Debra J. Saunders
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CARSON CITY, Nev. -- A sorta kinda presidential debate in February 2007? At least this beats covering Anna Nicole Smith and undergoing a root canal. Or after 20 months, will the 2008 campaign season feel like a root canal?

Before the event, I thought Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, D-swim trunks, was smart not to show up at the Nevada AFSCME-sponsored Democratic presidential forum here Wednesday. Play a little hard to get and voters may not get so tired of you -- and with that long of a campaign season, people will tire of anyone.

Obama should have shown up. If Obama, who says he would have voted against the war in Iraq, had been here, he would have been able to talk straight to this crowd in a way that senators who voted for the war resolution cannot.

Personally, I don't understand how these candidates -- Sens. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Christopher Dodd, and John Edwards -- can talk with a straight face.

Both Clinton and Edwards made a big deal about taking "responsibility" for their war votes. And how do they take responsibility? By running for the highest office in the land. Go figure.

Edwards told moderator George Stephanopoulos: "I voted for this war. I was wrong to vote for this war. I should never have voted for this war. I take responsibility for that" -- and he blames no one, except he keeps mentioning George W. Bush.

Seconds later, Edwards added that America needs a leader who is "honest, open and decent" when it's hard to figure what is decent about wrongly voting for a war.

And, "I think I was the first, at least close to being the first, to say very publicly that I was wrong." Are Americans supposed to be impressed that he was among the first politicians to backpedal?

Clinton is a good campaigner and she knows how to hit the right buttons when addressing the base. Ergo, "I'm in to win." But I didn't buy it when she explained her support for the Iraq war resolution as "a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances I had at the time. And I have taken responsibility for my vote." How is she taking responsibility? By asking voters for a promotion.

It doesn't help that Clinton was married to a president who air bombed Iraq, which means she should have had a strong sense -- not to mention her genius husband's expertise -- about the threat posed by Iraq. She is the last person who should claim to have been misled by Bush.

Biden and Dodd also said they were wrong to vote for the war. That didn't stop Biden from warning Democrats that they need to pick someone with his credentials because President Bush will leave the country in such a mess that the next president will have "no margin for error."

No margin for error? So vote for the guy who wrongly voted for war? Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, glibly observed, "You know, it must be really tough for candidates for president to come before the American people and to complain that they were tricked, deceived and misled by George Bush.

"Well," he deadpanned, "here's one person who wasn't." Kucinich noted that he saw "the same information all these other candidates saw," and he voted against the war resolution.

Kucinich may call the war "the occupation," and his proposal for America to pay reparations to Iraqi families isn't likely to play well with the average voter, but at least he's not saying: I wrongly voted for the war, make me your leader.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel also argued against the war. And while I disagree with their position -- I still support the war -- I can respect their clarity on the issue.

I cannot respect senators who voted for a war, then walked away from it when public support deflated. At a press meeting after he made his formal remarks, Edwards told reporters, "We have too many politicians and not enough leaders."

No lie.

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Debra J. Saunders


 
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