Obama Shows Spine Where Hillary Does Not on Needle Exchange Programs

The differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are just beginning to be seen, and I believe the differences will be more distinct as the campaign progresses. The Politco found a difference in their attitudes on needle exchange programs when both appeared before the Community Service Society of New York.

This difference also provides a reminder of the triangulation of the Clinton administration, raising fears that this is what we will see if Clinton should become President. Ben Smith writes that, “In the unusual 1998 compromise, Clinton Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala announced that the administration’s scientific review had found needle exchanges safe and effective — but that the administration would nonetheless maintain a federal ban on funding them.”

Hillary Clinton stuck with this position while Obama supported lifting the ban, but things get interesting as Ben Smith describes the exchange:

Clinton responded to King’s question [1:10:40 in the video at the link above), after some prodding, by saying, “I want to look at the evidence on it” to see whether needle exchange would prevent the spread of HIV without increasing drug abuse.

Shalala, King responded, had “certified” the safety and effectiveness of the programs.

“And then she refused to order it, as you remember,” Clinton said.

King replied that that had been her husband’s decision.

“Well, because we knew we couldn’t maintain it politically,” Clinton said, and went on to discuss the trade-offs in that dispute with Congress. “I wish life and politics were easier,” she said.

King then referred back to Clinton’s opening remarks.

“You made a great comment earlier about how our next president needs to have some spine,” he said.

“We’ll have as much spine as we possibly can, under the circumstances,” Clinton responded.

Andrew Sullivan gives his thoughts on the differences between Obama and Clinton:

Obama is different. He wasn’t mugged by the 1980s and 1990s as Clinton was. He doesn’t carry within him the liberal self-hatred and self-doubt that Clinton does. The traumatized Democrats fear the majority of Americans are bigoted, know-nothing, racist rubes from whom they need to conceal their true feelings and views. The non-traumatized Democrats are able to say what they think, make their case to potential supporters and act, well, like Republicans acted in the 1980s and 1990s. The choice between Clinton and Obama is the choice between a defensive crouch and a confident engagement. It is the choice between someone who lost their beliefs in a welter of fear; and someone who has faith that his worldview can persuade a majority.

In my view, the call is not a close one.

Update: Taylor Marsh charges Obama with playing dirty pool for quoting Sullivan. My response.

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  1. 1
    Sly1 says:

    The race for the Democratic Nomination ended this week. Hillary baited Barak by attacking his pride. She called his comments on meeting with the rogue leaders of states such as North Korea, Cuba, and Iran “naive” and said they demonstrated his lack of experience. He fired back yesterday saying he would be willing to send troops into the tribal regions of Pakistan if President Musharraf will not do it. Ouch. Alienate a friendly regime in the area who is offering us material support by threatening to invade their territory…? Hillary can stop attacking Barak now. She can move into vice-presidential recruitment mode. Her next sound-bite should be something gracious (yet subtlely demeaning)while offering an olive branch “Barak is a good man, with good values, and strong ideas. With a little more age and experience, he might, one day make a fine President. For now though, I’d be happy to have him serve as my Vice President and give him the opportunity to acquire that needed experience first-hand.” Let’s see if Hillary can call back the attack dogs and avoid being portrayed as too ruthless and mean-spirited (dare I say witchy?)for the average middle-American. If she grinds Obama into political dust, she will damage her own campaign irreparably.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    You got it backwards. Obama made a fool of Clinton as old interviews show she held Obama’s view in the past until she flip flopped and moved towards the Bush/Cheney view on diplomacy. She wound up having to unsuccessfully defend herself against charges of being Bush/Cheney light.

    You mischaracterize Obama’s statements on Pakistan. Putting pressure on them by saying he would consider sending in troops to hunt terrorists is hardly the same as threatening to invade.

    Their views on the needle exchange program shows yet another problem with Clinton.

    Clinton still has a considerable lead due to her backing of party insiders, but each time Obama shows a difference there is hope that this will change. Should Hillary take yor advice and assume the race is over she would become in serious danger of losing. The race has hardly begun.

  3. 3
    Sly1 says:

    We’ll see. The poll numbers will provide a picture into the public’s perception of the exchange. My prediction: Obama has peaked in the polls and will not get any closer (statistical margin of error aside)than he was before the latest numbers came out showing him losing ground.
    Pakistan and the Needle exchange program show two sides of the same coin: Musharaf can not appear to be “helping America” within the tribal regions in Pakistan or he will lose his own political support and be replaced by someone less friendly to the US. Behind the scenes, he is allowing US covert Ops to operate in those regions. Destabilizing him with rash comments does not help the US effort to get rid of terrorist activity in Pakistan. People with experience reconize that even as the President of Pakistan one faces political constraints with which one must work as best as one can.
    People with experience similarly realize these pressures also exists in the US with hot-button issues such as the needle exchange program. While it is very important to stand up for principle, only an inexperienced political novice risks expending all his or her political capital on a single issue. While a needle exchange program would be a worthwhile endeavor, steamrolling it through opposition at the expense of being able to later pass a more comprehensive health care reform bill that addresses a much broader spectrum of health concerns for a much larger portion of the country would be short-sighted and naive. The loose-cannon fires at the first target that he sees, the experienced leader waits for the opportune moment to turn the tide of the larger battle with her one key shot.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    The poll numbers say nothing about the exchange. It is also far too early for the poll numbers to be predictive of the final results. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire typically decide in the final day, and advanced polls have not been predictive.

    Obama is not spending all his political capital on a single issue. He is defending a program which is of beneift. Hillary Clinton opposes the same program despite not disagreeing that it is of benefit. Obama comes off as the better leader.

  5. 5
    Brett says:

    Who are you Sly1? A Hillary campaign operative, working to instill orthodoxy into all the liberal blogs? Upset that Ron didn’t conform to the campaign’s party line that Hillary won her petty little war with Obama last week?

    You want to enforce the line that Hillary is invincible, never mind the fact that Democrats want to win next year and Hillary may be too polarizing to win in a general election and govern as president, and when an influential blogger disagrees with you, or rebuffs your party line, then you go on the attack.

    Hillary “can move into vice-presidential recruitment mode” now? What an arrogant and, yes, naive statement. And it completely betrays you as a partisan, clouded by his convictions, or, at the very worse, a campaign operative using propagandistic language to try to force Ron and his readers to your side. Descipable.

    In my opinion, no one won in the last week’s war of words. One could make an fair argument that Hillary came out on top, and one could make an easily viable argument that Obama won. I believe that it was the American people who lost, who had to be subjected to a political fight over a critical issue (diplomacy) in which both candidates were in basic agreement. The only real dispute was apparently over the meaning of the words preconditions and conditions as it applies to diplomacy.

    That’s the real assessment; that’s a more truthful analysis of this issue, not your partisan political spin. You operatives (paid or unpaid) that come on this website merely to promote your candidate–whether it be Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani (from post #1924), or Hillary–disgust me. You are only lowering the level of political discourse, and only making yourselves look like trolls, and not thinking individuals.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    I doubt Sly1 is an actual campaign operative. I’m sure the actual campaign knows better than to assume the race is won, and would certainly not say so in such a manner.

    After writing that paragraph and before posting the comment I happened to get a call from Peter Daou from Clinton’s campaign. He certainly did not sound like someone from a campaign where they no longer feel a need to campaign to win.

    It wasn’t a knock out punch by any means, and therefore I don’t mind you calling it a draw, but I do give the exchange over negotiations to Obama for a few reasons.

    As an underdog, simply holding his own on the more experienced candidate is a win for Obama. Clinton tried to call Obama’s ideas irresponsible and naive, but at least two different interviews have surfaced where Clinton took Obama’s position.

    While the differences are minor, this may have backed Clinton into a corner with regardless to willingness to negotiate. I did see one poll where a majority backed Obama on this, and most liberal blogs seemed to back Obama if they took a side.

    The writer of the comment on Giuliani did form a group called Libertarians for Giuliani. Needless to say, there have been lots of posts from people backing Paul. Eric Dondero, who wrote the pro-Giuliani post, also worked for Paul in the past but there is bad blood since Ron Paul fired him due to their differences over Iraq.

  7. 7
    Brett says:

    Yeah, I guess I’m in a bad mood today. My reason for my comment is that I’ve been spending some time at hillaryis44.org, a website that, even though I can’t prove it, I believe is an extension of the Hillary Clinton campaign, its whois hidden from public eyes (much like that brief Kerry attack site heyjohn.org last October), and the regular visitors have been talking in the comments about bringing bloggers to their side by manipulating the discussion on the blogs. (http://www.hillaryis44.org/?p=175) Sly1’s comment smacks me of such attempts.

    If you have time, please go over to the Hillary “War Room” backdoor website, and you’ll see that the blog seems to have an unusual level of affection for Bill and Hillary and has an unusual level of investigative in-depth reporting of the workings of the Obama campaign to truly be an freelance operation. Also, remember that, if I am right, this is the “war room” for Hillary’s campaign, actively repelling Obama, and not the official sanatizied campaign organ. Go to the comments of Post #175, and you’ll see the cynical and petty and undemocratic discussion of manipulating bloggers like you that compelled me to respond to Sly1’s suspicious comments.

    As for the Clinton-Obama spat, seriously, when I was watching the debate, I did not think that their slightly different answers was noteworthy. I definitely did not think it would dominate the political debate for so long. But I can see why you think Obama won, even though others (hillaryis44.org) think Hillary did, and I cannot see a clear winner. To simply survive a brutal attack by a front-runner could be construed as victory, but, to me, the differences between them are so small than neither one could really make a dent. Also, I don’t believe Hillary Clinton ever said that she would meet with foreign leaders without “preconditions” or within the first year of her administration, rendering the whole “flip-flop” accusation on the part of the New York Senator moot, and making this contest a draw.

  8. 8
    Sly1 says:

    A campaign operative? No, hardly. In fact, I would rather see Joe Biden win the nomination than Hillary. I think he is smarter and less divisive and partisan than Hillary. I’m just calling it like I see it. In any case, I will support the Democratic nominee because the ideals of the party better represent mine than do those of the Republicans.

    No campaign will stop trying to win at such an early stage and I’m not suggesting that they should. I’m simply saying, with a bit of hyperbole, that the Clinton strategy now changes from one of slash and burn to one of implied victory – painting a picture that the other candidate, in this case Barak Obama, has gotten a bit out of his depth and has shown himself to be unsuitable by his “naive and inexperienced” statements. She has the luxury of defining her opponent now. This can happen because he has opened that door for her, and the widening gap allows her the luxury of taking on the roll of the calm reconcilliator rather than the rash antagonist. As you know, it is not the substance of the debate that influences most voters, it is the post debate perception of who “won” or “lost”. Hillary’s team, in my opinion has managed the post-debate spin much better than Barak’s team.

    You can disregard the most recent polling, if you like, but at some point as the trend continues, the numbers must be acknowledged. Now having said that, any candidate can fumble the ball and make a major gaff that changes the momentum. Savvy, experienced campaigners are less likely to do so.
    By the way, I do appreciate open debate without personally attacking those who may have different opinions.

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    “I’m simply saying, with a bit of hyperbole, that the Clinton strategy now changes from one of slash and burn to one of implied victory -”

    In a way that has been Clinton’s strategy from the start–giving the impression that her victory is inevitable. Obama has been at a disadvantage from the start, but recent controversies help an underdog such as himself. All of a sudden the news surrounds Obama, or Obama vs. Clinton.

    “You can disregard the most recent polling, if you like, but at some point as the trend continues, the numbers must be acknowledged.”

    Historically polls in nomination races are not predictive until the last minute. Look at 2004 when Dean was far out ahead and Kerry was behind Al Sharpton in the national polls. People don’t make up their minds this early.

    The race is also a series of state events, making national polls even less predictive. If Edwards wins in Iowa, and then Obama wins in New Hampshire (where both have leads by some polls) then suddenly Clinton no longer looks like the inevitable candidate. As we saw in 2004 such early victories can totally change the race. There have also been cases where front runners lost early and came back to win. Hillary has the best shot at winning, but the race is far from over and she can’t count on the lead in the national polls holding up once we get to the Iowa caucus.

    “Savvy, experienced campaigners are less likely to do so.”

    Yes, there is much less chance that Clinton will fumble the ball as compared to Dean in 2004. That’s one of the reasons she will probably win, but this is not inevitable.

  10. 10
    Brett says:

    Thank you for responding, Sly1. Your “hyperbolic” comments seemed to me like a deliberate attempt to manipulate the discussion of bloggers. But, seeing as you support Biden over Hillary and were merely reviewing this race from a realist perspective, I must conclude that you are truly an independent thinking individual, and not a troll for Hillaryis44.org.

    As for whether Hillary “won” or not this past week, I don’t see either candidate coming out on top, as the dispute between was over an issue in which they are in basic agreement. Both support robust, immediate diplomacy with conditions set in place beforehand; the only difference is over how quick should the president meet face-to-face with dictators and over the word “precondition.” I believe all the American people see here is a bunch of pungent rhetoric (Hillary with her “naive and irresponsible” and Obama with his “Bush-Cheney light”), and no clear winner.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:


    I have more evidence that Obama won. Robart Novak’s newsletter this week proclaims Clinton the winner of the dispute. Can you argue with my logic that this means Obama won? 🙂

  12. 12
    Brett says:

    Nope, I can’t argue with that.

    I suppose any coverage that makes this a Hillary vs. Obama story is good for Obama, as it prevents a “Hillary is inevitable” meme from developing and keeping him competitive. Apart from tactics and strategy, however, regarding who won on the issue, I still see this as a draw.

  13. 13
    Ron Chusid says:


    When I speak of who won, its all about politics. As an issue it is rather absurd to speak about diplomacy in such generalities. Regardless of what they say now, whether they speak to someone as president will come down to the specifics of the situation at the time.

    If this issue doesn’t go further it will have no impact on the race. There is the possibility that this could come back to haunt Clinton. She backed herself into a corner and be forced to take a more Bush-like attitude if this issue comes up out of fear of looking inconsistent. It is harder for her to move back to a position she labeled irresponsibile and naive.

  14. 14
    Ron Chusid says:

    The blog linking here n the trackback above has it backwards. Obama supports needle exchange programs while Clinton opposes them. There are also far more differences between the two than that post acknowledges.

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