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Apr 9, 2006
Published on Sunday, April 9, 2006 by the Observer/UK

Stars Take the Shine Off Hillary's Bid


Leading Hollywood liberals are sniping at the former First Lady over her strong support for the Iraq war.


by Paul Harris in Washington
 

With its liberal politics and radical attitudes, Hollywood should be one place in America where Hillary Clinton can count on fervent and loyal support.

But as the former First Lady gears up for a run at the White House her nascent campaign has hit an unexpected roadblock. A lengthening list of top Hollywood celebrities have publicly criticised her ambitions. From George Clooney to Sharon Stone to Susan Sarandon, the Beverly Hills set has turned on Clinton.

Nor are they alone. Vast swaths of American liberals have begun to snipe at their former heroine, attacking her for supporting the war in Iraq and decrying her recent shifts to the right as she positions herself for a presidential campaign. For a woman long derided by conservative critics as a 'feminazi' the irony of the onslaughts from the left must be painful.

Celebrities have queued up to attack her. Kathleen Turner said she 'had her doubts' about Clinton's potential bid. Stone said it was 'too soon' for Clinton to run. Clooney criticised the entire Democrat leadership, including Clinton, for lacking the backbone to speak against the Iraq war. Sarandon, one of the most politically active of the Hollywood elite, was forthright: 'I find Hillary Clinton to be a great disappointment. She's lost her progressive following because of her caution and centrist approach.'

Many observers might dismiss such outbursts as lacking real political clout, but Hollywood liberals are a vital source of election funds. 'Hollywood is like a piggy bank for the Democrats. No one wants that cut off,' said one senior Democrat activist.

Worryingly, the celebrities are not alone in turning on Clinton. She is a new hate figure for other liberals. That is potentially dangerous as it is grassroots supporters who do a lot of the work for the primary election campaigns that will decide who becomes the Democrat presidential nominee.

The key issue is her support for the war. She has adopted a hawkish stance, firmly against any withdrawal of American troops. 'She's not listening to her constituents when it comes to how they feel about the war in Iraq,' said a spokeswoman for Code Pink, a women's anti-war group that is helping to organise protests wherever Clinton speaks.

These protests are dramatic and effective. At one recent meeting in a New York university about 30 protesters disrupted her speech. Wearing black T-shirts spelling out the message 'Troops Out Now', the demonstrators repeatedly interrupted Clinton, then turned their backs on her in silent protest as she continued to speak. Asked to comment by reporters, the usually calm Clinton retorted huffily: 'I have no reaction.'

Anti-war campaigners vow that such protests will continue in what could become a recurring embarrassment to her campaign. 'We want our troops home now and we're going to follow Hillary Clinton around the country telling her so,' the Code Pink spokeswoman said.

Even Cindy Sheehan, America's leading anti-war activist, has come out against a Clinton nomination. Sheehan has wide support among liberals after she joined the peace cause when her soldier son was killed in Iraq. Last summer she was catapulted to international fame when she led a high-profile picket outside President George Bush's home in Texas. In an open letter to Clinton, Sheehan attacked her support for the war. 'I think she is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys... I will resist her candidacy with every bit of my power and strength,' Sheehan said.

Many experts now believe Clinton is likely to face a challenge from an anti-war candidate in the Democratic primaries. That is most likely to be the liberal Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold, who has a cult following among internet-based activists of the kind who propelled the brief but spectacular surge by Howard Dean in 2004.

However, Clinton's shift to the right is unlikely to stop. She has continued to be hawkish on Iraq, attacked the recent proposed deal to hand over the running of some US ports to a Middle Eastern company, and started to use religious words in her speeches. She condemned a proposed anti-immigration law as contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Some experts believe this criticism helps her. Attacks from the left cement Clinton's image as a centrist among the independent voters needed by candidates to win. 'The more she is attacked by liberals, I think the more she likes it. It helps change her image with the rest of America,' said Professor Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California.

In any case, the attacks are unlikely to derail Clinton's ambitions. Though her staff claim she is only focused on fighting to retain her New York Senate seat, there is little doubt among Washington's political classes that her ambitions in the presidency. She has already raised $20m for this year's fight, despite the fact she is almost certain to hold the seat. She has hired 37 full-time staff costing more than $100,000 a month.

With such momentum and financial clout, experts believe the liberals - including the sniping Hollywood stars - will eventually get behind her. 'Who else will these people vote for?' asked Bowler 'In the end their anger at Bush and their anger at Republicans is going to be far greater than any dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton.'

© Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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Posted: Apr 9, 2006 10:37pm

 

 
 
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