ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports: While speaking Monday at South Carolina’s Allen University, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., appears to have borrowed a page from President Bush’s rhetorical playbook in going after an unnamed rival as being soft on terrorism.
"To underscore a point, some people may be running who tell you we don’t face a real threat from terrorism," Clinton said in response to a question about the war. "I’m not one of them. We have serious enemies who want to do us serious harm."
Phil Singer, a spokesperson for Clinton’s campaign, told ABC News that Clinton "was not referring to anyone in particular."
But a specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, sees Clinton’s comment as "disingenuous if not dishonest."
"The whole business of the straw man argument — of referring to a position that is an oversimplification, or, in some cases, a complete exaggeration of what any particular opponent has said, is pretty standard," Fields told ABC News. "But it’s always disingenuous if not dishonest."
As Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press wrote in a 2006 analysis of President Bush’s rhetoric, "when the president starts a sentence with ‘some say’ or offers up what ‘some in Washington’ believe . . . a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows."
"The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Mr. Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position," wrote the AP’s Loven. "He typically then says he ‘strongly disagrees,’ conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making."
In the case of Clinton, to whom is the senator referring?
Of her top three rivals in Iowa, the state which hosts the Democratic Party’s first nominating contest, all three have staked out positions to her left on the Iraq war: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., regularly reminds voters that he spoke out against the war before it began, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., repeatedly calls his vote authorizing force a mistake, and former Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, has urged members of Congress to use their power to cut off funding for all U.S. fighting in Iraq.
But while all three of them have gotten to Clinton’s left on the Iraq war, they have all joined Clinton in identifying terrorism as a threat to the United States.
"Most of all, let’s be the generation that never forgets what happened on that September day and confront the terrorists with everything we’ve got," Sen. Obama said while formally declaring his presidential bid in Springfield, Ill.
"We live in a dangerous world," Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, said in his formal declaration of candidacy, "a world with real threats. Every day on our way of life is threatened by terrorism from around the world."
In his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention, Edwards said that he and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., would have "one clear unmistakable message for Al Qaida and these terrorists: You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you."
Fields, who was quoted in the AP’s analysis of Bush’s rhetoric, sees a similarity between Clinton’s South Carolina comments and the tactics of the man she is trying to succeed.
"I would say it is a kind of ploy," Fields told ABC News. "It obfuscates rather than clarifies – in that way, it is similar to what the president does."