Richard Cohen, having been in favor of the war in Iraq at one time, notices how easily the Democratic presidential candidates blame their past support for the war on President Bush. Speaking specifically of Senator Hillary Clinton, I think he is dead right when he says,
I’d like to hear an explanation of how she thinks she went wrong and what she learned from it. I don’t want to know how Bush failed her. I want to know how she failed her country.
I’m guessing we won’t hear that for quite some time, maybe not until after Senator Clinton has $300 million or more in her campaign fund. And by then, it may not matter, at least as far as the Democratic nomination is concerned.
But I think the question is of the first importance. Cohen’s main point seems to be that the public is entitled to know whether Senator Clinton’s current stance on the war in Iraq is a principled intellectual position or just a reflection of popular opinion. I agree. Public sentiment about war and peace may shift over time, but when it comes to the commander in chief we have a right to expect that issues of war and peace will be addressed with an intellectual seriousness that is surer and steadier. A candidate who appears to be following rather than leading on such an important issue is in my view unqualified.
But assuming for the sake of discussion that the candidate was acting on principle, how much mileage can a candidate really get from blaming President Bush? Are anti-war voters really more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton if she claims to have been the unwitting victim of hawkish propaganda than they would be if she claimed to be a hawk herself who simply changed her mind because she realized she had been wrong? Can it really be that any significant number of voters would excuse a pro-war vote that proceeded from carelessness or gullibility, but not one that was a perfect expression of an excessively hawkish foreign policy?