From Mea Culpa to Mayor Daley

Vilsack

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Oscar Gamble

Speaking of Oscars, the Yankees open the 2007 season at home on April 2 against Tampa Bay. hide caption

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Muskie

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Fulbright

Opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s led some to promote Senate Foreign Relations chair Fulbright for president. hide caption

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George Romney

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The war in Iraq played a major role in putting Democrats in charge of Congress last November, and conventional wisdom holds that it's likely to help the party in its bid to take the White House in 2008.

But for now, the Democratic candidates for president seem to be fighting for the office of Apologizer in Chief — at least when it comes to the 2002 vote that authorized the war. Specifically, the spat centers over whether Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and former Sen. John Edwards should "apologize" for their "mistaken" votes in favor of war.

Clinton refuses to call her vote a "mistake," though she readily concedes that if she knew then what she knows now, she would have voted differently. But some of her rivals are taking their mea culpas much further.

That rush to regret has been clear for weeks now, and it was on display again last week in Carson City, Nev., as the candidates appeared at a forum sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Edwards has been most forceful on this issue, saying (almost with pride) that he was misled by President Bush, bought the WMD bill of goods, voted for the resolution and now regrets it. I'm big enough to admit I made a mistake, he says. I'm sorry and I apologize, he says. Voters want their leaders to take responsibility when they make a mistake, right? (But he's not criticizing Hillary Clinton — not at all. An apology is up to "her and her conscience," Edwards says.)

Dodd also chimed in, saying, in effect, that he voted for the war, that it was a mistake, and that it's a legitimate issue.

But that argument — that being misled over the road to war is a badge of honor — is a bit mystifying. Imagine the regrets of the 88 senators who voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 (the vote that essentially gave President Lyndon Johnson the right to wage war in Vietnam, with only two dissenters). Or the regrets of a unanimous House of Representatives on the Tonkin vote. Campaigning on the slogan "I was misled and I apologize" seems a bit much. (Republican Gov. George Romney of Michigan tried that in 1967, when he said that he was "brainwashed" by the Pentagon about the progress being made in Vietnam; he immediately became an object of ridicule.)

(Trivia question: Who were the two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution? Answer below.)

When his turn came at the forum, Rep. Dennis Kucinich couldn't believe his ears. The Ohioan — the lone Democratic presidential candidate who voted against the war in 2002 — said, "These candidates come before the American people and say they were tricked, misled, deceived by George Bush. Well, here's one who wasn't!"

Sen. Barack Obama, who didn't appear at the Carson City forum, was not in the Senate in 2002. But while in the Illinois state legislature, he opposed the war from the outset. He, too, has made it clear that how a candidate voted on the resolution should matter to voters.

But Obama and Kucinich are different. They were both against the war from Day One and made their opposition clear. For Edwards, Dodd and others to take Hillary Clinton to task for her refusal to apologize seems a bit much.

And speaking of the Democratic field, there is this from readers:

Q: I'm really impressed with Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and his views on ending the war in Iraq. I know he has a long way before he can win the Democratic nomination. Has a Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman ever won his party's presidential nomination? — Jerry Walls, Los Angeles, Calif.

A: No. And in fact, Biden is the first sitting chairman of the committee to try. There have been a few who served as chairman and ran for president, but not at the same time. Among those on that list are Dick Lugar (R-IN), Frank Church (D-ID) and William Borah (R-ID) in the 20th century, and Henry Clay (Whig-KY), James Buchanan (D-PA) and Charles Sumner (R-MA) in the 19th. But none of them sought the presidency while they were chairman of Foreign Relations.

Q: I love Hillary [Clinton], but doesn't she realize that being an East Coast Democrat is the kiss of death in presidential politics? I feel her election chances would have been better as an Arkansas senator, and that moving to New York was not a good higher-office strategy. — Bob Hicks, St. Paul, Minn.

A: Hillary is Hillary, and I suspect it wouldn't have mattered much whether she ran from New York, Little Rock or her birth state of Illinois. Those who love her love her, and those who don't, don't. But since John Kennedy — who barely squeaked by in 1960 — East Coast Dems who've run for president haven't had an easy go, as this chart shows.

1968:

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, New York — assassinated while seeking nomination

1972:

Sen. Edmund Muskie, Maine — failed to win nomination

NYC Mayor John Lindsay — failed to win nomination

Rep. Shirley Chisholm, New York — failed to win nomination

1976:

Sargent Shriver, Maryland — failed to win nomination

Gov. Milton Shapp, Pennsylvania — failed to win nomination

1980:

Sen. Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts — failed to win nomination

1988:

Gov. Michael Dukakis, Massachusetts — won nomination but lost general election

1992:

Ex-Sen. Paul Tsongas, Massachusetts — failed to win nomination

2000:

Ex-Sen.Bill Bradley, New Jersey — failed to win nomination

2004:

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts — won nomination but lost general election

Ex-Gov. Howard Dean, Vermont — failed to win nomination

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut — failed to win nomination

Rev. Al Sharpton, New York — failed to win nomination

Bill Clinton, 'First Gentleman'

Q: If a woman were elected president, Hillary Clinton or someone else, what would her husband be called? The first gentleman? The first man? — Lane Jaeckle Santos, Irving, Texas

A: Well, there are a lot of names that have been tossed around over the years for Bill Clinton (someone please tell Howard Wolfson I'm kidding), but "First Gentleman" is one term that has been appearing more and more — as we see on this button at left.

Q: Prior to Rudy Giuliani, can you recall another former mayor running for president having only held the office of mayor? — Larry Schooler, Austin, Texas

A: Nearly every former mayor I can recall who sought the presidency had served in other offices. Pete Wilson, the former mayor of San Diego, was governor when he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. GOP Sen. Dick Lugar was long gone as mayor of Indianapolis when he tried for the nomination, also in '96. Ex-Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey had already served 12 years in the Senate when he ran for president in 1960 (and he was vice president when he ran again in 1968); he tried a third time in '72.

Perhaps the person who best fits your question is Larry Agran, then the mayor of Irvine, Calif., who made an unsuccessful (and largely unnoticed) bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992. He was an Irvine councilmember who was selected as mayor by the council.

Two sitting mayors did run for president in 1972: Democrats Sam Yorty (Los Angeles) and John Lindsay (New York). But both were members of the House prior to their tenure in City Hall, and both failed at bids for statewide office.

Only three former mayors ever made it to the White House: Andrew Johnson (Greenville, Tenn.), Grover Cleveland (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Calvin Coolidge (Northampton, Mass.).

THE DALEY NEWS: In a result seen as proof that the corruption charges hanging over City Hall are having an effect, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley failed to reach 100 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election. Daley, first elected in a 1989 special election, won a fifth full term with 71 percent, to 20 percent for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, and 9 percent for William "Dock" Walls, an aide to the late Mayor Harold Washington.

As for last week's column, which focused on Daley's career, Steve Davis of Scottsdale, Ariz., who was born and raised in Chicago, calls it "right on:" "The fact of the matter is, Chicago is well run, beautiful and getting better all the time. There are many places in the city that are much better and safer than when I was a kid 50+ years ago. You have to be nuts to live in Chicago and not vote for Daley. Name a big city that you think has a better mayor. Look — Chicago is Chicago. I will take a little corruption to have a great city that provides great services."

Dr. Ayo Maat of Chicago has a different perspective: "Yes, some Chicagoans condone the scandals that follow Daley. However, this is a new day — voters are tired of unequal or unfair treatment, so far as city services and spending; gentrification that pushes out low-income residents to the suburbs without cars and equal city services; absentee aldermen, who rubberstamp whatever Daley wants; and high unemployment in Chicago neighborhoods, while non-resident construction workers and other contractors are getting paid quite well."

GOD ONLY KNOWS: The Feb. 14 column listed some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have run for president since George Romney in 1968. Scott Leadingham of Bloomington, Ind., Joe Mayne of Michigan, and Ryan Snow, now a Californian but who was born and raised in Utah, also note that Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, sought the presidency in 1844. Smith, of course, never got a chance to compete for the nomination; four months after he announced his candidacy, he was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob.

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION: The two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution on Aug. 7, 1964, were Ernest Gruening of Alaska and Wayne Morse of Oregon, both Democrats. Gruening, by the way, was defeated for renomination in the 1968 Democratic primary by Mike Gravel — the same Mike Gravel who is seeking the presidential nomination in 2008.

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: The "Political Junkie" segment on Talk of the Nation, NPR's call-in show, continues to run every Wednesday on NPR at 2:40 p.m. Check local listings to see if your NPR station carries TOTN. If not, you can listen to the program on the Web at NPR.org. This week: The Democrats' dilemma on Iraq. Special guest: Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

STOCK MARKET UPDATE: The comments earlier this week by former Fed head Alan Greenspan that NPR's weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," needs to be "less funny," are no doubt responsible for the major drop in the Dow on Tuesday. Frankly, judging from the e-mail I've been getting, I don't think it's possible for the podcast to be less funny. But why not decide for yourself? Check out the new edition every Thursday afternoon.

Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state.

This Day in Campaign History: Michigan Gov. George Romney, once a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, withdraws from the race. The action comes four days after his chief sponsor, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York, says he would accept a draft himself for the nomination, undercutting Romney's flagging hopes (Feb. 28, 1968).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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