Hillary Digs Her Foxhole

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton likes to point out that her eight years in the White House have given her a measure of political experience that her rivals for the Democratic nomination can’t match. But time served in the White House can cut both ways, and when it comes to her ongoing defense of her 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq War, Mrs. Clinton has been acting more like an embattled President than a Presidential candidate.

Last week, Mrs. Clinton dug herself in deeper, saying that she would never call her Iraq vote a mistake and that those who didn’t like it—well, they can just vote for someone else. “If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote, or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from,” she said in New Hampshire. At a time when there are indeed significant “others to choose from,” such as Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards, Mrs. Clinton might not want to go around bluffing like that.

On the question of Iraq, Mrs. Clinton has been reactive instead of responsive, appearing mechanical and calculated, with an eye for political expediency—voters are assumed to want a “tough” candidate in the 2008 general election—over principle. Such poll-driven politicking is one of the qualities that people fear most about Mrs. Clinton. Democrats have been particularly distressed, as Mrs. Clinton seems more concerned with winning Republican votes in a general election than with engaging in a meaningful dialogue with her own party over this heart-wrenching and bloody war. Because of this, her candidacy has been unable to tap into the enormous reservoir of energy and talent that drives the Democratic Party.

Furthermore, who’s to say that voters in the general election—Republicans and Democrats alike—will embrace a candidate who has proven his or her “toughness” by standing by a vote in favor of this war? Most Americans believe that the war was a mistake, and that fighting terrorism did not require a U.S. invasion of Iraq or the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, this tragic and fruitless war has diverted hundreds of billions of dollars from what could have been a more effective pursuit of Al Qaeda. Instead, as American counterterrorism officials revealed this week, Al Qaeda has reinvigorated much of its worldwide terror network and has set up new training camps near the Afghan border, under the direction of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Meanwhile over 3,000 American soldiers have lost their lives, and tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens have been murdered, their families destroyed, while a raging civil war shows no sign of abating, and radical Islamic forces in Afghanistan and Iran are gaining money and recruits.

The invasion of Iraq has been the single worse foreign-policy decision in recent history. Mrs. Clinton has nothing to lose by doing what every adult does when he or she makes a mistake: admit it, and move on.

But that’s not her game plan. “She wants to maintain a firmness, and I think a lot of people around her hope she maintains a firmness,” one of her advisors told The New York Times this week. “That’s what people will want in 2008.”

Well, maybe if they’re shopping for a mattress. But this is a Presidential race, and voters want a flesh-and-blood candidate whose judgment they can trust—not one who’s afraid to admit being wrong, especially when it’s the right thing to do.

Cuomo Carves a Niche

A half-century after millions of gallons of oil were spilled in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is preparing legal action to force the polluters—most prominently Exxon Mobil—to clean up their mess. It’s regrettable that such action needs to be taken; it’s commendable that Mr. Cuomo has chosen this issue to flex his new powers.

The environmental mess in Greenpoint and in Newtown Creek, a filthy body of water that separates Brooklyn and Queens near the East River, began as an accidental spill in the 1950’s. The disaster wasn’t discovered, however, until 1978. Four companies reportedly have been cooperating in a clean-up effort. But Exxon Mobil has been resisting, and is the main target of Mr. Cuomo’s pending action.

Mr. Cuomo succeeded Eliot Spitzer as State Attorney General less than two months ago. A newcomer to elective office but hardly a political novice, Mr. Cuomo knew he had rather large shoes to fill. Mr. Spitzer, after all, gained global fame as New York’s attorney general with his campaign against corporate fraud and corruption.

It speaks well of the new attorney general’s judgment that he hasn’t attempted to overshadow or try to outdo Mr. Spitzer, who was promoted to Governor in November. Instead, Mr. Cuomo has an opportunity to refashion the office of the attorney general in his own image, with his own priorities.

If the environment is to be one of Mr. Cuomo’s signature issues—and we hope it is—he will have no shortage of crusades to launch. Polluters have had their way in New York for far too long—the debacle over the PCB’s that General Electric left in the Hudson River remains an ongoing story, and the Greenpoint oil spill is some 50 years old. If Mr. Cuomo emphasizes environmental protection and toxic cleanups, he will put his office and his powers on the side of all New Yorkers.

The Brooklyn-Queens waterfront might someday become a residential and recreational jewel, a magnet for new development. Mr. Cuomo’s lawsuit would be a huge step in that direction. Editorials