The democratic presidential candidates were courting their party's liberal base this week. In what has become a required stop on the campaign trail, they appeared at the annual Take Back America conference, where thousands of liberal activists gathered in Washington, D.C.
It's the conference where Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) was booed last year when she defended her vote in favor of the war. Since then, Clinton has moved to the left on Iraq, voting to cut off funding and pushing legislation to remove congressional authorization. This year she was cheered when she said she would end the war in Iraq, but she was booed when she said this:
"The American military has done its job. Look at what they accomplished. They got rid of Saddam Hussein, they gave the Iraqis a chance for free and fair elections. It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions that are important for their own people."
Some of the anti-war activists in the audience said it sounded as though Clinton was blaming the Iraqis instead of taking responsibility for her vote to authorize the war.
According to Jody Evans, the co-founder of Code Pink , a women's agit-prop group that has been protesting Clinton's vote for the war, "When she said the Iraq government isn't doing what they should be doing — we have invaded a country, innocent people, and she's blaming the victim! That's not OK with us."
Clinton's shift on the war has helped to neutralize a lot of the animosity from the anti-war base of her party.
Even Code Pink has changed its protest tactics as Clinton has changed her position. It no longer disrupts every one of Clinton's events.
Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards continued his attacks on both Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), calling on democrats to be bolder and more aggressive: "For me, it's very simple. No more vacillating, no more triangulating, no more broken promises, no more 'we'll get around to it next time.' No more taking half a loaf."
Obama continued his implicit criticism of Clinton and Edwards when he reminded the crowd that in 2002, when they were voting for the war, he was speaking out against it. "Many of us knew this back then, even when it wasn't popular to say so. We knew back then this war was a mistake. We knew back then that it was dangerous diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who trails Clinton, Obama and Edwards in poll numbers and fundraising, found a way to distinguish himself from the others – by calling for a lock, stock and barrel withdrawal from Iraq. Richardson said other than the Marine guards at the embassy, "I would leave zero troops behind — not a single one."
Obama would leave noncombat troops in Iraq, and Clinton has said she expects troops to be there at the end of her second term as president.
With all the democrats agreeing on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the war itself is becoming less of a dividing line for the party. Instead, the debate is turning to what kind of pullout — how fast, how many troops to leave behind and what roles they would play.