Bush first flubbed his answer Monday to a question from Fox News’s Megyn Kelly about the war in Iraq.
Kelly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”
Bush: “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
So Flub No. 1 was that Bush misheard the question. The context of his answer — invoking Clinton, citing the available intelligence — seems to assume that Kelly was asking about whether it was the right decision at the time.
Standing alone, that would be a minor misstep, easily fixed. Except for Flub No. 2: Bush dug himself into a deeper hole on Tuesday. And Flub No. 3, deeper still on Wednesday.
Bush on Tuesday, on Sean Hannity’s radio show: “I don’t know what that decision would have been, that’s a hypothetical. But the simple fact is mistakes were made, as they always are in life . . . in foreign policy. So we need to learn from the past to make sure we’re strong and secure going forward.”
Duck. Passive voice. Pabulum. A trifecta of non-responsiveness.
Wednesday was even worse — not only hiding behind the notion that hypothetical questions don’t deserve answers, but wrapping that dodge in concern for fallen soldiers.
Bush at a town hall meeting in Nevada: “Rewriting history is hypothetical. . . . If we’re going to get back into hypotheticals, I think it does a disservice for a lot of people that sacrificed a lot . . . . What we ought to be focusing on is what are the lessons learned.”
No, what we ought to be focusing on is the judgment of the individual who seeks to lead the country and to be entrusted with the power to embroil us in hostilities. What question could be more pertinent and more informative than whether, in the stark glare of hindsight, the war in Iraq was wise? Answering no does not dishonor the sacrifice of soldiers; it recognizes the gravity of the decision about whether to take a nation to war.
Running for president can fairly be described as an exercise in hypothesis: If you were president, how would you handle X, Y or Z? If you don’t want to hypothesize, don’t run.
By Thursday — Thursday! — Bush finally got it right: “Knowing what we know now, I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”
Why was that so hard? What does it say about Bush that it took so long to correct course? Nothing good.
Next up, Huckabee. On CBS’s “Face the Nation” last week, host Bob Schieffer asked the former Arkansas governor about hawking a dubious diabetes cure.
Huckabee: “You know, I don’t have to defend everything that I’ve ever done. I am not doing those infomercials, obviously, now as a candidate for president.”
Actually, running for president means precisely having to defend everything you have ever done. If you don’t like it, don’t run.
Finally, there is She Who Does Not Deign to Answer Questions. Certainly not questions from pesky reporters.
From the candidate’s perspective — see Bush and Huckabee — you can see why this is desirable. From the public’s point of view, not so much.
According to NPR , Clinton has held zero news conferences, granted zero interviews and answered — judging generously — 13 media questions since announcing. The Clinton campaign cautions that she is still ramping up — engaging with everyday Americans, just not everyday reporters.
Question time, campaign officials soothe, will come. Meanwhile, why step on her message — criminal justice, immigration — by taking questions?
Um, because that’s part of the process. You can’t tweet your way to the presidency. Because reporters have different — sometimes better and more pointed — questions than voters. Because there are growing areas of legitimate inquiry — Clinton’s position on trade, for one — that merit answers. (The New York Times’ Amy Chozick offered an excellent example on immigration: “How could you stretch the law further than the president . . . says it can go?”)
Because how you behave on the trail augurs what you’ll do in office, including how accessible you’ll be. I have forebodings of future columns lamenting President Clinton’s umpty-umpth day without a news conference.
If you don’t want to deal with reporters, don’t run for president.