WASHINGTON – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded Friday the Democrats are "openly struggling with a lot of the difficult issues," but said that was better than the GOP's "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil."
The senator and potential presidential candidate said the Democrats' debate a day earlier on the Senate floor about war policy in Iraq was actually a sign of party strength, not weakness.
"Although unity is important it is not the most important value. It is, I think, a tribute to the Democratic Party at this moment in time that we are honestly and openly struggling with a lot of the difficult issues facing our country," Clinton, D-N.Y., told the New Democrat Network.
On the issue of Iraq, Clinton has been buffeted by competing forces within her party. Many elements of the party's liberal base want an immediate or timed withdrawal of troops from Iraq, while others feel such a position may weaken the party's electoral chances this year and in 2008.
Clinton is up for re-election this year, and repeatedly insists she is not thinking ahead to 2008 presidential politics.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, another potential White House candidate, told the meeting of party progressives that Democrats should ignore the consultants and pundits and focus on Americans outside Washington.
"Listening to people out and around the country is how we should craft our message," said Vilsack, who stressed the importance of an upbeat outlook, an emphasis on shared sacrifice and the need for competent government in a post-Katrina environment.
Last week, many in the audience of a more liberal group booed Clinton when she said she opposed setting a fixed date for troop withdrawal.
On Thursday, four of the six Democrats flirting with a possible White House bid in 2008, including Clinton, chose a middle-of-the-road approach, voting for a nonbinding resolution that would have urged the administration to start withdrawing troops by year's end.
But they opposed a rival proposal that would have carried the force of law and set a firm date by which all combat forces must be out of Iraq.
In her speech Friday, Clinton accused the Republican-controlled Congress of being "supine" to the goals of the Bush administration, foregoing their oversight role.
After the speech, she told reporters that the Democrats' public disagreements were a better alternative than the GOP's unified front.
"I think we come out more united," Clinton said. "We're not blindly united like the other side is, where they are like the three monkeys, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak no Evil. They're not going to say anything negative about the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense or anybody else."
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said while Clinton "is right in admitting her party has no clear plan for the central front in the War on Terror, the bottom line is that the Democrats' different approaches all mean the same thing, a surrender to the terrorists."