[16 July 2007]
Chicago Tribune (MCT)
CHICAGO - Sen. Hillary Clinton on Sunday labeled President Bush’s tenure in the White House “the most radical presidency” in U.S. history, as she and four other Democratic presidential contenders courted the support of the nation’s influential trial lawyers at a meeting in Chicago.
Clinton, along with Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois, Joseph Biden of Delaware, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, each contended the Bush White House has failed to respect the rule of law in its efforts to combat terrorism and other areas.
In separate 20-minute remarks, the contenders sought to draw attention to their perceived strengths before an organization of some of the Democratic Party’s most dependable and prolific campaign fundraisers. Each of the candidates received a standing ovation at the end of their remarks.
But Clinton, D-N.Y., the last to speak, was the harshest in criticizing the incumbent president, who succeeded her husband, Bill Clinton, in the White House.
“We need to continue America’s forward motion toward progress, toward that more perfect union,” Clinton told a large, crowded convention room at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, addressing the political action committee of the American Association of Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
“In the last six and a half years we have seen a dangerous experiment in extremism in the White House,” she said. “President Bush campaigned as a compassionate conservative. It turns out he is neither. He has proven that time and time again. I would argue that his is the most radical presidency we have ever had. You can look at nearly any aspect of our life here at home, in the nation or around the world.”
As each of the five outlined their plans for a redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq, Clinton, Obama and some of the others called for the closure of the military’s detention center for suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. They said reports of torture and lack of due process for detainees symbolized a U.S. government withdrawing from the constraints of international law.
Obama, who formerly lectured on constitutional law at the University of Chicago, accused the Bush administration of subverting justice for political gain.
He contended the White House “pardons injustice and perverts our laws to protect their friends and interests” and cited Bush’s recent commutation of the prison sentence of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into who leaked the name of former CIA operative Valerie Plame.
“People are tired of Scooter Libby justice,” Obama maintained.
Edwards, formerly a successful trial lawyer, received some of the most vocal encouragement of the group. He said he has watched “a very orchestrated radical right agenda” to limit the access of ordinary citizens to the courts.
The Democrats’ 2004 vice presidential contender urged his former colleagues to look at the importance of winning the presidency in terms of law issues when it comes to choosing a candidate.
“It’s not enough for you to like a candidate. It’s not even enough for you to agree with a candidate,” Edwards said. “We must, my party, the Democratic Party, we must nominate a candidate who will win the general election.”
Richardson, the only non-lawyer of the five to address the group, also emphasized that choosing a candidate who can win in the fall of 2008 is more important
“There are candidates projecting themselves for change. Some are projecting themselves for experience. And I believe I bring to the table change and experience,” Richardson said.
“I know that there may be candidates with more glitz. There may be candidates with more money. But I believe that this election is also about electability, about who can win in November, who can carry the ideals of the Democratic Party and the ideals that you represent.”
Of the five, Biden, a Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, focused almost exclusively on the Iraq war rather than more specific legal issues before the group.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden noted his national and international experience and said Bush has left “virtually no margin for error” for the nation’s next president.
“The next president better know more than his or her advisers,” Biden said, in restating his call for a federal-style partitioning of Iraq.
Earlier on Sunday, Obama told a standing-room-only congregation at Vernon Park Church of God on the city’s Far South Side that the government, the gun lobby and the public need to do more to stop the “unacceptable” gun violence involving children.
“Our playgrounds have become battlegrounds. Our streets have become cemeteries. Our schools have become places to mourn the ones we’ve lost,” Obama said, calling for better enforcement of existing gun laws, tighter background checks on gun buyers and for making an expired assault weapon ban permanent.