From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones and NBC's Lauren Appelbaum and Mark Murray
NASHUA, NH -- American voters must begin to separate rhetoric from reality as they choose the next president, Clinton told a jam-packed high school gymnasium here just two days before the primary. It was a clear reference to rivals Obama and Edwards.
Clinton said Democrats could bring about change in 2008 by "making sure we nominate and elect a doer not a talker, that we begin to separate out rhetoric from reality." In Saturday night's debate, Clinton praised Obama for his skills as a speaker, but criticized his record -- as well as Edwards' -- drawing distinctions that her campaign staffers said she would continue to stress in these final days. She did so today with a long riff (never mentioning her rivals by name) that at times sparked laughter, cheers and applause from the audience.
"If you give a speech saying you're going to vote against the Patriot Act and you don't, that's not change," she said in a dig at Obama. "If you make a speech and a very good speech against the war in Iraq in 2002 and then by 2004 you're saying you're not sure how you would have voted and by 2005-6 and 7, you vote for $300 billion for the war you said you were against, that's not change."
"If you say that you passed a Patients' Bill of Rights, but you forget to add that it was never signed into law, that's not change," she said in a reference to Edwards.
The Obama campaign points out, however, that Obama voted to strengthen the Patriot Act by supporting three changes to prevent law enforcement abuse. Also, it notes that Clinton voted for the very same Patriot Act reauthorization. And Clinton's argument that Obama was "not sure how" he would have voted on the Iraq war in 2004 omits Obama's full quote on the subject.
Here is the full quote, per a July 26, 2004 New York Times article: "In a recent interview, [Obama] declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time. 'But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,' Mr. Obama said. 'What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made.' But Mr. Obama said he did fault Democratic leaders for failing to ask enough tough questions of the Bush administration to force it to prove its case for war. 'What I don't think was appropriate was the degree to which Congress gave the president a pass on this,' he said."
In her speech, Clinton went on to list examples of how she argued she had "made change," including her work on children's health care, adoption and health care for national guard and reserve members -- before repeating her argument that America should elect a president who is ready to begin fixing the problems the country faces.
Yet Clinton also said something here on Iraq, which triggered an immediate response from the Obama campaign. On a question about how she would have handled things differently than President Bush, Clinton said, "After 9/11, I would never have taken us to war in Iraq. I would have stayed focused on Afghanistan, because the real threat was coming from there. That doesn't mean that Saddam Hussein was a good guy. It doesn't mean he wasn't dangerous. He was. I agreed with that. That's why I wanted to send inspectors back in and try to figure out what he was actually doing."
She went on, "But I don't think a preemptive war at that time was the best strategy. I think if we had stayed focused on Afghanistan, kept our resources there, when we really had a chance to get bin Laden, and all of his allies, I think we might have done it. And now we are playing catch up, and it's a dangerous game of catch up."
Replied Obama spokesman Bill Burton, "Hillary Clinton may try to rewrite history, but it's hard to believe she didn't know what would happen after she voted for a resolution with the title 'A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq.' While Hillary Clinton continues to make the same kind of attacks that voters are rejecting, Barack Obama will continue telling voters about his consistent opposition to the war in Iraq from the start, and his plan to bring our troops home."