Hill's Weak Spot -- She's Senator Stubborn

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

2/18/2007 12:01:51 AM - Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Hillary Clinton.

The New York senator is not used to being challenged on either her policy positions or her votes - especially when it comes to Iraq. For the last six years, she's operated in a protective bubble - insulated from the press and the voters.

Those days are over.

Since she entered the presidential race two weeks ago, she's learned quickly that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire - and most likely in the rest of the country - want truthful answers and won't accept scripted spin.

During the last week, wherever Hillary Clinton campaigned, she faced one dogged question that wouldn't go away: "Are you sorry for your 2002 vote in favor of invading Iraq?"

But try as they might, neither reporters nor voters can pry the "S" word out of Hillary. She refuses to apologize for voting to authorize the use of our military.

Instead, she repeats that she "takes responsibility" for her vote and that had she "known then what I know now," she would have voted against the resolution. She reiterates that she doesn't believe in "do-overs" and even tries to persuade her listeners that she never meant to vote for "pre-emptive war" and that she was actually voting to strengthen the weapons inspectors.

Iraq is not her mistake; it's President's Bush's mistake. End of story.

But the questions persist. So, why has she chosen to take on an unnecessary fight about whether to apologize for a vote she cast five years ago? Her fellow candidate John Edwards and 2004's Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, both have used the "S" word and apologized for their votes. Likely her advisers have warned that the perception that she flip-flops on the issues is a key negative and have urged her not to change her position. She doesn't want to look like Kerry in 2004.

But her refusal to apologize is typical of two other characteristics that so frequently land her in trouble: her stubbornness and belief that she is always right.

We've seen this before.

Urged to compromise on health-care reform in 1994, she refused. Counseled by most of her staff to release the Whitewater documents when The Washington Post first requested them, she said no and triggered the designation of a special prosecutor. When Whitewater co-conspirator Jim MacDougal suggested that he buy her out of the investment to avoid political embarrassment, she refused, saying that she planned to use the proceeds for Chelsea's college tuition. When Bill Clinton had the opportunity to settle the Paula Jones lawsuit, Hillary vetoed that possibility, paving the way for her husband's impeachment.

When Hillary takes these positions, she believes that she is right - and no one can convince her otherwise.

When Hillary is right, this stubbornness is commendable. But when she is wrong, it is frustrating to her supporters and infuriating to her advisers.

But there's another reason for her stubbornness. Hillary, for all of her vaunted independence, depends on gurus to guide her every move. She falls under their spell and, while thus mesmerized, she believes they can do no ill or make no mistake.

Hillary wouldn't compromise on health care because her guru-du-jour Ira Magaziner told her not to do so. She wouldn't release the Whitewater records because her former mentor, White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, advised against it. She wouldn't back off her support for the war partially because the generals to whom she had come to listen and admire while serving on the Armed Services Committee warned that it would lead to a disaster. Combine that with the flawed guidance of her pollsters and you see why Hillary is stuck.

Sometimes the gurus are right (as on Iraq). Sometimes they're wrong. But Hillary can't tell the difference.

That's a key reason why she shouldn't be president.