Conviction Versus Expediency: A Quandary

The consensus on the left is that Senator Clinton’s 2002 vote to authorize President Bush to go to war was the top line problem that cost her the nomination. Ezra Klein says (“What Went Wrong?,” Tapped, 4 June 2008),

… among the more heartening and broadly applicable lessons of this campaign is that supporting a misguided, but politically expedient, war in 2002 turns out to have been a serious mistake.

For Matthew Yglesias it has been an ongoing theme, but in his post-Obama-victory analysis he says (“It’s the War,”, 4 June 2008),

At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton had (and has) much more credibility with the liberal base than does the average person who shares her position on the war. If she can be held accountable, and if John McCain (until very recently the most popular politician in America) can be held accountable, then the sky’s the limit.

The problem here is that perhaps the majority of Democrats who voted to authorize the Iraq war in 2002 did so because they remember the consequences of opposing an earlier Bush’s war with Iraq in 1991. Back then the Democratic party was reflexively anti-war and voted in a large block to oppose war in 1991. They confidently predicted another Vietnam. Then the war went swimmingly, approval ratings of President Bush, Sr. went through the roof and Congressional Democrats were left with egg on their faces.

Any politician with presidential ambitions in 2004 or 2008 was sure to tick off the “willing to kick rogue country butt” requirement on their political CV — all except one, that is. But what’s a politician to do when it turns out that neither stout conviction nor craven expediency does the trick?