(CNSNews.com) - New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton Friday said the lack of consensus in the Democratic Party on several issues, including the war in Iraq, is good for the party and for American democracy.
"Although unity is important, it is not the most important value," Clinton said in a speech to the New Democrat Network conference in Washington, D.C. "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 criticized Republicans for what she called their unified decision to "blindly follow the president, to ask no questions, to raise no concerns." She said Democrats disagree on how to succeed in Iraq, but "we are together, unified in fulfilling our constitutional responsibility to engage in a legitimate debate, to ask the difficult issues and to offer honorable, responsible positions."
Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said Clinton "is right in admitting her party has no clear plan for the central front in the war on terror." She added that the Democrats' different positions on the war in Iraq "all mean the same thing -- a surrender to the terrorists."
Clinton has been the target of anti-war liberals in recent weeks for her position on the war in Iraq. She said she opposes Bush's "stay the course" policy, but also rejects the ideas of some in her own party like Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha who have called for a timetable to withdraw U.S. forces.
Clinton endured some heckling at the liberal Take Back America conference June 12 when anti-war protestors demonstrated briefly during her speech and outside the hotel where the conference was being held.
At her speech Friday, Clinton addressed the criticism surrounding Democratic disunity. "When people say, 'Well, gee, Democrats seem not to have a unified position,'" Clinton said, "I can very straightforwardly say I'm proud of the debate we're having."
The New York senator and former first lady, who many people expect to run for president in 2008, also addressed the accusation that Democrats in Congress oppose the Bush administration but do not offer policies of their own.
She pointed to the "Checklist for Change," a set of nine policies developed by the nine female Democratic senators, which include investing in stem cell research, making college affordable and creating energy independence.
"I think we've got a great agenda," Clinton said. "Now what we need is a winning electoral strategy. We need to run campaigns that make it clear to the American people that we know what we would do if we have the honor to take back one or both houses of Congress in the '06 elections."
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