"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."
So says New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who appears to be campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination on the theme that she would rather be wrong than president.
Perhaps, in this post-modern moment, Clinton is on to something. Henry Clay, a frequently unsuccessful contender for the Oval Office in the first half of the 19th century, suggested that he would rather be right than president and he lost. Maybe Clinton believes that by reversing the scenario, she can achieve the victory that eluded Clay.
At the very least, Clinton's steadfast refusal to admit that she was wrong to vote to give George W. Bush the power to launch a preemptive war against Iraq sets a news standard for stubbornness.
According to the New York Times, top Clinton aides have done everything in their power to get her to acknowledge that she read Bush wrong back in 2002. "Several advisers, friends and donors said in interviews that they had urged her to call her vote a mistake in order to appease anti-war Democrats, who play a critical role in the nominating process," reports the Times. "Yet Mrs. Clinton herself, backed by another faction, never wanted to apologize... [Y]esterday 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."
Hence, the "there are others to choose from" line -- which is a clear reference to her two most serious competitors for the Democratic nod, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
In 2002, Obama was an outspoken opponent of authorizing Bush to take the country to war. Edwards voted for the authorization but has since admitted his mistake.
Poking at Clinton, Edwards says on the campaign trail: "'I was wrong.' See, I can say it."
That's a snappy response. But, if Edwards and Obama want to move this contest to the next level, they might want to ask the question that Clinton's remark begs: Is it really courageous -- or politically smart -- to suggest that voters who want a president with good judgment should vote for someone else?
© 2007 The Nation