In the fall of 2005, John Edwards sat down with a pad and pen and scrawled out three simple words: "I was wrong." It was nearly three years after he'd joined a Senate majority in voting to authorize war in Iraq. After an unsuccessful run as John Kerry's vice presidential candidate in the 2004 election, Edwards had returned home to North Carolina and watched as the war descended into chaos. Increasingly filled with regret, he concluded that the three-word confession would be the right way to start a Washington Post op-ed admitting his vote was a mistake.
But when a draft came back from his aides in Washington, Edwards's admission was gone. Determined, the senator reinserted the sentence. Again a draft came back from Washington; again the sentence had been taken out. "We went back and forth, back and forth," Edwards tells NEWSWEEK. "They didn't want me to say it. They were saying I should stress that I'd been misled." The opening sentence remained. "That was the single most important thing for me to say," Edwards recalls. "I had to show how I really feel." […]
Edwards's new commitment to authenticity may have real roots: in 2004, the candidate learned the hard way that too much caution can be fatal. When the Kerry campaign faltered, Edwards and his wife were convinced that a broad swath of competing consultants, offering conflicting advice, were largely to blame. "Consultants can make it hard to tell the truth," Edwards says. "They want you to be so cautious it makes it hard to say anything." Aides, who didn't want to be named discussing their boss's internal thinking, say he walked away from 2004 convinced that only strong, centralized decision making works in presidential campaigns.[…]
Aides saw a new confidence in Edwards after he publicly repudiated his war vote in November 2005.
(h/t to Atrios, who notes, "I think it's pretty clear to most of us that the primary reason Edwards as much traction as he is getting is because of 3 little words.")
It's a telling image: Edwards, sitting in North Carolina, watching that bit of honest and painful self-examination--too blunt and unambiguous to be reinterpreted later as political events might require--get dropped like a grenade every time he allowed it to be touched by people back inside I-495.
There's a world of difference between saying "I was wrong, and I take responsibility for that," and saying "I was wrong--and it's all George Bush's fault." (Hillary, I'm looking at you.)
(Typically, Newsweek doesn't bring up the Edwards story in order to consider the ways in which the political establishment--including not only the oversight-averse Congress but also Newsweek's own corporate cousins at NBC like Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell--were much more willing collaborators than honest victims in the dishonest setup to Bush's War. Instead, the incident is included as part of an attempt to raise the silly question of whether Edwards' "new authenticity" is authentic, whatever that means.)
Speaking of Hillary, Kos has a post this morning on HRC's "Iraq problem," and wraps up with this not-even-remotely-conciliatory peroration:
I have no interest in giving a pass to those Democrats who aided and abetted Bush's mistakes, and I especially have no interest in giving a pass to those who demonstrate Bushian inability to offer self-reflection and admit that mistake. It's not a question of offering an "apology". I want acknowledgment of past mistakes.
These Democrats didn't just enable Bush's war, they sat by and let the Right Wing smear machine attack those of us who waged our lonely battles to prevent this disaster from happening. And while most of the candidates in the field have come around, Hillary remains the notable exception.
Those who have admitted their mistakes are now free to train their sights on the GOP. It doesn't absolve them from their terrible judgment, but it mitigates it. While it's best to not make a mistake in the first place, it's even worse to compound that mistake by refusing to come to terms with it.
Clinton doesn't have that. And what's worse, she has pretty much lost the window of opportunity to do so. After resisting for so long, she finds herself in the thick of the presidential primary (yes, even a year out) with no room to maneuver. If she suddenly reverses course and decides that yes, she'll take personal responsibility for her vote, it'll feed into the strongest anti-Hillary narrative -- that she's a panderer and will say what is most politically expedient at the moment.
It's a sad state of affairs, but Hillary has made her bed.
Kos makes a good point, by the way, that those congressional Democrats who supported the war also stood silently by while those Americans who got it right four years ago were called traitors, America-haters, terrorist-lovers, betrayers of our troops, and so on and on. The consequences of that are something for them to consider carefully, now that they're courting those same citizens' votes as candidates.