Hillary on Iraq war vote: I'm not sorry

She’s already conceded that she’d never have voted for war if she knew then what she knows now. Doesn’t that mean she considers her vote a mistake? Not according to the troop-supportin’ left, which apparently won’t be happy until she delivers a formal mea maxima culpa. The Times does an awful job of explaining why it’s such a sticking point, especially when she’s voting their way on the surge resolutions, but there may be more to it than simply wanting her to return to a state of ideological purity. It could be they want her to repudiate the doctrine of preemptive war root and branch, independent of the bad intel relied on by Bush, and gathered in part by her husband’s adminstration, in the particular case of Iraq. Then again, if that were the key criterion, why would Edwards — who has called his Iraq vote a mistake — be giving speeches insisting all options are on the table with regards to Iran?

Anyway, her advisors want her to cave and apologize because it’ll help her in the primary. She’s refusing — because it might hurt her in the general. Even her stands on “principle” over political expedience are really just ever more far-sighted and complicated calculations of political expedience. Say what you will about McCain; his position on the surge, at least, is clean in that respect.

“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,” Mrs. Clinton told an audience in Dover, N.H., in a veiled reference to two rivals for the nomination, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Her decision not to apologize is regarded so seriously within her campaign that some advisers believe it will be remembered as a turning point in the race: either ultimately galvanizing voters against her (if she loses the nomination), or highlighting her resolve and her willingness to buck Democratic conventional wisdom (if she wins)…

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.

Mrs. Clinton’s image as a strong leader, in turn, is critical to her hopes of becoming the nation’s first female president. According to one adviser, her internal polling indicates that a high proportion of Democrats see her as strong and tough, both assets particularly valuable to a female candidate who is seeking to become commander in chief. Apologizing might hurt that image, this adviser said.

Mrs. Clinton’s belief in executive power and authority is another factor weighing against an apology, advisers said.

Exit question: Can’t the same “principle as political expedience” knock be made on Giuliani? That’s KP’s beef with him, and understandably so. And isn’t Giuliani adopting the same strategy as Hillary, i.e., risking the primary by staying consistent on views that are unpopular with his party’s base in order to better position himself for the general? And, er, can’t he afford to?

Bonus exit question: WWBJD?

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