When, in the South Carolina debate, Barack Obama said he would meet with the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran and North Korea in his first year as president, he stepped into a cow pie.
Hillary pounced, declaring that in a Clinton White House, there would be no promised first-year meetings with any dictator or enemy of the United States.
The morning headline in Miami roared that Obama was open to meeting Fidel. In the Jewish community, word was surely being moved that Obama had opened the door to a face-to-face meeting with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust skeptic who has predicted the Israeli state is not long for the Middle East -- and should be transplanted to Europe.
Pundits watching that Citadel debate scored Hillary the winner, contrasting her presidential sobriety with Obama's puppy enthusiasm for talking to tyrants.
Why, then, with press and politicians declaring her the winner, did Hillary Clinton have to step in and clock Obama after she won the fight?
The day after the debate, Hillary said Obama had exposed himself as "irresponsible and naive."
This gave Barack, who had been busy explaining what he had meant, an opening to declare that what was "irresponsible and naive" was Sen. Clinton's vote to give George Bush a blank check to plunge us into a war in Iraq most Democrats have come to believe was the worst strategic blunder in U.S. history.
Instead of Barack's impetuosity being the issue, Hillary's war vote is now front and center, her greatest vulnerability in seeking the nomination of an antiwar party. Her eagerness to exploit Obama's blunder also suggests a lack of serenity and confidence in her double-digit lead over Obama.
In the next debate, Hillary is certain to be put on the defensive about her war vote, and Obama has been liberated, by her throwing the first punch, to hit back hard -- on his strongest issue, the war.
A surprising mistake by Sen. Clinton, who has run something close to a flawless campaign. But there is a more substantive issue here. That is the gravamen of the original question.
Should not the United States be in constant contact with those we see as enemies, to prevent irreconcilable differences from leading us into war? Here, Obama's instincts are not wrong.
During World War II and the Cold War, FDR and Harry Truman met with Josef Stalin. Ike invited the "Butcher of Budapest" for a 10-day tour of the United States and tete-a-tete at Camp David. JFK met Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna -- after he declared, "We will bury you." Richard Nixon went to China and toasted the tyrant responsible for the deaths of thousands of GIs in Korea and greatest mass murderer of the last century, Mao Zedong.