There are several reasons to explain why Sen. Hillary Clinton, in a press statement distributed narrowly, has come out firmly against the governments' giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants -- or "undocumented persons."
First, it's possible she did not want to box in Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Now that he's killed his proposal, well, you can't rekill something that's dead.
Second, it's possible that she studied the issue as promised and discovered, on the same day the issue went away, that she was opposed to it.
It's true that she never explicitly said she favored the particularities of Spitzer's approach, only that she accepted his desire to do something in lieu of comprehensive immigration reform on a federal level.
From the standpoint of politics, Clinton has apparently decided that the lumps she'll take today -- that she massaged her position, changed her position -- a Chris Dodd spokesman called it "flipflopping cubed" -- are much less damaging the lumps she'd take in the general election if she did not set a marker of opposition. Even for Democrats, the politics of immigration are poisonous -- it could kill them among white working class men; among Midwesterners; comprehensive reform might be a second-term issue for the next Democratic president. The Democratic base is split; so are its presidential candidates.
During tomorrow night's debate, expect Clinton say something along the lines of: "I really didn't want to influence the debate in New York and make it more difficult for Gov. Spitzer, who is wrestling with a really difficult problem. But as a matter of principle, I don't personally believe that undocumented workers should be provided with driver's license."
But Clinton was yoked to Spitzer from the beginning owing largely to her own equivocation during the October 30th debate.
Bill Burton, Barack Obama's spokesman, couldn't resist: "When it takes two weeks and six different positions to answer one question on immigration, it’s easier to understand why the Clinton campaign would rather plant their questions than answer them."
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