we had the blogosphere in ’93, ’94, when I was working on healthcare and, you know, being hammered.”

After thanking the DailyKos bloggers at length for standing “up against the right-wing noise machine,” Clinton took five questions from the audience. They were about: education, closing Guantanamo Bay, President Bush’s surveillance program, pieces of controversial legislation her husband President Bill Clinton signed, and mass transit.

Surprisingly, no one directly asked her about her 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq, the source of many liberals’ opposition to her candidacy.

Clinton did appear to insulate herself, however, against an attack on her war vote from the bloggers. Appearing next to her in her breakout session was her internet communications director Peter Dauo, who called on questioners, research director of the Center for American Progress Judd Legum and Clinton’s communications director Howard Wolfson.

“They’re here in case anything happens and I have a senior moment,” Clinton said.

One questioner asked Clinton if she would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by her husband in 1996. Clinton said she was “one of the architects of that strategy” and that “I support civil unions and have said many times with full equality and benefits.”

Clinton does oppose a portion of DOMA. “I think part three of DOMA needs to be repealed because part three stands in the way of the full extension of federal benefits and I support that,” she said.

In a lengthy response to a question about President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, Clinton said “the best thing that we can do to close the achievement gap between African Americans and white kids is pre-kindergarten.”

“Quality, four-year-old kindergarten, especially focused on kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, where English is not the first language of life. That would be my highest priority and I would try to get some money from No Child Left Behind to see if we can start doing demonstration projects on that,” Clinton said.

She also said she would like to “move towards national standards for testing” and see the government create “an electronic education record for each child.”

The last question of the session that Clinton took asked what she would do to improve mass transit in the United States.

“I view infrastructure as not only physical, but virtual,” Clinton responded. She said the government needed to invest more money in roads, as well in “universal high-speed broadband access.”

“We are living off of the investments that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents made,” Clinton told the audience. “Especially, if you are in the Northeast, or the Midwest. You know, if you use the “L,” or you use the subway, you are basically taking advantage of what previous Chicagoans or New Yorkers were willing to pay for.”

Before she began her speech and took questions, Clinton’s microphone briefly malfunctioned. While fiddling with the wires, she jokingly blamed the “vast right-wing conspiracy” for her microphone failure, which was greeted with cheers from the audience.

She elaborated shortly after: “You know, when I made that comment about the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” I wasn’t kidding. What I never could have predicted was that it wasn’t a conspiracy, it was wide open and out there for everyone to see and unfortunately, they elected a President and a Vice-President with whom we’ve had to contend the last six and a half years!”

Below is the transcript from Hillary Clinton’s breakout session at the YearlyKos convention, as recorded by Amanda Carpenter who attended the live session Saturday afternoon.

CLINTON: I am delighted to be here and I thank you all for your understanding about working out the time and I’m very grateful to you for that. I thank Peter for the terrific job that he does every single day representing me and I thank Judd [audio gap]

I just lost the microphone. Is it working? Here we go. Is that okay? No, no. I don’t want to shout. Is that work better? Vast right-wing conspiracy.

Well, let me start by saying something that might surprise some of you because I am aware that, you know, not everybody says nice things about me, but - Yeah, I know it’s a burden I have to bear. But, let me start by saying something perhaps a little unexpected and that is “thank you.”

Thank you for caring so much and being so involved in helping us create a modern progressive movement in America and what you have done in a relatively short period of time is really to stand up against the right-wing noise machine, present an alternative with facts that back up what your arguments are, your claims are, and give a lot of support to what is the progressive agenda of the Democratic party. I only wish that we had this active and fighting of a blogosphere about fifteen years ago because we have certainly suffered over the last years from a real imbalance in the political world in our country, but we are righting that balance, or “lefting” that balance, not sure which, but we are certainly better prepared and more focused on you know, taking our arguments and making them effective and disseminating them widely and really putting together a network in the blogosphere and a lot of the new progressive infrastructure, institution that I helped to start and support like Media Matters and the Center for American Progress.

You know, we are beginning to match what I have said for years was the advantage of the other side. You know, when I made that comment about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” I wasn’t kidding. What I never could have predicted was that it wasn’t a conspiracy, it was wide open and out there for everyone to see and unfortunately, they elected a President and a Vice-President with whom we’ve had to contend the last six and a half years. But, the fact is that they were better organized, more mission driven and better prepared to take on the political battles of the last part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.

So, I really do appreciate the individual and the collective effort that all of you are putting into being part of this front-line of the progressive movement.

The second thing I want to say is that I think it makes those of us who run for and hold office, you know, a little sharper, a little more kind of focused ourselves and on our, you know, toes when it comes to putting out our positions, defending our positions, fighting for our positions, something that I haven’t had any trouble doing in my life, but it’s nice to have some accountability and some new ideas coming in.

Don’t tell anybody, but I actually read blogs. Don’t share that. And, I find myself, you know, sometimes saying “Oh, c’mon.” and sometimes saying, “Oh, you know, that’s a really good point,” and trying to figure out how to work that into an argument I am making or legislation I am drafting. So, I really appreciate not just the fighting words and the standing up and the being pounded but the substance that comes through a lot of the blogging that you do.

Thirdly, I think that you know, our lives have changed, so our politics has to change. We are, you know, living in a 24/7 media world. It is not always easy as you might guess but it is the reality. So, part of what you help to do is create a space where that in 24/7 world you can really stand up and be heard on what we’re trying to do who are out in the political arena. You know, running for office, holding office, is more challenging in some respects because of that 24/7 world. So, therefore, you know, having people who share our overall goals even if we disagree on tactics or strategy, but understanding where we are trying to take our country is really helpful because then it’s not just one voice or a couple of voices, it’s millions of voices -- and you know I doubt you know that we can’t go back and rewrite history certainly, you know, -- but I think about what if we had the blogosphere in ‘93, ‘94 when I was working on healthcare and you know being hammered and they were raising $300 million dollars and distorting everything we were trying to do and we made our own mistakes but a lot of it was you know, trying to do something that was worth doing which we will get done when I am President finally.

[audio gap]

To intimidate people and bully people into not coming to Chicago, a great city that I was born in and love dearly. Cubs, not Sox. I still have a t-shirt that says “No Lights on Wrigley Field.” I mean, I go way back!

But, you know, I was very proud of my campaign, standing up and really calling [Bill] O’Reilly out and saying “Oh, c’mon.” Look, there are things on DailyKos that I don’t agree with and sometimes you know, look people do go over the line, but hello? For Bill O’Reilly to be --- [inaudible] --- people that listen and you know watch him, I thought Howard [Wolfson] did a terrific job going into the lion’s den.

So, with that, let me throw it open and I’d love it, Peter can you call on people? But, also I love the ideas of people introducing themselves. It gives me an idea of where you are from.

[audio gap. First question from a YearlyKos participant asked Clinton what she would do as President to reform the education system]

CLINTON: Education is such an important issue, but if you follow the debates that we’ve had up until now, it rarely gets a question. It got one question in the YouTube/CNN debate, but it doesn’t get the emphasis it deserves because of the role that it plays in all of our lives and the future of our country.

Specifically, with respect to No Child Left Behind, here is what I have said and what I hope to do in the upcoming hearings and work about reauthorizing No Child Left Behind.

First of all, I think we’ve got to admit that No Child Left Behind became an unfunded mandate. It was unfair because new expectations and standards and rules were imposed upon our schools without the resources that the Bush administration had promised so that was a real breach of the bargain that many of us thought we were entering into. Secondly, the Department of Education in the Bush administration has been less---

[audio gap]

---- I think you should own your medical records. They should be your property and if we had electronic medical records system [applause] the Rand Corporation says we save, you know, about $80 billion dollars a year, which we could then plow back into healthcare.

Well, I think we should have an electronic education record for each child, because what happens now is especially kids who are low-income, or poor, or homeless, or migrant, who move a lot, you lose them completely. And, by the time a child is in the third grade they’re behind, they’re on the path to dropping out and a child drops out every 29 seconds. So, let’s try to figure out how we can marry technology -- and any of you who know a lot about technology and which many of you do, think about this for me. Think about the plusses and the minuses because I am trying to think of a way to focus where we focus on the individual child. So a growth model. Not the testing every year that is in the aggregate and then people draw conclusions from it.

However, there is one aspect of the testing that is currently going on that I don’t want to lose and that is up until No Child Left Behind, which is one of the attributes of it, if you were a minority kid in a district where it was mostly you know, affluent or white, you were lost. You were a special education kid, if you were a non- English speaker. So, we’ve got to keep track of groups of kids, but I’d like the emphasis to be on individual accountability.

Secondly, we have got to move towards national standards for testing because the other thing that the Bush administration did after opposing all these tests as states began to say, well you know, “our kids aren’t doing very well,” the Bush administration basically blinked and said just lower the standards. Well, that’s really helpful. We are in global competition and we’ve got to try to bring out the potential of every child. It doesn’t help if we turn around and wink, wink and say you know, “you’re kids aren’t doing very well, drop the standards, make the tests easier.”

So, I would like to see us move towards something like NATE, which is the National, what is it?

[audio gap]

….school districts - the federal government has to step up to the plate with resources. You cannot impose an unfunded mandate.

Fourthly, look. Reading and math are important, but so is history, so is science, so are the arts --- [inaudible] --- their imaginations and their intelligence are ignited. And we are eliminating so many of the so-called extras that made a difference. You know, I was born in Chicago, I was raised in Park Ridge, I mean, I remember my field trips a whole lot more than I remember a lot of the other things that I did. I had a great public school education, but going to the Field Museum made a lasting impression on me, so we’ve got to get back to a diverse, broad curriculum.

And finally there are two things that are not in No Child Left Behind that we’ve got to pay attention to. The best thing we can do to close the achievement gap between African Americans and white kids is pre-kindergarten. Quality, four-year old kindergarten children, especially focused on kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, where English is not the first language in the life. That would be my highest priority and I’m gonna try to see whether we can get some of that money out of No Child Left Behind to start doing demonstration projects on that.

And then, as we go through the school experience, we pay very little attention to high school. You know, the drop out starts as a child enters school behind in kindergarten and begins to feel a sense of failure in third-grade.

[Audio gap]

[The second questioner asked Clinton if she would close Guantanamo Bay as President an for her to comment on the recent passage of bill to expand President Bush’s surveillance program on international communications with terrorists.]

…I voted against the Military Commissions Act and I voted against it for a number of reasons, but perhaps, first and foremost, was its unconstitutional denial of habeas corpus, which is [embedded in our constitution]. And, we’re going to try and reinstate habeas corpus and reform the military tribunal/commission procedures we hope in the next months. We’re working – this is obviously being worked through to try and get a bipartisan coalition that it will actually give us the votes we need, because all of you know, I don’t have to explain to you, if you can’t count 60 votes, you can’t get it through the Senate. That’s one of our very big problems right now. So, we’re trying to get together a coalition in order to change the military commission and reinstate habeas corpus.

Secondly, on Guantanamo, I have said that we must close Guantanamo and I believe that there will be an increasing political pressure to do that. We’ve got some issues. We’ve got to figure out what to do about and that’s going to take some careful consideration, but we should start that now. We should begin to really look at all the implications and the consequences. So if we don’t get changes in the military commission act and the reinstatement of habeas corpus and we’re not on the road to closing Guantanamo when I’m President, I will start doing both of those things.

Q: My question is two-fold. If elected President, what kinds of warrentless eavesdropping would you permit and would you not permit and for what reasons, and second of all, why or how is your Attorney General going to be different than Alberto Gonzales?

CLINTON: Let me take the second question first! [break – applause] I would appoint someone that believes in the rule of law. You know, it’s been mystery to a number of us. Now there are a lot of qualified Republican judges and lawyers that the President could have picked for judicial positions, for justice department positions, and he has time and again gone with cronies and movement conservatives.

Look, I think President Bush has conducted a very dangerous experiment in extremism in our country and has turned away from our basic tenets of our Constitution like our separation of powers, our checks and balances. The fact that despite everything that everything that has come out about our Attorney General Gonzales, the White House just hangs in there and supports them speaks volumes about their contempt….

[audio gap]

The Attorney General should fulfill everything from enforcing civil rights and voting rights to actually giving the White House accurate information about legal precedent and about the obligations that a President should fulfill under the Constitution. So, I think that you know, Attorney General Gonzales should be removed, or he should resign.

--- I voted for a Democratic alternative last night, obviously it did not succeed, but I think the debate will go on because even the version that the White House was supporting has a sunset in it, so we do have the opportunity to try to get a better understanding of what is in these programs. I mean, one of the problems is - I’m not on the Intelligence Committee - but even those with whom I serve who are don’t have a very clear understanding of what it is we’re talking about. Now, I’m not saying that that information should be shared broadly or openly because there is a legitimate role for surveillance for those who might be part of some network that was planning action against our country, but there certainly should be checks and balances in both the Congress and in the courts and that’s what the FISA courts were designed for. So, I think that we have to, you know, address this. I don’t know what the House is going to do. They are under tremendous pressure and you know, we’ll see how they respond but in any event we’ve got to continue to try to come up with an appropriate, legally enforceable framework that does give people confidence that we can both protect our country and our security and protect our civil liberties and our civil rights as Americans under the rule of law. And I think that will be one of my highest priorities as President.

Q. I wanted to have the opportunity to ask you about four other pieces of legislation that happened under the Clinton years and whether you would be willing to also advocate their repeal: the Defense of Marriage Act, the telecommunications bill of 1996, NAFTA and the welfare reform of 1996.

CLINTON: First, let me say I’ve been on the record against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since ‘99 and I believe it was the best that could be done under the political circumstances that existed at the time. It has been in my view, not implemented appropriately and a lot of very brave and dedicated Americans have been discharged from the military at – I would believe - the cost to our military readiness, particularly those who have missions that are directly related to our security and it’s just mind boggling that we would dismiss linguists for example. So, I’m hoping that as President I can lead the effort to repeal it and to put the concerns about it behind us as I’ve said in acouple of different settings, you know I love this Barry Goldwater quote: “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight” and we should give every single American that is willing to serve their country the chance to do so, under the code of military justice so that your behavior- not your status or your sexual orientation - determines your performance and your promotion.

Secondly, DOMA, I believe that DOMA served a very important purpose. I was one of the architects of the strategy against the marriage amendment to the Constitution and DOMA gave us a bright line to be able to hold back the votes that were building up to do what I considered absolutely abominable and that would be to amend the Constitution to enshrine discrimination. I believe marriage should be left to the states. I support civil unions as I have said many times with full equality of benefits. And so I think that DOMA appropriately put the responsibility in the states where it has historically belonged and I think you are beginning to see states take actions.

I think that it’s part three of DOMA needs to be repealed because part three stands in the way of the full extension of federal benefits and I support that.

Telecommunications of 1996? You’ll have to ask Al Gore. I don’t, you know, we’ve had a lot of media consolidation, we’ve had some good competition. We have a lot we need to do to begin to create a more competitive framework and, you know, Al was very involved in designing and pushing that through and he’s an expert, I’m not. So, I don’t want to, I like what the FEC is looking at doing about maintaining more competition by the auction of the spectrum, so we’ve got to take a hard look at this and I don’t want to say something that I may not really support, so I’ve got to look at that more closely.

NAFTA? You know, I have said that NAFTA did not realize the benefits that it was promised for a number of reasons, that in fact as a senator from New York, I issued a report that talked about all the problems that business people and farmers had in New York, getting their products into Canada. This is not just about Mexico. This is about the tripartite relationship. So, I think that we have to generally have smarter trade agreements that not only have labor and environmental standards which I fully support, but really have an ongoing evaluation of the impact of trade agreements. That’s why I have legislation to have the analysis of what actually has happened compared to what was promised both unintended and intended consequences part of the ongoing monitoring of trade agreements.

And I do think that we’ve got to find ways to work with our neighbors in the hemisphere more closely, including trying to think of ways we can stimulate job creation and economic development to the south, which I think is a win-win if we can figure out how to do it.

With respect to welfare reform, I think the positive consequences of welfare reform far outweigh the negative. The regret that I have is that in the last six and a half years, the work that we did to try and protect medical care and educational benefits for people getting off of welfare and working at low-wage jobs, have been the subject of attacks by the Bush administration. The education program which was key to my support for the original legislation was severely cut back. And I think that was a mistake. I’d like to reverse that. I believe that we should encourage people to continue with education as much as possible and we’re in this big fight now about healthcare for children. You know, a combination of Medicaid and the children’s health insurance program, something that I helped to start when I was First Lady. You know, we should obviously stand against the Bush threat to veto what we passed in both the Senate and the House.

[audio gap]

[The last questioner asked Clinton about what she would do to improve mass transit as President.]

CLINTON: ---We’ve got to take care and maintain and build new infrastructure. We are living off the investments that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents made. Especially, if you are in the Northeast or the Midwest. You know, if you use the “L” or you use the subway, you are basically taking advantage of what previous generations -- Chicagoans or New Yorkers -- were willing to pay for. And, it is absolutely critical to our economic development that we improve our infrastructure.

Now, I view infrastructure as being not only physical, but virtual. We’ve got to do much more on bridges and roads and airports and mass transit and the ports and wastewater and clean water. We have about a trillion dollars of unmet needs and every year the American Society of Civil Engineers gives us a grade on our infrastructure and we’re always failing. Some parts are worse than other parts, but we’re always failing. And so we need to focus on our physical infrastructure and we’ve got to have universal high-speed broadband access.

The very first bill I introduced when I become a senator was to expand broadband in underserved urban and rural areas in New York because there are places in New York City and places in the suburbs and some of our cities upstate where, you know, you can get anywhere you need to go in milliseconds and there are places, where as you know, you can’t.

The Bush administration doesn’t believe in any kind of infrastructure support, whether it is physical or virtual. In 2000, we were leading the world in broadband access and universality. We’re down to 25 now. That is an economic and security issue.

So, I am committed to this. I think we should look at what some other countries have done. The European Union has used 50-year bonding authority. But we have to have a federal, state, local, private-sector partnership and we’ve got to do this in a hurry because every year that goes by that we don’t repair, we’re going to have more problems and we’re going to be missing opportunities.

In particular, mass transit must become a priority for our country. Now not every part of the country is as suited for it as many parts are. Certainly, the East Coast, our bigger cities in the Midwest, our West Coast, but the fact is that we cannot continue to have the congestion and the lost productivity time that comes from all of our traffic problems. We are losing money and people are losing time -- which is also pretty precious -- and we are wasting oil and we are adding to our energy problems and contributing to global warming.

We have had to fight for last six and a half years just to keep Amtrak alive, just to keep funding at current operating levels, you know Path and MTA and all the rest of our mass transit systems. If we could come up with this kind of long-term bonding, funding mechanism that I think would make a lot of sense, mass transit would be at the top of my list of what I would like to see states and localities invest in. And, I would like to see regional operations. You know, part of the reason we don’t have high-speed rail is because our tracks are so old that they can’t be maintained and they’re not safe to get above a certain speed. Part of our problem with mass-transit is that it’s expensive to do what we have to do. We’re finally starting some long overdue mass-transit work in New York city like the Second Avenue subway, it’s going to take years and years, but at least we’re getting started.

And, then we’ve got to make sure as we do more mass transit, we figure out ways to encourage and even incentivize people to use it. ---

[audio gap]

--- The war for the first time in history a President would not pay for it. If you look at what awaits us, I am incredibly confident and optimistic - although appropriately realistic - about the challenges we face. Doing what I am advocating in my campaign, the big goals I want to set: universal healthcare, a new energy agenda that protects our security, increases our fight against global warming. ---

[end of audio tape]