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Having it both ways

The conventional wisdom is that Sen. Hillary Clinton has moved right, becoming hawkish in war, socially centrist and tough on immigration as she prepares for a presidential bid in 2008.

No, wait, the conventional wisdom is that Sen. Hillary Clinton has always been a social moderate and is just reiterating positions she's always held.

No, scratch that. The conventional wisdom is that Sen. Hillary Clinton is a socialist ideologue who secretly hates the military and wants to create a nanny state through universal health care and government-run day care.

Which of these is true principally depends on which you want to be true, as one can find some evidence for all. Clinton is, if nothing else, reliably flexible. What she personally believes seems to depend largely on the audience.

When in Mexico. Te quiero, you guys!

That's both the beauty and the problem of Hillary Clinton. She's whatever she needs to be to advance the only agenda to which she is unwaveringly loyal: the power of Hillary Clinton. She puts one in mind of a delighted self-portraitist, always discovering new textures and palettes. And like all politicians, she benefits from the Uzi-style news cycle that numbs Americans into sensory exhaustion and glazed-eye passivity.

Who can remember the last thing anybody said?

Illegal immigration, one of the issues Clinton glommed onto after Sept. 11, is a case in point. If you caught Clinton's WABC radio interview back in February 2003, you heard her say that she is "you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants."

This quote has been resurrected repeatedly to demonstrate Clinton's shift to the right, especially as a direct comparison to President Bush, who seems more interested in schmoozing Mexican President Vicente Fox and, like Clinton, attracting Hispanic voters than in taking seriously the problem of sealing our porous borders.

How bad is it? The day of the London bombings, while the world was riveted on body counts, the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition was meeting in Del Rio, Texas, where those living closest to the problem described plausible and sickening doomsday scenarios. With 6,000 to 7,000 trucks daily crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, we are extremely vulnerable to a deadly attack, they warned.

Of greatest concern among illegals are non-Mexicans. Typically, Mexicans are returned home while non-Mexicans are taken to U.S. detention centers, where limited space means most are released and (insert whoopee cushion here) ordered to return for detention hearings.

To date, some 1 million non-Mexicans have entered the U.S. through Mexico, of which about 700,000 have disappeared, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News. No one knows how many might be terrorists, though rough estimates are that about 70,000 of those non-Mexicans are Saudis between the ages of 18 and 34. Ponder that as you abhor racial profiling and replenish your stores of duct tape.

Now, if you were Clinton and were, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants, you might do everything in your considerable power to tighten our borders. Instead, one week after the London bombings, Clinton voted against amendments to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would have paid for more border agents and more detention beds in fiscal 2006.

Some who voted against the amendments expressed concern that those spending increases were predicated on cuts to first-responders, such as police, firefighters and EMTs. One could argue reasonably that the real first-responders are the agents who keep the bad guys out in the first place, but let's move on.

More telling than a particular vote may be Clinton's mid-July speech to the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic human rights organization. Speaking to thunderous applause, Clinton mentioned nary a word about immigration and all but launched into a hat dance while pushing every hot button near and dear to Hispanic (and especially Mexican) hearts.

She promised improved education and health care (hard to believe, I know) as well as help with lead paint and childhood asthma and teen acne and bad breath. OK, I'm joking on the last two, but it's still early. Meanwhile, she did vow support for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minorities Act), which, if passed, would guarantee in-state college tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants, as well as amnesty to some 65,000 illegal immigrant students who graduate from U.S. high schools each year.

DREAM is a nice idea if you're in a nanny frame of mind. But if you're serious about national security, then you're serious about illegal immigration. And if you're serious about illegal immigration, then you don't reward illegal immigrants with expensive promises while failing to make good on pledges to keep illegal aliens out.

And if Clinton is serious about being president of the United States, she'd better make up her mind.

Kathleen Parker, an Orlando Sentinel columnist, welcomes comments via e-mail at kparker@kparker.com . Her column appears on Friday.