NPR host Michele Norris asserted that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has “been less than direct in explaining” her 2002 vote to authorize the use of force against Iraq, and Dan Rather claimed that Clinton “wants to have one position for the primaries and the caucuses, and then ... in the general election campaign, be more middle of the road.” In fact, Clinton has explained her vote, saying, “I've ... made it very clear that if we had known then what we know now, there would never have been a vote and I never would have voted for it. But from my perspective, you know, you don't get do-overs in life.” She also said, “I take responsibility for my vote. ... I have to say, if the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from.”
On the February 25 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, NPR host Michele Norris asserted that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) would face difficulties in the 2008 presidential campaign because she has “been less than direct in explaining” her 2002 vote to “authorize the use of U.S. Armed Forces against Iraq.” HDNet host Dan Rather claimed that Clinton “wants to have one position for the primaries and the caucuses, and then be available, be open, to -- in the general election campaign, be more middle of the road,” presumably on the war. Norris said that having multiple positions, as Rather baselessly asserted, would be “difficult ... [b]ecause voters, at this point, are looking, if anything, for conviction.”
Norris did not explain what she meant in asserting that Clinton had been “less than direct in explaining her vote” and provided no evidence to back up her accusation. In fact, Clinton has repeatedly explained her vote. For example, on the January 23 edition of NBC's Today, Clinton said, “I've been one of the most consistent and persistent critics. I've also made it very clear that if we had known then what we know now, there would never have been a vote and I never would have voted for it. But from my perspective, you know, you don't get do-overs in life.” On February 17, she stated in New Hampshire: “I take responsibility for my vote. ... I have to say, if the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from.” On the February 25 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert called Clinton's statement on her 2002 vote "[p]retty straightforward." Washington Post chief political reporter Dan Balz agreed: “It is pretty straightforward, but so far it has not put the question to rest.”
New York Times columnist David Brooks, whom CBS host Bob Schieffer called a “proud conservative” in April 2006, wrote (subscription required) that Clinton's justification for her vote had been consistent:
She delivered her Senate resolution speech on Oct. 10. It was Clintonian in character. On the one hand, she rejected the Bush policy of pre-emptive war. On the other hand, she also rejected the view that the international community ''should only resort to force if and when the United Nations Security Council approves it.'' Drawing on the lessons of Bosnia, she said sometimes the world had to act, even if the big powers couldn't agree.
She sought a third way: more U.N. resolutions, more inspections, more diplomacy, with the threat of force reserved as a last resort. She was triangulating, but the Senate resolution offered her a binary choice. She voted yes in order to give Powell bipartisan leverage at the U.N.
This is how she's always explained that vote, and I confess that until now, I've regarded her explanation as a transparent political dodge. Didn't everyone know this was a war resolution? But now, having investigated her public comments, I think diplomatic leverage really was on her mind.
Media Matters for America has noted that media reports have misleadingly juxtaposed quotations to create the false impression that Clinton has been inconsistent on the war. For instance, as Media Matters noted, on the February 12 edition of ABC's Nightline, ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper juxtaposed Clinton's September 15, 2002, comment that she could “support an action against Saddam Hussein because I think it's in the long-term interest of our national security,” with this February 11, 2007, statement: “I gave [President Bush] authority to send inspectors back in to determine the truth. And I said this is not a vote to authorize pre-emptive war.” However, on October 10, 2002 -- the day before the Senate approved the Iraq resolution -- Clinton delivered a Senate floor statement in which she voiced several assumptions regarding how the Bush administration would proceed, including that full inspections would occur and that the United States would not engage in “any new doctrine of pre-emption.”
From the February 25 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:
RATHER: And there's danger for Hillary because, you know, this argument, “Well, is she a hawk, is she a dove?” -- she has to be careful not to come across as a chickenhawk.
MATTHEWS: Well, what does that mean?
RATHER: Well, what that means is trying to have it both ways.
MATTHEWS: Well, that -- here's the question. This week, she attacked her Democratic opponents in saying, “There's some people running for president,” Michele, “who don't really think terrorism is a problem.” Who's she talking about?
NORRIS: Oh, I think she's talking about almost every other person --
NORRIS: -- in the race right now, and probably Obama is, too, but.
MATTHEWS: But that puts her over in the [Sen. Joe] Lieberman [CT] position of being more hawkish. Does she want to get over there?
NORRIS: I think what -- the challenge that she's going to face, and she's told America, “I want to have a conversation with you.” But when the conversation turns to war, she's been less than direct in explaining her vote. And if this comes to pass -- it's not necessarily what she does in the chamber, it's what she says on the campaign, because those questions are going to keep coming at her again and again and again.
RATHER: Well, they --
MATTHEWS: And this won't get her off it -- this revote?
NORRIS: I'm not sure that it will.
RATHER: But, you know, Chris, that part of what her problem is that she has to appear at least slightly to the left to get the nomination, but she's thinking to get the nomination, then in the general election, so she wants to have one position for the primaries and the caucuses, and then be available, be open to -- in the general election campaign -- be more middle of the road. That's a --
MATTHEWS: That's a pivot.
RATHER: -- difficult line to vote. But if anybody can walk it, a Clinton can.
MATTHEWS: Well, Bill did that in '92. Bill did that in '92. He put himself in a position where he was for the war enough to be for it.
RATHER: Well, you can bet she's reading his playbook on that.
NORRIS: But, boy, is that difficult. Because I would think that voters, at this point, are looking, if anything, for conviction.