Hillary Clinton's "I'm Sorry" Problem Gets Worse

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 1:39 PM EST

Last week I had a long post about Hillary Clinton's "I'm Sorry" problem, i.e. the fact that she refuses to say "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" about her vote for the Iraq War in 2002. Even though voters on the campaign trail are making it clear that she needs to say these simple words in order to get their vote, Hillary has insisted that the mistakes were all George W. Bush's, and he should be the one to offer any apologies. It's an untenable position in a primary race filled with voters from the angry anti-war left (which includes me and just about every other liberal I know).

In an article from the New York Times entitled "Clinton Gives War Critics New Answer on '02 Vote," we find that Clinton has... pretty much stayed the same. Here's the Times:

...yesterday morning Mrs. Clinton rolled out a new response to those demanding contrition: She said she was willing to lose support from voters rather than make an apology she did not believe in.

So Clinton is sticking to her guns. She told an audience in New Hampshire that "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from." She is referring to Obama in the first and Edwards in the second.

This makes me think that the stance isn't just a political calculation but instead a deeply held belief that she will not let become a matter of political convenience. But then you read these paragraphs from Times, and it all just feels like stupid campaign politics.

"She is in a box now on her Iraq vote, but she doesn't want to be in a different, even worse box — the vacillating, flip-flopping Democratic candidate that went to defeat in 2000 and '04," said one adviser to Mrs. Clinton.
Indeed, Mrs. Clinton believes that reversing course on her vote would invite the charge of flip-flopping that damaged Mr. Kerry or provoke the kind of accusations of political expediency that hung over Al Gore in 2000 and her and her husband, President Bill Clinton, in the 1990s, several advisers said. She has argued to associates in private discussions that Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry lost, in part, because they could not convince enough Americans that they were resolute on national security, the associates said.

So it's a matter of image and avoiding the flip-flop label. First of all, I can't imagine that a single flip-flop on this issue will be more damaging than Clinton refusing to apologize for an increasingly catastrophic war at every campaign stop over the next year plus. Second, I'm willing to tolerate campaign trail politics on a lot of different issues, but the Iraq War evokes a deep, visceral response from me: I want it addressed plainly and genuinely, without guile. I don't want it trivialized by political calculations. I think voters on the trail want the same. See my last post on this issue, wherein a voter asked Clinton a question begging -- literally begging! -- for a straightforward but deeply felt response.

What does she actually believe? What is masked by all the political considerations? I don't feel like I know, which is murder for her candidacy.

But as long as we're playing the horse race game.... Hillary Clinton simply will not be able to stick to her guns on this in the long run (because of clear and almost fatal damage to her campaign hopes as months go by) and in the end will be forced to apologize -- making it look like she caved. She should apologize now when she still has some control over the circumstances and coverage of the thing.

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