Hillary Clinton may fancy she opposes the war in Iraq, but she has a funny way of showing it. On Monday night in Austin, she had this to say about what the United States military has done over the past five years:
"We have given them the gift of freedom, the greatest gift you can give someone. Now it is really up to them to determine whether they will take that gift."
There was nothing accidental about this line. She delivered it in response to two Iraq veterans introduced at a town hall meeting at the Austin Convention Center by her friend and campaign surrogate Ted Danson. She liked the line enough that she delivered it again a couple of hours later, at a campaign-closing rally at a basketball arena in south Austin.
"The gift of freedom" is, of course, a curious way to describe an unprovoked invasion and occupation causing hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and leaving just about every aspect of life chaotic and fraught with daily dangers. To then lay responsibility for the mess on the Iraqis -- we did our bit, now you do yours -- is the worst kind of dishonesty, a complete abdication of moral principles. It's the sort of thing George Bush has said to justify his decision both to launch the invasion in the first place and then stay the course -- a course Hillary Clinton has spent many months telling primary and caucus voters she thinks was misconceived from the start.
Why, then, is she taking on the president's rhetorical tropes? Could it be she didn't -- and doesn't -- oppose the Iraq war quite as much as she's been letting on?
George Orwell rightly warned us about the way politicians use words like "freedom" when such usage begs more questions than it answers. "Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way," he wrote in his famous essay Politics and the English Language. "That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different."
Clinton's audience certainly thought that what she was doing was standing four-square behind the veterans. That was they way they took it, and applauded her accordingly. Perhaps, though, before they make their choices tomorrow, the voters of Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont should reread her words and ask themselves what the hell she really meant.