- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2015

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and likely Republican contender Jeb Bush have taken opposite tacks to addressing their families’ political legacies, with her avoiding it and him hitting it head-on, but neither course has helped advance their campaigns.

Mr. Bush hasn’t made official his White House run, but he has opened himself up to questions from reporters about his brother’s presidency. He even attempted to defend his brother’s decision to wage war in Iraq, which ultimately got the U.S. trapped in a costly and unpopular war that forever marred the Bush presidency.

The former Florida governor might as well have walked into a buzz saw.

After three days of being hounded about it, Mr. Bush on Thursday said if he were president he “would not have gone into Iraq.”

By contrast, Mrs. Clinton never directly addresses the legacy of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. She has broken with his policies on immigration, criminal justice and, to some extent, trade, but without acknowledging his policies or her divergence from them.

The former first lady, senator and secretary of state has not sat down for a news interview since announcing her presidential run April 12, and has fielded just a handful of questions shouted by reporters at otherwise-staged campaign stops.

As a result, the unanswered questions have festered.

James E. Campbell, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said there is no easy answer, and these two candidates will struggle with their family legacies regardless of the campaign strategy they employ.

“Both have huge amounts of baggage going into the election,” said Mr. Campbell. “Like vice presidents as successor candidates, they have to walk a tightrope between inheriting the problems of their predecessors and appearing disloyal.”

And yet, he said the political advantage of being a Bush or a Clinton likely outweighs the downside.

“They both seem to be reaping the rewards of their family legacies — elite connections, broad-based name recognition and good will and the campaign finance advantages,” he said.

Without her marriage to the former president, Mrs. Clinton likely wouldn’t have been a senator or secretary of state, much less the all-but-inevitable 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, he said.

“On the downside, the Clinton legacy is littered with scandals and controversies, and these should be raised,” said Mr. Campbell. “Aside from the scandals associated with the former President Clinton’s impeachment, there were the scandalous pardons he made on the way out of office and a variety of policy choices he made that she should be asked about as a major figure in her husband’s presidency.”

Some of those old Clinton policies include the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military, the declaration that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the decision to bomb Iraq. Add to it questions about Mrs. Clinton’s own record, including her exclusive use of private email for official business as secretary of state and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while she was America’s top diplomat.

Since launching her campaign, Mrs. Clinton hasn’t gotten near these issue or put herself in a position to be asked about them.

Her rivals for the Democratic nomination, who trail her by 50 points or more in recent polls, so far have given her a pass.

The stealthiness of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has raised eyebrows.

Mrs. Clinton’s really unprecedented strategy of refusing to engage journalists or confront criticism seems to be a strong, if democratically questionable, strategy for securing the Democratic nomination,” said Towson University professor Richard E. Vatz, who specializes in political rhetoric.

“Such a strategy may be short term-successful but long-term unsuccessful, as it may cause disaffection from centrists and conservatives and progressive Republicans who resent her not publicly facing criticism on matters of public policy and her decision-making,” he said.

Mr. Bush has done interviews on TV and radio, striving to present himself as his own man, but also aligning himself with his brother’s foreign policy.

In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that aired Monday, he was asked if he would have ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 knowing what he knows now.

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,” he said, noting the faulty intelligence that Saddam Hussein had WMD.

“By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush,” he said. “So just for the news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”

The blowback was fierce.

The headlines blaring from NBC News and National Public Radio, to name a few, said Mr. Bush would start the Iraq War knowing what he knows now.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s eyeing a GOP run for president, chimed in: “I don’t think you can honestly say that if we knew then that there was no WMD, that the country should have gone to war.”

Mr. Bush scrambled to explain his answer, saying that he “interpreted the question wrong.”

At a town hall meeting Wednesday in Nevada, he said the decision to go to war is too important to reduce to a hypothetical question, according to ABC News.

“If we’re going to get into hypotheticals, I think it does a disservice for a lot of people that sacrificed a lot,” Mr. Bush said. “Going back in time and talking about hypotheticals — what would have happened, what could have happened — I think does a disservice for them. What we ought to be focusing on is what are the lessons learned.”

By Thursday, he was answering hypotheticals.

At a stop in Tempe, Arizona, he said that he would never want to tell the families of fallen soldiers that their sons or daughters “died in vain” in Iraq.

“Their sacrifice is worth honoring, not depreciating,” said Mr. Bush. “So here’s the deal if we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions: Knowing what we know now, what would you have done? I would not have engaged — I would not have gone into Iraq.”

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