2.26.2008 | In their own words

Tonight's debate between Senators Clinton and Obama dived deep into substance, and that's a good thing (18 pages' worth of goodness, if you care to read it, over at NYTimes). But I couldn't help but notice one aspect of Hillary's style that confirmed for me the criticism that she represents the old guard of politics:

MR. RUSSERT: I want to ask both of you this question, then. If we — if this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in total and al Qaeda resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right, in your mind as American president, to re-invade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?

SEN. CLINTON: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals. And I believe that what's —

MR. RUSSERT: But this is reality.

SEN. CLINTON: No — well, it isn't reality. You're — you're — you're making lots of different hypothetical assessments.

Contrast that with the last time I remember hearing a response like that from someone in power when a journalist asked a pretty reasonable question about the consequences of our actions:

JIM LEHRER: Let's cut to the crunch on this question. If in fact this team does not find any weapons of mass destruction, do you believe that would do serious harm to the credibility of the president and this administration and particularly on the… in the long run and when history looks back on this?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I mean, the intelligence that our country had— has— was over a sustained period of time, it was validated by other intelligence services. I have to believe it was reasonably correct— obviously not perfect. No intelligence is ever perfect. And that as the reports come out, they will find evidence of the kinds of programs that Secretary Powell presented to the United Nations. That's my… yes, I mean that's what I believe.

JIM LEHRER: But if they don't? Is that a problem?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I don't do hypotheticals.

JIM LEHRER: You don't do politics; you don't do hypotheticals.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I don't. I don't. Why? I can't speculate.

One of the necessary qualities of leadership is looking ahead to the possibility that plan A may not work as you thought it would. I don't know about you, but when someone running for president today, knowing what we know now, refuses to engage in hypotheticals, I'm a little bit worried.

But maybe I'm wrong. Can anyone out there on the Internets think of a time where it would be a good thing to avoid hypothetical questions?

Scratch that. I think I found one …

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