Bird-Dogging Hillary Clinton

Operation “Bird-Dog Hillary” is part of an effort by CODEPINK to get Sen. Clinton to support bringing the troops home from Iraq.

Nancy Kricorian August 31, 2006

In Novem­ber 2005 Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton sent out a fundrais­ing let­ter to her con­stituents. Part of my job is being a good lis­ten­er,” she wrote, going on to describe all the good lis­ten­ing she does as the junior sen­a­tor from New York. She con­clud­ed, Now I’d like to lis­ten to you.”

In the enve­lope with the let­ter was a three-page, 18-ques­tion 2005 Crit­i­cal Nation­al Issues Sur­vey” address­ing a range of top­ics from jobs to home­land secu­ri­ty to sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. Not one ques­tion in the sur­vey men­tioned the war in Iraq – an omis­sion that came as no sur­prise to those of us at the New York chap­ter of CODE­PINK Women for Peace.

At the time Hillary pre­pared her ques­tion­naire,” close to 2,300 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 Iraqi civil­ians had died, and polls showed that most Amer­i­cans were wor­ried about the war and its ill effects, includ­ing ris­ing prices at the gas pump. But some­how, Hillary and her han­dlers thought that ignor­ing the war was the strate­gi­cal­ly smart thing to do. And they were right.

It turns out that Hillary has done a tremen­dous job – of get­ting New York Democ­rats to assume that because right-wing Repub­li­cans hate her she must oppose the war. Most New York Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers also don’t real­ize that she co-spon­sored an amend­ment to ban flag-burn­ing, is against mar­riage equal­i­ty for gays and les­bians, sup­ports the death penal­ty, votes con­sis­tent­ly for Star Wars appro­pri­a­tions and has served on the board of Wal-Mart for six years. Yet, she is con­sis­tent­ly tout­ed as the lib­er­al Demo­c­rat from New York.”

But it is her posi­tion – or, rather, her exquis­ite­ly-phrased, cal­cu­lat­ed­ly impre­cise non-posi­tion – on the Iraq War, accom­pa­nied by her con­sis­tent vot­ing record in sup­port of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion on Iraq, that had our local CODE­PINK chap­ter try­ing for weeks before she sent out her I’m a lis­ten­er” mail­er, to meet with Hillary or some­one on her New York City staff. 

When the top­ic turns to Iraq, Hillary repeats the same gar­bled mes­sage in var­i­ous locu­tions: We shouldn’t stay, but we shouldn’t not stay; while before we go we should get a job done, we shouldn’t be doing the job we’re doing. If you parse her care­ful­ly word­ed speech­es and state­ments, the only sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between Hillary and Bush are that she thinks we need more troops on the ground in Iraq so the war can be bet­ter pros­e­cut­ed – and that she is furi­ous­ly try­ing to hide that posi­tion from her constituency.

No invi­ta­tion to talk from Hillary’s office was forth­com­ing. So CODE­PINK NYC pulled togeth­er a coali­tion of local peace groups and launched a week­ly vig­il out­side Hillary’s office on Third Avenue at 49th Street. We bought enor­mous rub­ber ears from a the­atri­cal sup­ply com­pa­ny and made signs that said, Hillary you’re not lis­ten­ing, bring the troops home now.” We passed out infor­ma­tion about her posi­tions, and we launched the Web site www​.lis​ten​hillary​.org.

Stand­ing on the side­walk, in the dead of win­ter, it was remark­able how many passers­by would stop and talk, amazed to learn how close her posi­tion on the war was to Bush’s.

Soon after we launched the week­ly vig­il we got a call from Hillary’s office to set up an appoint­ment. Four of us met with Hillary’s New York City Direc­tor of Gov­ern­men­tal Affairs,” a fresh-faced and genial young woman who hon­est­ly appeared to know less about Hillary’s vot­ing record or state­ments on the war than the crowds on the side­walk. She patron­iz­ing­ly told us that she would pass along our con­cerns to the senator. 

After this fruit­less meet­ing, we coor­di­nat­ed with peace groups around the state and CODE­PINK chap­ters around the coun­try, orga­niz­ing a statewide and nation­al cam­paign called Bird-dog Hillary.” 

Wher­ev­er Hillary was appear­ing we were there with our signs and hand­outs, dressed in pink with big rub­ber ears. Women also got inside and raised their voic­es, rain­ing down fly­ers from bal­conies, and gen­er­al­ly mak­ing a notable, if momen­tary, ruckus. The results every­where were sim­i­lar: a gen­uine sense of amazed – and dis­mayed – recog­ni­tion that Hillary’s views on Iraq are out of synch not only with those of many Democ­rats but of the vast major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans, regard­less of par­ty affiliation. 

CODE­PINK has now become an almost inte­gral part of the Hillary road show. The only major fundrais­er we were unable to crash was the one for Hillary held in July by Rupert Mur­doch, the loca­tion of which was a more tight­ly-held secret than the loca­tion of Dick Cheney’s bunker. The rit­u­als of the cam­paign trail and the fundrais­ing gaunt­let have giv­en us a fun­ny inti­ma­cy with her team. 

In late May we were out­side a fundrais­er for Sen­a­tor Robert Byrd in a pri­vate apart­ment on the Upper West Side of Man­hat­tan at which Hillary was a spe­cial guest.” As the elder­ly Sen­a­tor Byrd entered, one of us asked, Sen­a­tor Byrd, can you tell Hillary to stop sup­port­ing the war?”

Sen­a­tor Byrd paused and answered, Ladies, I don’t tell her to do anything.”

A few min­utes lat­er Sen­a­tor Clin­ton drove up in her shiny black SUV accom­pa­nied by her Secret Ser­vice detail. As she walked past us, one of us asked, Sen­a­tor Clin­ton, when are you going to help end this war?”

Hillary’s answer: We’re work­ing on it.” 

After she entered the build­ing one of her secret ser­vice guys, whom some of us by this point knew by name, winked and asked, Will we be see­ing you later?”

He was refer­ring to the West Vil­lage fundrais­er for Ohio guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Ted Strick­land that Hillary was co-host­ing. A few min­utes lat­er we were on the sub­way head­ing downtown.

In June we bought tick­ets to a Women for Hillary fundrais­ing lun­cheon at the Hilton Hotel in Mid­town Man­hat­tan. Eva-Lee, Mis­sy and I went into the ball­room where 1,000 enthu­si­as­tic and deco­rous atten­dees were tak­ing seats at their tables. I spot­ted a moth­er from my kid’s school and a busi­ness acquain­tance of my husband’s who had told me point blank that she despised Hillary. What were they doing here? Plac­ing their bets on the Democ­rats’ lead­ing horse.

Stag­ing a protest at a Hillary event is a delight­ful­ly sur­re­al expe­ri­ence. We were assigned to Table 121, way in the back (we paid $125 apiece for our tick­ets; the tick­ets up front went for $1,000) but very close to the bank of press cam­eras. We ner­vous­ly ate our cold salmon and chat­ted with oth­er women at our table. 

We were in Hillary­land: we watched a slick­ly pro­duced Hillary film in which she sin­gle-hand­ed­ly revived New York State’s econ­o­my, palled around with fire­fight­ers and cured two chil­dren of can­cer. A lot of eyes got misty, both on screen and in the audience. 

Then she made a grand entrance down a side stair­way, greet­ed with a stand­ing ova­tion. She read through a very, very long list of politi­cians’ wives and oth­er sup­port­ers. And when she said sup­port” for the 100th time, Mis­sy stood up and shout­ed, What about sup­port­ing our troops by bring­ing them home?” This was our cue. 

Eva-Lee and I removed the sweaters cov­er­ing our pink T‑shirts, on which we had writ­ten pro-troop mes­sages with black fab­ric mark­ers (mine said 2,475 U.S. mil­i­tary deaths: How many more?”) Then we unfurled our pink satin TROOPS HOME NOW ban­ners. As we start­ed chant­i­ng troops home now,” the cam­eras strayed from Hillary and toward us.

The Hillary cam­paign employ­ees, secret ser­vice guys and hotel secu­ri­ty who came to escort us out were res­olute­ly polite, by now famil­iar with the recur­rent and inevitable drill. One young cam­paign work­er said, If you’ll be qui­et, you can stay.” I answered loud­ly, Troops out now” and off we went. Mis­sy ran for­ward, hand­ing out pho­tos of her nephew who had been killed in Iraq.

— —  —  —  —  —  —  —  — —

The bulk of the e‑mail we get con­grat­u­lates us on our work, but some com­plains about the Bird-dog Hillary” cam­paign. One woman remind­ed us that Hillary was a fem­i­nist who wore san­dals in col­lege and sug­gest­ed that as women and fem­i­nists we should be sup­port­ing her. Anoth­er New York­er asked why we weren’t tar­get­ing our senior sen­a­tor, Chuck Schumer, who isn’t much bet­ter than Hillary on the war. That one had an easy answer: Chuck Schumer is nei­ther run­ning for re-elec­tion nor posi­tion­ing him­self for a pres­i­den­tial run. 

CODE­PINK will con­tin­ue to push the war issue to cen­ter stage, as oth­ers are doing in Con­necti­cut, fuel­ing Ned Lamont’s suc­cess­ful chal­lenge to Sen­a­tor Joe Lieber­man. When he was stump­ing for Lieber­man in July, Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton referred to the war as the pink ele­phant in the room.” Well, the pink ele­phant has raised its head, as has CODEPINK.

Nan­cy Kri­co­ri­an, whose most recent nov­el is All The Light There Was, has been on the nation­al staff of CODE­PINK Women for Peace since 2003.
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