Hillary ClintonSenator Clinton gave an unexpected interview to Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s Countdown last night. She had at least a couple of messages she wanted to deliver, and KO obliged with the right questions. And by appearing on Countdown, it seems she wanted us to hear those messages.

KO first asked whether the Senate Democrats would stand up for the Constitution on the FISA bill. She said she hoped so, without explaining what that means, so it seems she wasn’t there to talk about that.

KO asked about her economic proposals. Clinton walked methodically through her list for helping the middle class deal with economic insecurity: (1) restore fiscal responsibility; (2) focus on job creation, perhaps by using global warming and alternative energy development as the stimuli; (3) provide mechanisms to encourage folks to save and invest for their retirement (as a supplement, not a replacement for Social Security); (4) provide assistance to make college more affordable; and (5) enact universal health coverage.

Americans feel they’re “standing over a trap door,” she said, so it’s important to reduce this insecurity while holding down costs of all these areas. Although part of her standard campaign pitch, listing these elements so carefully seemed a set up for what followed.

KO next asked about efforts to overturn the President’s SCHIP veto, and the question moved to the right wing attacks on 12-year-old Graeme and his family. I think this is part of what Clinton was waiting for. She claimed the Republican opposition didn’t want to solve the problem of uninsured children, and they particularly did not want Americans to begin hearing real stories of real Americans — not just those in poverty, because they’re covered by Medicaid, but “families who work, who can’t afford the high insurance premiums of individual policies.” (paraphrasing)

Clinton then praised bipartisan efforts to pass the SCHIP bill, complimenting Republicans who voted for SCHIP and against their own President and Republican leadership. The leadership, she noted, had tried to score partisan, political points at the expense of families like Graeme’s.

I think Clinton was sending a strong message to the Progressive community about how she would approach the electorate in the general election. The message on economic security is a clear winner for Democrats. The message to Republicans outside the 30 percenters is that their leadership and President had misled them about SCHIP — and everything else. The President’s loyalists abandoned America’s children and then misused children in a mean-spirited manner. But despite all the right wing propaganda, she — the supposedly hated liberal who had been pilloried by the right for years — had worked with reasonable Republicans on a bipartisan solution for providing health care to America’s children. And she could do it across the board. That’s one powerful message.

Moreover, Hillary took on the WH’s anti-SCHIP argument that SCHIP should be limited to the poorest children. No, this is part of a broader policy to provide financial security for the middle class. In other words, it’s okay for America to have government sponsored programs to help the middle class get affordable health care . . . or secure retirements or college for their kids, and so on. It’s okay to use government to protect the middle class from that “trap door” that undermines their financial security.

Putting Iraq aside (there were no questions on it), I think that economic message can win the election and sweep more (and better) Democrats into Congress, provided . . .

. . . provided Bush/Cheney don’t start a war with Iran. On this point, KO gave the Senator something else she wanted — another opportunity to explain her vote — to us — for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment encouraging the President to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. She did not back down. Her standard response, perhaps more carefully crafted and expressed this time, is that it was a misunderstanding to claim she was authorizing war; instead, she voted to provide additional leverage, via possible sanctions, to encourage/strengthen negotiations with the Iranians.

Her answer might be more defensible if the President were Bill or Hillary Clinton, but not when the President is Cheney/Bush. Trusting these two to act responsibly is the same mistake she made on the Iraq vote, and explaining it more eloquently does not alter its fundamental risks as long as Bush/Cheney remain in office.

We got the messages. Here’s my own response: Good framing on SCHIP and economic security; good strategy in calling the non-30 percenters to responsible government. But the next time Democrats want to send a serious message to Iran, don’t allow Bush/Cheney to translate it for the Iranians. And one more thing: You’re focused on the wrong threat.

The Bush/Cheney regime’s lawlessness and fear-based authoritarianism present a far greater threat to American freedoms and values than the Revolutionary Guard could ever dream of becoming. That’s why you should have answered the FISA question and many others. It’s essential you let the country know you understand the greater danger and are just as concerned as we are.

Hillary also thinks Al Gore deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Yep.

The interview transcript is now available at MSNBC, and Logan Murphy at C&L has the video clip.