Friday, June 08, 2007

Wilfully deceptive or fecklessly clueless?

Perhaps the mathematics of Republican primary politics help to explain why Mitt Romney told blatant untruths about Iraq the other night, making false assertions that contradict five long years of factual reality.

In other words, maybe he was just being pragmatic; after all, 70 percent of Republicans still back President Bush and, presumably, his war as well, and those loyalists are expected to dominate the voting in the early GOP presidential primaries next winter. So perhaps Romney has made a conscious decision to ply them with the kind of falsehoods they have apparently come to believe.

That’s one explanation. The other possibility is that Romney is simply delusional, and truly has no clue about the track record of this war – how it came to pass, how its salesmen hyped the so-called evidence, and how various panels and commissions have since exposed the willful deceptions.

Let us return to the GOP candidates’ debate, which was staged in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Iraq was the first item on the agenda, which probably didn’t please any of the contestants, given the fact that most Americans (except the GOP base) now view Bush as a disastrous war leader, and as a failed president in general.

It can’t be fun to run for president and be saddled with a lame duck who is embraced by only 29 percent of his fellow citizens (according to the latest AP-Ipsos poll, released yesterday; meanwhile, the latest Fox News survey, also released yesterday, puts Bush at 34 percent). On the other hand, Romney may have compounded the problem by making statements that suggest he has no idea what he’s talking about.

On Tuesday night, Romney was asked, “Knowing everything you know right now, was it a mistake for us to invade Iraq?” Here’s the key passage in his reply:

“(If) Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction - had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things.”

Moments later, Romney repeated himself, arguing that "if we knew then what we know now (i.e., the absence of mass weaponry), by virtue of inspectors having been let in and giving us that information, by virtue of if Saddam Hussein had followed the U.N. resolutions, we wouldn’t be having this — this discussion."

In other words, in Romney’s version of history, we were compelled to Iraq because Hussein had defied the United Nations by refusing to open his country to the inspectors who work for the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (“he didn’t do those things”).

Take your pick, either Romney lied or he is clueless - because Hussein in fact did do those things.

Hussein did open up his country to IAEA inspectors – on Sept. 17, 2002. The inspectors searched for many months, with a mandate to gauge Hussein’s nuclear capabilities, and they found nothing. We know all this, because the IAEA filed a public report on March 7, 2003, two weeks before Bush decided to wage war anyway.

There was Romney, claiming that because the IAEA inspectors were barred from Iraq, they were thus unable to determine whether Hussein had mass weaponry. By contrast, in the pages of reality-based history, the IAEA inspectors were not barred, and, after having gained access, they were able to determine that Hussein did not have mass weaponry.

It’s all right there in the report:

“After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq…Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation.”

The factual record also shows that Hussein allowed a separate team of inspectors into Iraq prior to the invasion. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission later issued its own report, which stated: "In the period in which it performed inspection and monitoring in Iraq, UNMOVIC did not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programmes of weapons of mass destruction."

But regarding the IAEA inspectors, maybe Romney simply misspoke when he got the facts exactly backward. Anybody can screw up once. The problem, however, is that this wasn’t the first time he has tried to rewrite this historical chapter.

In a May 7 appearance on Fox News, when he was asked by Sean Hannity whether in hindsight he viewed the Iraq invasion as a mistake, he gave virtually the same answer: “If we knew that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, and if he had complied with the United Nations resolutions to allow IAEA inspectors into his country, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

And he’s getting away with it. Hannity neglected to correct Romney on the facts. CNN debate host Wolf Blitzer didn’t protest (although, in that format, the attempt might have been awkward). The Washington Post covered the CNN debate, but didn’t even mention the remarks. Ditto the report in The New York Times. (So much for the so-called “liberal” media.) But corrections probably wouldn’t have mattered to the GOP primary voters whom Romney is seeking to woo; among many Bush loyalists, empirical facts about this war have long ceased to be a priority.

The big challenge for Romney would come later, if he wins the GOP nomination. Uttering falsehoods about why we went to war – particularly in an autumn debate - probably wouldn’t fly with swing-voting independents, most of whom now believe that the invasion was a mistake and that the ruling Republicans misled the nation. In 2008, no Republican can win if he leaves the impression that he will be as averse to factual reality as the man he seeks to replace.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rudy disses the Iowa hustle

Rudy Giuliani has performed a valuable public service. He declared yesterday that he will skip the Iowa Straw Poll, a Republican summer ritual that has long deserved to be exposed for what it really is – a con job.

Iowa Republicans have been staging this event since 1979, and for some inexplicable reason it has become a fixture on the political calendar, even though it is little more than a fund-raising hustle for the state GOP, and even though the presidential candidates who have scored well in the straw poll generally don’t wind up in the White House unless they have a visitor’s pass.

But Giuliani isn’t skipping out because he thinks the August event is phony. It’s strictly a political decision. He knows that rival Mitt Romney is making a serious financial and organizational bid to “win” the non-binding skirmish, and that his own standing in Iowa is weak, in part because the conservatives who dominate the GOP caucuses might be wary of his liberal views on social issues. He figures that it’d be smart to just de-emphasize Iowa and focus on the big states that are voting early next year (Florida, New York, California). And that means skipping the straw poll – a ballyhooed prelude to the winter Iowa caucuses – and thus pre-spinning a Romney “victory” as meaningless. (John McCain decided yesterday that he would skip the straw poll, as well.)

Giuliani advisor Jim Nussle, an Iowan, told reporters yesterday, “It’s not a serious event in the grand scheme of picking a nominee.” Obviously, he was aiming at Romney, but he had the added advantage of being accurate. He said that the straw poll “is not a demographic cross-section of the state,” which sounds about right, given the fact that the event typically attracts two percent of all registered Republican Iowa voters.

By tradition, the winner is the candidate who can most effectively buy the most votes. That is literally how it works. Any Iowan who wants to show up and participate must first pay a $30 fee to the Iowa GOP, but that never happens – because the candidates always vie to pick up the tabs. The candidates also provide free bus service to the event, held in the town of Ames. The candidates also spend up to $3 million apiece to ply their “voters” with food and drink and all manner of apolitical allure – swing dancers, skeet shooters, barbecuers, celebrity crooners, you name it. As I recall about the ’99 event, candidate Orrin Hatch brought in Vic Damone to sing on his behalf.

But what I remember best about ’99 was that the Iowans were very happy with self-funding candidate Steve Forbes, because Forbes had installed air conditioning inside his hospitality tent. He was the only candidate who had AC. He also bankrolled the equivalent of a small amusement park for the kiddies. Sure enough, he finished a strong second in the straw poll – a fact that ultimately meant nothing, because he was virtually gone from the race once the real voting began six months later. In the competition to become the chief alternative to candidate George W. Bush, Forbes was quickly eclipsed that winter by John McCain…who didn’t bother to show up at the ’99 straw poll, dismissing it as a “sham” and a “financial arms race.”

Elizabeth Dole showed up for the ’99 straw poll. Remember her candidacy? It peaked on that hot summer day. She finished third in the tally (14 percent of the purchased votes), and everyone started buzzing about the possibility of a serious female contender. But she was gone by autumn, after it became obvious that Bush was vacuuming up most of the serious donor money.

The history of the Iowa straw poll is replete with stuff like that. The senior George Bush won the first event, in 1979, beating Ronald Reagan – but it was the latter who won the 1980 primaries, with Bush as the junior player on the ticket. Care to guess who won the 1987 straw poll? That would be Pat Robertson, the Christian conservative leader, who apparently had no clout with God when the real voting began in the winter of ’88. And the big news of the 1995 straw poll was that Phil Gramm, the Texas senator, finished in a tie for first place. Yet within six months, Gramm’s candidacy was history.

George W. Bush is the only GOP nominee to ever win the Iowa straw poll – he won 31 percent of the purchased votes in 1999 – but he was already viewed that summer as the prohibitive frontrunner. The ’08 race is far more competitive, unusually so for the GOP, and Romney would have been able to spin an August victory more convincingly if his two chief rivals had chosen to join the circus.

Romney is trying to spin it, nevertheless. The meaningless vote tally is still two months away, but a Romney spokesman offered this yesterday: “Campaigns that have decided to abandon Ames are likely doing so out of a recognition that their organizations are outmatched and their message falls flat with Republican voters in Iowa. It looks as if we just beat those campaigns in Iowa two months earlier than we had planned on beating them."

Whatever. As the New York columnist Jimmy Breslin once wrote, "All political power is primarily an illusion...Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors...The ability to create the illusion of power, to use mirrors and blue smoke, is one found in unusual people."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The politics of selective piety

I believe that all of us in this room are the unique creations of a God who knows us and loves us and who created us for His own purpose.

I believe that we are created in the image of God for a particular purpose. And I believe that with all my heart….I am fully convinced there’s a God of the universe that loves us very much…

I believe in God, believe in the Bible, I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe God created man in His image.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the hand of God was in what we are today. And I do believe that we are unique, and I believe that God loves us.

We have great gifts in this country that come to us from God.

Excerpts from a Sunday church sermon? Heck, no. Those are excerpts from last night’s 10-candidate Republican presidential debate.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with bringing religion into the public square, and, besides, those five white guys (Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani, respectively) are vying with the other five white guys for the primary season votes of conservative Christians. The problem is, many Americans take a dim view of politicians who wear their piety on their sleeves – especially when these politicians proceed to selectively apply their moral values in ways that are less than saintly.

Consider, for instance, the discussion last night about the role of gays in the military. We may all be God’s creatures, but apparently some creatures are less equal than others, even at a time when everyone is presumably needed to fight the terrorists. So sayeth Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani’s candidacy hinges on whether he can play the 9/11 card and convince Americans that he’s the strong man who can best protect them from the terrorists “who want to kill us all.” One might thus assume that, during this national emergency, he would welcome all Americans into the fight to save our civilization. But he does not.

Last night, host Wolf Blitzer asked: “Mayor Giuliani, recently we’ve learned that several talented, trained linguists — Arabic speakers, Farsi speakers, Urdu speakers, trained by the U.S. government to learn those languages to help us in the war on terrorism — were dismissed from the military because they announced they were gays or lesbians. Is that, in your mind, appropriate?"

And Giuliani replied that the dismissals were appropriate, and that he would not change the current rules. He said, “This is not the time to deal with disruptive issues like this…At a time of war, you don’t make fundamental changes like this.”

Hang on…Isn’t “a time of war” precisely the right time to allow all of God’s creatures to pitch in, especially (in Giuliani’s formulation) when western Christian values are being threatened by global jihadists? Reports indicate that as many as 10,000 service members, including hundreds of language specialists, have already been dismissed by the military because they were openly gay. Is it really Christian, or even pragmatically wise, to undercut the war on terror in this fashion?

Yes, everybody on stage said.

For instance, Mitt Romney heartily agreed with Giuliani, even though (big surprise!) Romney felt very differently when he was running for office in Massachusetts back in 1994. Back then, Romney said gays should be allowed to serve openly and honestly (apparently, at the time, he felt that his stance was totally consistent with his religious piety). But today, it’s a different story: “This is not the time to put in place a major change, a social experiment, in the middle of a war going on. I wouldn’t change it at this point. We can look at down the road. But it does seem to me that we have much bigger issues as a nation we ought to be talking about than that policy right now.”

There are “bigger issues” than rallying all hands to fight the war on terror? Never mind, let’s move on.

Other moral values include recognizing the difference between right and wrong; recognizing that lying is wrong; respecting the rule of law. But somehow, those values were in abeyance last night when then Republican candidates were asked their opinion about the convicted felon who was formerly employed as Dick Cheney’s top guy.

Scooter Libby was tagged with a 30-month stint in the slammer yesterday – the federal judge, who had been appointed to his job by President Bush, said there was “overwhelming evidence” of Libby’s guilt on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice – but somehow that didn’t mean much to the Republican candidates.

With the exception of fringe candidate Tom Tancredo, they didn’t recommend that Bush pardon Libby, but they were outraged nonetheless at the way Libby has been treated. Giuliani, in particular, complained that “there was no underlying crime involved,” because nobody had been prosecuted for any leak of classified information in the Valerie Plame case, and some of his rivals agreed (“The basic crime here didn’t happen,” said Brownback).

So here’s the Republican bible on selective morality: If a high official of a Republican administration lies under oath and obstructs justice in order to impede a national security investigation, and to prevent a prosecutor from even determining whether an “underlying crime” had been committed,” that’s perfectly fine. But if a Democratic president lies under oath to impede a sex investigation (even when there was no underlying crime, since the sex with Monica Lewinsky was consensual, no illegal), those are sufficient grounds for throwing the president out of office – because, after all, perjury for any reason is not only wrong, it is also a violation of “the rule of law.”

Indeed, the candidates lavished more Christian charity on Scooter Libby than on Bush. At one point last night, several (but, regrettably, not all of them) were asked: “How would you use George W. Bush in your administration?”

The replies were priceless. Tommy Thompson tried a quip: “I certainly would not send him to the United Nations.” This didn’t go over too well with the Republicans in the audience; some laughed awkwardly, while others gagged, sounding like the mob guy who Silvio strangled the other night on The Sopranos. Apparently it was bad form to acknowledge the damage that Bush has done to our international standing.

But Thompson wasn’t through yet. He said of Bush, “I would put him out on a lecture series, talking to the youth of America” about “honesty” and “integrity.” That seemed to calm the audience, but it probably triggered the gag reflex among those viewers (actually, the majority of Americans) who now believe that Bush deliberately mislead America into war.

Brownback treated the question as if it was a live grenade: “Well, I would talk with him about it first and I would ask him about it. I think he would probably take a position the way his dad did, saying, you know, I think ‘you need to have your time in the limelight.’” Then he suggested that Bush perhaps could help “if you have a tragedy overseas.” And then he employed the GOP’s all-purpose exit strategy: He attacked Bill Clinton. Apparently Clinton, as a former president, has inappropriately “injected himself a lot more on policy issues” than he should have, although Brownback didn’t bother to name any.

Later in the debate, when Brownback was asked to name Bush's biggest mistake, he uttered one word - "spending" - then he cut and ran by changing the subject, and talking about his interest in "ending deaths by cancer in 10 years." Romney answered the same question about Bush by smoothly seguing into - you guessed it - the GOP's other all-purpose exit strategy: "Ronald Reagan had a vision for where he was going to take America..."

We’ll have another eight or nine months of these kinds of debates, until the primary season is essentially over. But nobody would suggest that God decreed this extended calendar. No, this is entirely man’s handiwork.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

He who shall not be named

The Republican White House hopefuls are due back in the limelight tonight, debating this time in New Hampshire, and it’s a good bet that few of them will make even a passing reference to the lame-duck Republican president whose performance failures have become a drag on their 2008 political prospects.

Let’s set the stage by bringing in some outside voices. Start with this quote:

“What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom – a sense that they didn’t invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him…that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don’t need hacks.”

That’s the verdict on George W. Bush, courtesy of famed Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who worked for Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush, and who worked for the son in 2004. She wrote at length last week about his “incompetence” and
“the depth of the mishandling and misjudgments of Iraq,” but you get the idea.

Actually, Noonan is particularly incensed about President Bush’s shoddy treatment of his conservative critics. Many members of the increasingly fragile GOP coalition have strongly attacked Bush’s path-to-citizenship immigration bill, and, in response, he has impugned their patriotism. Last week, Bush said that opponents of his immigration bill “don’t want to do what’s right for America.” Bush surrogates have intimated the same thing.

Noonan is nonplused: “Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens? And often, though not exclusively, (of) concerned conservatives?” My response to that is: Welcome to the club, Peggy. For years, Bush and his surrogates have suggested that they alone have a monopoly on the national interest, and that those who disagree with them are ipso facto threats to the national interest. (Bush, referring to his Senate Democratic critics in 2002, said that they were “not interested in the security of the American people.”) It’s only now, apparently, that Noonan and other mainstream Republicans have fully come to appreciate the Bush team’s signature arrogance.

But enough about Noonan. Here’s another prominent voice, from this past weekend, addressing Bush’s record on competence:

“I don’t think that (Bush) drives implementation or looks at the reality (of what) he’s trying to implement…And I think that’s why you ended up with ‘Brownie, you’re doing a great job,’ when it was obvious to the entire country at Katrina that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had collapsed and was not capable of doing any job at that point.” And the same problems plague the Iraq war: “Now, you look at the ruthlessness, the aggressiveness, the energy that we put into that war, and here we are 5.5 years after 9/11, and the fact is I would argue we’re losing the war around the world with Islamist extremists and they are, in fact, gaining ground.”

That’s the verdict on Bush, courtesy of…Newt Gingrich, speaking on Fox News. He’s urging the ’08 candidates (and himself as well, perhaps) to “confront the reality” that Bush has become the GOP’s Jimmy Carter, in terms of national unpopularity. He thinks that the ’08 candidates should separate themselves from Bush by running against his record – not by dissing Bush personally, but by campaigning “in favor of radically changing Washington and radically changing government.”

(Incidentally, let’s repeat the last part of that Gingrich quote: “I would argue we’re losing the war around the world with Islamist extremists…” How come nobody at the Republican National Committee, or at the Bush White House, is assailing his comment about America “losing”? If Harry Reid or Michael Moore had said such a thing, one can only imagine what the GOP message machine would be saying today.)

But enough on Gingrich. Let’s bring in one final voice, somebody who wishes that the GOP candidates would stop already with their invocations of Reagan:

“We feel, If only we had another Ronald Reagan! If only we could find a consistent small-government tax-cutter who is also sincerely and consistently socially conservative! If only we could find a candidate who exudes both strength and good cheer, traditionalism and optimism! And so we demand from our candidates ever more fervent declarations of fealty to an ideology that interests an ever-dwindling proportion of the public. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but those hopes are delusions. In every way we can measure, the voting public is moving away from the kind of conservatism we know as Reaganism.” And unless GOP candidates recognize this, and instead offer something "fresh and compelling,” doom awaits them: “All the stars are lined up for a horrible Republican defeat in 2008.”

That’s the political forecast, courtesy of David Frum…the conservative commentator and ex-Bush speechwriter who helped coin the term “axis of evil.”

No wonder the ’08 GOP hopefuls are struggling to pluck the right chords. Can they somehow talk about a new Republican future, without implicitly dissing He Who Shall Not Be Named? That’s their task again tonight. They have no other option. As GOP analyst Rich Galen reportedly said the other day about Bush, “There is an exhaustion. People are tired of defending him.”

Monday, June 04, 2007

Do Hillary's voters care about 2002?

Hillary Clinton probably “won” the second Democratic presidential debate last night. She uttered no damaging gaffes that might have imperiled her ’08 frontrunner status; she sounded crisp and concise (even while uttering semi-truths); she floated above the fray, refusing to accept underdog John Edwards’ invitation to duke it out; she even took charge of the debate itself, in the closing moments, when she told CNN host Wolf Blitzer that his questions about hypothetical future crises were essentially irresponsible.

But, on certain substantive matters, some of her remarks still didn’t pass the smell test.

As I mentioned here last Friday, she is vulnerable to the charge that she failed to perform due diligence before she voted in 2002 to give President Bush the option to invade Iraq. During that fateful autumn, she didn’t bother to read the latest National Intelligence Estimate, a classified document available to all senators, which clearly indicated that Bush’s case against Saddam Hussein was far from a slam dunk. According to the NIE, many dissenting experts in the intelligence community were strongly questioning the White House claims that Hussein was in close cahoots with al Qaeda, and that he was poised to attack America with mass weaponry.

During the debate last night, Clinton was asked whether she regrets her failure to read that 90-page document. She replied: “I was thoroughly briefed, I knew all the arguments. I knew all of what the Department of Defense, the CIA, and the State Department were all saying. I sought out dissenting opinions.” She then tried to pivot, blaming the war on Bush and on the Iraqis “who have failed to take advantage” of the “opportunity” to build a democracy.

Blitzer then asked again whether she regretted her failure to read the NIE document. Her second reply might sound familiar: “I feel like I was totally briefed. I knew all the arguments that were being made by everyone from all directions.”

But if she indeed “knew all the arguments,” even without bothering to read the NIE, then why did she endorse the drumbeat for war - at a time when there was abundant expert evidence that the White House was hyping its case? (Clinton, Oct. 10, 2002: “I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt.”)

Some antiwar liberal primary voters might well be asking themselves that question today. But she has an answer for that as well. Sort of.

She contended last night (reprising one of her old lines) that she actually didn’t endorse a war when she voted Yes back in 2002. Rather, she insisted that she voted Yes on the expectation that Bush would first pursue further diplomatic options – such as building more international support for the idea of sending U.N. inspectors back into Iraq. But she said that Bush snookered her by moving swiftly to the war option; as she argued last night, “What was wrong is the way this president misused the authority that some of us gave him, and that has been a tragedy.”

But her argument contained a key flaw. The ’02 war resolution did not contain any language that would have compelled Bush to pursue further diplomatic options; rather, it permitted the Decider to decide on his own whether “further diplomatic or other peaceful means…will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

So whatever Hillary might have thought she was endorsing (especially in hindsight) was not covered in the actual text. Indeed, when she had an opportunity, during the ’02 debate, to truly an endorse diplomatic language, she voted no. Some Democratic senators floated an amendment that would have specifically required Bush to pursue more diplomacy, and, if diplomacy failed, Bush then would have been required to ask Congress for a separate war resolution. Only 24 senators voted for this amendment. Clinton was not one of them.

Fortunately for Clinton, however, none of her top rivals last night pointed out these flaws in her arguments. Perhaps that would have been tough to do in a sound bite, anyway. Edwards, who badly needs to pry Democratic primary voters away from Clinton, might have been the guy to try it, but was not well positioned to zap her on the NIE report - because, as he acknowledged last night, he didn’t read it either before casting his own Yes vote.

Edwards did try to skewer Clinton for another war vote. Last month, she and Barack Obama decided - for the first time - to oppose an Iraq war funding bill, clearly in response to pressure from the liberal party base. Since Edwards couldn’t attack them for their actual votes (because he agrees with them), he opted to attack them for the way they cast their votes. They did so very quietly, at the eleventh hour. So, at the debate last night, Edwards complained, “(They) didn’t say anything about how they were going to vote until they appeared on the floor of the Senate…They were among the last people to vote.” In Edwards’ view, their behavior demonstrated that they don’t have the guts to lead; or, as he put it, “it’s the difference between leading and following.”

Edwards would have loved it if Clinton had risen to the bait and taken him on, but she smartly allowed Obama to do the job. And he did. Despite his early reputation as a guy who disdains traditional political pugilism, he can obviously box when necessary. In response to Edwards’ taunt on the funding vote, he quickly noted that, while Edwards as a senator was voting Yes on the war in 2002, he, Obama, was already speaking out against a U.S. invasion. Addressing Edwards directly, he said: “I opposed this war from the start. So you were about four and a half years late on this issue.”

(Edwards kept hitting the “leadership” theme all night, arguing that “it is the job of the president of the United States…to lead.” Yet when he was asked at one point whether he could support the concept of gay marriage, he chose not to lead. He punted by saying that it was up to the states to decide.)

Anyway, Clinton’s Iraq war record, and her fact-challenged responses last night, probably won’t hurt her much, except among the most dedicated antiwar liberal fact-checkers. I sensed this late in the debate, when regular folks in the audience were invited to pose questions. Here’s a sampling:

Why doesn’t my son, who’s serving Iraq, have the right to go to the VA hospital of his choosing? What’s the best way that I can save for my kids’ college education, as well as for my own retirement? What would be on your issue agenda for the first 100 days in office? How could we best handle the humanitarian crisis in Darfur?

In other words, most voters probably agree with Clinton’s argument that it’s a waste of time to “argue the past.” They’re far more focused on the future. If her rivals are going to take her down, they won’t do it by re-fighting the events, and miscalculations, of 2002.