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"Leading" From Behind: Clinton's Belated Keystone Pipeline Answer Highlights Her Key Weakness

Updated on September 22, 2015

Hillary Clinton: Following the Pack on Keystone XL.

People protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House in 2011.
People protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House in 2011. | Source

Hillary Clinton Just Came Out Against the Keystone XL Pipeline? How Convenient!

Perhaps Hillary Clinton is worried that the arrival of Pope Francis in the United States might provide an extra boost to Bernie Sanders' surge in the polls? Just as the Pontiff arrived for his first visit to America, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, who has hit quite a rough patch, announced her opposition to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. The proposed pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada to refineries in the American South, has been criticized by liberals, progressives, and environmentalists...but Clinton long remained quiet. For months, Clinton refused to acknowledge whether she supported or disagreed with the pipeline, claiming that her former role as U.S. Secretary of State would make voicing a decision improper.

Now she has come out against the pipeline, but her timing has raised some eyebrows. Though U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced that he was pleased to have his competitor also speak out against the pipeline, he made sure to remind voters that he opposed the project from the beginning. Third-place Democratic presidential contender Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, did not hold back in criticizing Clinton for foot-dragging on the issue.

In fact, Martin accused Clinton of following, not leading, public opinion. He referenced Clinton's flip-flops and "evolving" views on the Iraq War and same-sex marriage, issues which could be a thorn in Clinton's side as her campaign progresses. Clinton, a self-proclaimed moderate, has also long been known for caution and for relying heavily on opinion polls. Her history, coupled with her belated decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, paints an unflattering portrait of someone who should be a leader.

Unlike many other candidates, Clinton is trying to "lead" from behind, conveniently choosing the most popular viewpoint in order to net votes. Already, she has moved far to the political left of where pundits thought she would run, likely in order to glean voters from popular populist Bernie Sanders. Clinton is trying to be "Sanders lite" because it is politically expedient, not because she truly believes.

Make no mistake: Clinton's tendency to "lead" from behind will be a powerful Republican attack if she is the Democratic nominee. In 2004, the GOP made plenty of political ground off of Democratic nominee John Kerry's alleged "flip-flops," portraying the staid U.S. Senator as a milquetoast opportunist. Bernie Sanders, rather than Hillary Clinton, is the candidate the Democrats should run next fall. He has not swayed on any of his key positions, making him a unique legislator.



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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      3 years ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      Neither of these issues should be a tie breaker. There are much more pressing and critical issues than Same Sex, and the pipe line.

      Maybe for the rest of us, you can tutor us on the pros and cons of the pipeline.

    • Steve Bern profile image

      Steve Bern 

      3 years ago

      Calvin, excellent point on Hillary's timing and Pope Francis' visit. I had not tied her strategy to that, definitely a weak attempt to draw attention away from Senator Sanders. I suspect with crude oil prices dropping last week to $49 a barrel and the cost of tar sand oil extraction still hovering at around $60 a barrel, Secretary Clinton felt like it was a safe bet there would soon be no oil to pump through the Keystone XL. Alberta Tar Sand production is winding down and will probably not start up again until if and when crude prices hit $100 a barrel again. By then President Sanders will have no problem saying no to the Keystone XL.


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