Why Hillary Clinton Still Matters

In the remaining Democratic presidential primaries, voters are blessed with two candidates who are smart, energetic and forward-looking. Nonetheless the residents of states like Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania still have to decide between the two of them who will be the most qualified starting on the first day in the Oval Office. My choice is Hillary Clinton.

I have had the good fortune to observe Hillary Clinton's career while living in New York. Up-close, she is an unusually tough, savvy as well as charming political figure. While not as visible as Mayor Giuliani on 9/11, she showed great mastery in the difficult days after the attacks in helping to bring about the physical and emotional recovery of New York City and gaining Federal assistance for Ground Zero workers exposed to toxic air. As importantly, in her eight years in the Senate, she has compiled a strong liberal voting record in the tradition of the FDR-JFK wing of the Democratic Party. While she has known defeats (e.g., health care in 1994), she has turned her reversals into legislative prowess on the Hill.

Her work on the Armed Services Committee and her fact-finding visits overseas belie the notion that she has limited foreign policy experience. Her vote for the congressional resolution on Iraq in 2002 was a vote for continued weapons inspection and diplomacy and in opposition to preemptive war, as she clearly stated in her Senate floor speech. She has said on many occasions she would have voted differently had she known that President Bush would misuse his authority and dispatch US troops to Iraq without allowing UN inspectors to complete their job. Today she vows to end the war and is currently trying to prevent the establishment of permanent US bases in Iraq by requiring prior Congressional approval for any such outposts.

Of extraordinary importance, she has taken the lead on the most important economic crisis to face our country in decades. She was among the first of the first Democratic contenders to propose a bold economic recovery program designed to rescue the nation from recession. Over a month ago, Senator Clinton advocated a $70 billion emergency spending and a back-up of a $40 billion tax rebate should economic conditions worsen. Hers is a direct attempt to help the most threatened people in America - namely, lower-income families facing foreclosures of their mortgages, those in need of home heating aid, the unemployed who require extended jobless benefits and funding for alternative energy and environmental programs. Her opponent, Senator Obama belatedly came out with his own plan a few days ago which seemingly lifts most of his ideas straight out of Senator Clinton's proposal.

On a more specific level, Senator Clinton's recommendations on helping Americans caught in the sub-prime mortgage mess are far-reaching. She has called for a moratorium on foreclosures, a freezing of interest rates, the use of federal subsidies to help homeowners keep up with payments and restructure loans, and augmented regulation of the financial industry. Senator Obama has come up with an alternative plan, which, by contrast, does none of these things but tinkers around the edges. He backs a bill against mortgage fraud, supports an average $500 tax credit for homeowners and endorses additional funding for a limited class of homeowners. This is a tepid response to an enormous tragedy.

In many ways, Senator Clinton is to the left of Senator Obama. Hillary Clinton has outlined a program of universal health insurance -- meaning that every person in America would be covered. By contrast, Senator Obama's plan is more restrictive and would leave 15 million people uncovered. Lastly, Hillary Clinton is a fighter for change. Senator Obama, on the other hand, is a self-described conciliator. What Democrats want today, however, is a battler, not a motivational speaker. They have suffered enough from the vicious blows of President Bush and the Republicans. What the party needs is a nominee who will take the contest directly to the opposition. Come the Fall showdown, a candidacy of "friendly persuasion" is going to be swiftboated into oblivion.