Liberals turn on 'disappointing' Clinton

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AFTER years of being vilified by Republicans, Hillary Rodham Clinton is suddenly facing mounting criticism from an unlikely quarter: liberals.

Grassroots Democratic constituencies that helped Mrs Clinton win her Senate seat in New York two and a half years ago are expressing deep disappointment in her, saying she has been unwilling to challenge George Bush, the United States president, and Republican leaders in Congress on issues of importance to them.

Those who have expressed disappointment in Mrs Clinton include gay rights advocates, anti-war organisers and even advocates for children and the poor, a group with which she has been closely associated for decades. Political analysts and critics on the Left say Mrs Clinton appears to be modelling herself on her husband, Bill Clinton, who was also criticised for abandoning the Democratic Party’s liberal base to win larger political appeal.

"Is she playing to a national audience?" asked Anne Erickson, the director of the Greater Upstate Law Project, a group that works with poor people in New York. "As a Democrat with liberal leanings, I can personally say that it is pretty disappointing to watch her stances on issues.

"We expected better from her."

Mrs Clinton’s aides say her decisions are not part of any calculated effort to win over a wider constituency outside New York. Rather, they say, they reflect positions she has held since her days as first lady, such as advocating stiffer restrictions on welfare recipients.

"This view of Hillary Clinton as a dyed-in-the-wool leftist is a caricature," said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to Mrs Clinton. "Anyone who is surprised about her views on welfare reform and the war was not paying attention during the campaign."

Mrs Clinton was unavailable for comment, but her spokeswoman, Karen Dunn, said:

"She is one of the strongest advocates [of the Left] but that doesn’t mean that there is always agreement on how to approach every single issue."

The criticism from her long-time allies comes at a time when Mrs Clinton has managed to maintain a relatively noncontroversial image in the Senate.

But since arriving in the Senate in January 2001, she has been a far less polarising figure than she was in the White House.

The former first lady now seems to be going out of her way to convince Republicans that she is someone with whom they can work.

Philip Friedman, a Democratic Party worker in New York, said criticism of her over these positions was not likely to hurt Mrs Clinton, who is not up for Senate re-election until 2006.

Mr Friedman said the state’s sizeable liberal base would ultimately stand by her, just as liberals stood by her husband, despite their complicated relationship with him.

"It’s not going to mean anything," he said. "Democrats love the Clintons, and that’s why her husband was able to get away with going off the reservation now and then."

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