Monday, February 12, 2007

The End of the World as We Know It: I Agree With Robert Novak on Something

You know it’s the end of the world as we know it when I agree with Washington Post columnist Robert Novak about anything. But in his column today, he’s spot on in his analysis of why both Hollywood’s elite billionaire donors, like Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and Stephen Spielberg, as well as rank and file Democratic activists around the country, are so wary of Hillary Clinton.

Here’s his astounding comparison of Clinton and one of her opponents, John Edwards:

“What's wrong with Clinton was demonstrated by the Feb. 4 performance on NBC's "Meet the Press" of a competitor, former senator John Edwards, who displayed the qualities she lacks. He took firm positions and admitted error, in contrast to Clinton's careful parsing. It followed his virtuoso performance at the Democratic National Committee meeting two days earlier that overshadowed Clinton's speech there. Comparing Clinton and Edwards, one longtime observer of the Democratic scene called it "caution versus courage."
His analysis of the difference in style and substance between Clinton and Edwards is spot on. Where Hillary cautiously parses every word, every action, and every position, Edwards has already come out with a bold plan for universal health care, admitted that it would mean raising taxes on the wealthy, and stated the plan’s costs. In addition, he declared that he was wrong on Iraq and his vote for the war was a mistake that he regretted.

To be sure, Novak isn’t completely kind to Edwards. He points out that in 2004, Edwards started out as a Southern centrist in the mold of Jimmy Carter. According to Novak, when Edwards saw that it wasn’t working, he recast himself as “a leftwing populist.”

Novak thinks that many Democrats are as uncomfortable with Edwards as they are with Clinton because they consider Edwards a shallow trial lawyer. Indeed Novak believes the true beneficiary of Clinton’s early stumbles and disappointments will be Barack Obama.

While this might be true – only time will tell – the most important point of Robert Novak’s column is the contrast between Edwards, the courageous, and Clinton, the cautious. That’s his characterization, not mine.

Still, it’s an accurate take on the difference between those two, and it deeply disturbs me that Hillary can’t just come out and admit she made a mistake.

Like Novak, and like the Democratic activists he cites, I’m seeing a politician who wants it both ways. She wants to neutralize the anti-war sentiment among voters by blaming the way Bush handled the war, but she doesn’t want to admit that the war, itself, was a mistake in the first place.

The most troubling aspect of this is that Hillary is a woman who doesn’t like to admit that she made an error at all. She’s got a stubborn streak. And that reminds me all too much of somebody else who would rather go it alone than say those magic words, “I made a mistake, I’m sorry. Now, how can we correct this together?”

An admission like that doesn’t make you weaker. Indeed, it’s requisite to being a strong and credible leader.

Since Barack Obama wasn’t wrong about Iraq and hasn’t been around long enough to have cast an embarrassing vote on anything (and trust me, if you stay in elective office long enough, you’ll have some vote or some statement you’d like to kick yourself around the block for), it’s hard to know how he’d handle a situation where he had to admit he was wrong. You can’t blame the guy for being right. Or for, so far, being on the side of angels and casting votes that most Democratic activists approve of.

But it’s hard to say if that’s because his judgment is uniformly sterling and prescient or just because he hasn’t been around the block yet.

Since I’m a bit of a contrarian, I believe that everybody screws up sometime. And I want to know how my candidate will handle it when he or she does. And that’s something I already know about John Edwards and also, unfortunately, about Hillary Clinton.