OpinionJournal – Best of the Web Today – November 1, 2007

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REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Hilliam Clinton
November 1, 2007

Editor’s note: James Taranto is on vacation and will return Monday. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy an editorial from today’s Wall Street Journal.

In the 1990s, “Clintonesque” became a by-word for political double-speak. We even became, briefly, a nation of deconstructionists when President Bill Clinton mused on the meaning of “is.”

Such existential questions seemed to be in the past. But with another Clinton running as if she’s all but a sure thing for the White House, Clintonesque is once again becoming a politically relevant adjective. In Tuesday night’s Democratic Presidential debate, the moderators and Hillary Clinton’s fellow panelists took pains to pin her down on one question after another, without notable success. The junior Senator from New York seems increasingly to have adopted her husband’s political methods, minus the savoir-faire. The result is that it’s impossible to know what she believes about anything.

On Iran’s nuclear ambitions, moderator Brian Williams asked a number of the candidates what their “red line” was. As he put it to Barack Obama, “What would make it crystal clear in your mind that” the U.S. “should attack Iran?” When he repeated the question to Senator Clinton, her answer was, in sum, “I think that what we’re trying to do here is put pressure on the Bush Administration.” She added, “we’ve got to rein him in.” And, no, she didn’t mean Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When pressed by Mr. Williams, she clarified, in a way. “We’re not in my view, rushing to war. We should not be doing that. But we shouldn’t be doing nothing.”

A bit later Tim Russert, the other moderator, tried again: “Senator Clinton, would you pledge to the American people that Iran will not develop a nuclear bomb while you are President?”

“I intend to do everything I can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb,” Mrs. Clinton replied, in a formulation that would make her husband proud. “But you won’t pledge?” Mr. Russert asked.

“I am pledging I will do everything I can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb,” Mrs. Clinton repeated. Mr. Russert then tried a third time, with the same ambiguous result.

The question of experience came up repeatedly, and Mrs. Clinton wasn’t shy about citing her time as first lady as a main qualification to be President. She was less forthcoming about the records of her time in the White House, however. Mr. Russert asked: “In order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the President, the advice you gave, because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012?”

Mrs. Clinton’s initial response was to blame the Archives, but Mr. Russert asked whether she would lift her husband’s “ban” on releasing their correspondence. “That’s not my decision to make,” was her reply. Apparently we are supposed to believe that the former President would refuse his wife’s request to release those records if she asked. Even gentle Mr. Obama couldn’t bite his tongue about that one, comparing the episode to the “secretive” Bush Administration.

Senator Clinton was especially clumsy in trying to evade any clear position on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. When asked why, in her words, it “makes a lot of sense” to give licenses to illegals, her first answer sounded like an endorsement. Mr. Spitzer is trying to “fill the vacuum left by the failure of this Administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

But after Senator Chris Dodd disagreed, calling a license a “privilege” not a right, she broke in a moment later to clarify: “I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it.” This prompted Mr. Dodd to interject that her second answer didn’t sound like her first. So Mr. Russert tried again: “Do you support [Mr. Spitzer’s] plan?”

“You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha,” Mrs. Clinton replied. “It [Spitzer’s proposal] makes a lot of sense.” So, she does support it? Unfortunately, she wasn’t done speaking. “Do I think this is the best thing for any Governor to do? No.” At that point, Mr. Williams changed the subject.

The story was similar on taxes and Social Security. On Charlie Rangel’s tax plan, she “agree[s] with the goal” and “admire[s] his willingness to take this on.” It’s just that she doesn’t share that willingness, at least not before she’s in the White House. And on Social Security, she said “I do not advocate” and “do not support” raising Social Security taxes. But she would still “consider” it.

The political strategy is clear enough. Mrs. Clinton wants to roll to her party’s nomination on a tide of “inevitability” while disguising her real agenda as much as possible. But Democratic voters ought to consider whether they want to put all their hopes for retaking the White House on Mrs. Clinton’s ability to obfuscate like her husband without his preternatural talent for it. Aside from lacking her husband’s political gifts, Hillary’s challenge is that we’ve all seen this movie before. And performances like Tuesday’s might be enough to convince voters to opt for a candidate who is his own man.




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