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Who's Afraid of Hillary Clinton?

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The leading pro-war Democrat in the Senate is hoping for a landslide in the New York primary next month. And unless progressives quickly mobilize to dent her vote total, she's likely to get it.

Hillary Clinton, of course, intends to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. But first there's her quest to win big for reelection. If antiwar voters cut into Clinton's percentage in the primary on Sept. 12, despite overwhelming media visibility and a massive campaign war chest, her momentum would take a hit.

After Sen. Joe Lieberman lost to antiwar challenger Ned Lamont in Connecticut's Democratic primary last week, I thought some more about the fast-approaching Senate race in New York, where anti-war candidate Jonathan Tasini will be on the ballot next to Clinton.

Tasini, a former president of the National Writers Union, is more strongly and consistently antiwar than Lamont. And Tasini is an all-around progressive on issues from trade to economic justice to health care to the Middle East. But his campaign is underfunded. In contrast, the very wealthy Lamont self-financed his campaign with a few million dollars.

One of the biggest boosts to Lamont's primary campaign came from MoveOn.org, which polled its membership in Connecticut and found a large majority in favor of endorsing Lamont. The MoveOn endorsement brought more funding and people-power energy to the campaign against Lieberman.

MoveOn members helped to invigorate that campaign, as they have strengthened so many other grassroots efforts in recent years. And MoveOn's leaders have earned respect for their far-sighted work on building a powerful nationwide organization.

Today, this question hangs in the air: Will MoveOn now poll its membership in New York about whether to make an endorsement in the Clinton vs. Tasini race?

I put the question to the executive director of the MoveOn.org political action committee, Eli Pariser. Here's his full reply: "We focus on the issues and candidates our members are excited about. We've heard almost nothing from MoveOn members on Tasini -- New York MoveOn members are more focused on winning back Congress, ending the war on Iraq, and Ned Lamont. As for our formal endorsement process, that's triggered where there are two viable candidates and where there's a baseline of interest from our members. Right now, this one doesn't meet that second threshold."

But the only reliable way to find out how interested New York members of MoveOn would be in a Clinton-or-Tasini endorsement is to ask them. And, evidently, that's a question that the people in charge of MoveOn.org don't want to ask.

On the issue of Clinton vs. Tasini, the current MoveOn stance comes across as a way for its leaders to make sure that MoveOn members in New York don't get to respond to a poll that would likely result in an endorsement of Tasini.

Perhaps there's a belief that an electoral confrontation with Hillary Clinton should be left for the 2008 campaign. But it's been apparent for a long while that she has a proven commitment to triangulation, militarism and opportunism. She can't be stopped in this year's primary, but progressives may well pay later for a failure to slow her momentum now.

Progressive Democrats of America is supporting Jonathan Tasini in his race against Clinton. The group's executive director, Tim Carpenter, says that "New York members of PDA speak highly of Jonathan and his courage in speaking out for a more effective approach to resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and an end to the occupation of Iraq."

Perhaps MoveOn leaders have been impressed by Hillary Clinton's statements that Donald Rumsfeld should resign. That would not be astute. Quite a few pro-war voices have been raised against Rumsfeld while complaining about how the war has been managed -- as if there were a proper way to carry out this illegal, destabilizing war.

Tactical critiques of war management are standard ways that politicians keep wars going while they give superficial nods to voters' frustration and anger. Those kinds of rhetorical maneuvers went on for the last several years of the war in Vietnam, while the death toll mounted at the same time that polls showed most Americans had turned against the war. These days, Hillary Clinton must be very appreciative that MoveOn is helping her to finesse the war in Iraq while she continues to support it.

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