As careful Huffington Post readers already know, I was wrong to think I had the "final word" on Hillary Clinton's evolving plans at the YearlyKos convention this weekend. My post reported part of Clinton's plans, but Katharine Zaleski discovered that Clinton was also rushing out of Chicago to hit the Hamptons for a big fundraiser -- an event the campaign kept off her official schedule and did not disclose to most bloggers or reporters during the convention.
After all the scheduling and intrigue, of course, the real question is how Clinton acted during her meeting with the netroots crowd. Here's part of my reporting about it from a new Nation article:
The breakout sessions were supposed to cut through the typical campaign stump speeches and foster more authentic "citizen dialogues" with activists and bloggers. The idea was to move candidates beyond any sparring at the presidential leadership forum--(which I advised as part of a volunteer forum committee)--and offer them an intimate, unscripted exchange with attendees.
Yet Clinton strained to mold her meeting back into a controlled event. She was the only candidate to use her staff as a buffer, tapping her Internet Director Peter Daou to pick questions and bringing three other senior aides onstage, though none of them spoke. She filibustered most of the time, taking more than eleven minutes to answer the first question alone--a simple query about fixing the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act. That softball came from an official with the National Education Association, who either didn't know or didn't care that this scarce time was carved out for bloggers and activists without insider access, not for interest group sponsors.
Then Clinton only took five more questions. Iraq never came up. Instead, the issues were the Military Commissions Act, domestic spying, gays in the military, mass transit and, in the most revealing exchange, how a second Clinton administration might break with the centrist legacy of the first. Paul Hogarth, a 29-year-old California blogger for BeyondChron asked if Hillary would repeal NAFTA, welfare reform, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Clinton strongly defended DOMA--saying only the provision hindering federal benefits should be axed. She conceded that NAFTA did not achieve all its aims, but offered only "labor and environmental standards" and more "ongoing monitoring" of the effect on working people. She depicted welfare reform as a net gain, and then ducked the Telecommunications Act altogether, telling attendees she was no expert and "you'll have to ask Al Gore" about it, since he oversaw the issue for the White House. Trying to pin one of her husband's controversial policies on Al Gore--the antiwar, Green, tech-savvy hero of the blogosphere--at a netroots convention is probably the single most tone-deaf thing Clinton has done this year, but few attendees appeared to dwell on it.
Hogarth was not impressed, saying her answers deserved a D grade. "People are really nostalgic about the Clinton years based upon who is president now," he said, yet "Bill Clinton got reelected by completely betraying Democrats on everything they stand for."
Most attendees were much more supportive. Clinton's breakout session drew repeated applause and no boos. (She was booed lightly during the larger candidate forum.) All the candidates were warmly received during their sessions and the forum, where John Edwards drew the most applause, and while many of the questions offered during both events were thoughtful and heartfelt, few were tougher than queries from traditional reporters. "What surprised me is how passive the audience is when in the presence of these national leaders," said TechPresident.com co-founder (and Nation contributor) Micah Sifry, after a candidate breakout session.
The rest of this Nation article is here.