Seven years ago, when Hillary Clinton first ran for Senate from New York, she said something that summed up everything, I'm afraid. "Here's what I've learned," she said. "I can't make a mistake."
I was truly horrified when she said this. One of the things I used to admire about Hillary Clinton was that she had politics - unlike her husband, who was merely political - and it seemed clear that she'd decided she had to give all that up in order to be elected. Hillary has always been a true Wellesley girl - she's diligent and hard-working and cautious - but she had her real political coming-of-age with uncautious, committed people like John Doar and Marian Wright Edelman, and for a long time the influence of those mentors seemed to outweigh all the careful genes.
Anyway, you know the rest of the story: she ran a flawless, mistake-free campaign, was elected to the Senate, and spent her first six years in office with her finger in the wind. This led to her vote to authorize the war -- which she now disingenuously wants us to believe she cast on the assumption that George Bush wouldn't move forward until exhausting the UN inspection process. (This excuse, incidentally, is truly ludicrous. Does she think we weren't alive at the time? Does she think we don't remember how hellbent this administration was to go to war?)
But Hillary's people have been so mistake-proof for so long that I honestly thought they simply were too smart ever to make a big whopper. So it was weird and practically unbelievable to watch this week as they managed to turn what might have been a one-day story into something that had not just legs but was actually eventually referred to, in a blind quote in the New York Times, as a cry from the "collective unconscious."
I'm referring to David Geffen's interview with Maureen Dowd, in which he called the Clintons liars and worried that Bill Clinton's recklessness might derail his wife's candidacy.
Here's what Hillary Clinton should have said in response to Geffen's remarks: "I love David Geffen. He supported me in the past and I hope that after I win the Democratic nomination he will support me again."
But what she instead did was to issue a statement demanding that Barack Obama (whom Geffen supports) distance himself from Geffen's remarks. Then she sent her political adviser Howard Wolfson, who seems to have been groomed by the same people who restyled Chuck Schumer, onto Hardball. The Clinton campaign even suggested that Obama return the $1.3 million that Geffen and his partners Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg raised at a Hollywood fund-raiser this week. I love that suggestion. As far as I can tell, there is not a morsel of food that has crossed the Clintons' lips in the last twelve years that people have not paid $2300 a person to witness, and the only circumstance I can recall where they ever returned money was an instance where it could be traced to someone who was a distant cousin of a distant cousin of a person who might have been (but probably wasn't) a member of Al Queda.
Howard Wolfson claimed on Hardball that it was unfair to criticize Senator Clinton and President Clinton on "personal terms." I would like to say something about this: there's no separation between personal and political terms when you're President of the United States: your job is to keep the country focused on what's important, and if you screw up for a "personal" reason, it's going to change the subject and (as Dowd wrote) pull the focus. This is probably unfair, but in this age of cable, it's a fact of life.
Mistakes are a fact of life too. As Doris Kearns Goodwin said on Meet the Press Sunday morning, no one minds if you make them. They just want to know that you learned something from them.