- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

Mark Twain would have loved these guys. The old riverboat captain once remarked that anyone unhappy with the weather on the Mississippi should just wait a few minutes.

If you don’t like what John Edwards is saying about what to do about the jihadists in the Middle East, wait a few minutes. Hillary is resolute about Iraq, as she is about everything else. She was resolutely for the war once and she’s resolutely against it now. Come back in a few minutes.

John Edwards flinches, but only under fire, as in this exchange with Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Would “President Edwards” allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon?

“I, I — there’s no answer to that question at the moment. I think that it’s a — it’s a — it’s a very bad thing for Iran to get a nuclear weapon.”

Yes, replied Tim, “but they may get one.”

“Yeah. I think — I think — I think the — we don’t know, and you have to make a judgment as you go along, and that’s what I would do as president.”

If you don’t want wishy-washy, you could look up his answer to a similar question at last month’s Herzliya Conference in Israel, where some of the world’s deep thinkers, some deeper than others, met to give deep answers to deep questions.

“Let me be clear,” Mr. Edwards replied then. “Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. … Once Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the Middle East will go nuclear, making Israel’s neighborhood much more volatile.”

But wait. A few days later, Mr. Edwards was eager to clear up the muddle with a little muddy water. A correspondent for American Prospect magazine asked whether the United States and the rest of the world could live with a nuclear Iran.

“I’m not ready to cross that bridge yet,” replied the man who had earlier sounded like he had crossed the bridge and was ready to blow it up and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with it. “I think we have lots of opportunities that we’ve [not exploited]. We’re not negotiating with them directly, what I just proposed has not been done.” And so forth and so on.

Hillary, on the other hand, wants to keep the bridge intact. She likes bridges. She goes back and forth on them, sometimes this way, sometimes that way. “Let me add one other thing,” she said in a speech the other day. “I want to be very clear about this. If I had been president in October of 2002, I would not have started this war.”

When a pol prefaces an answer to a question with the emphatic assertion that he or she “wants to be very clear about this,” you can put it down that you’ve wandered into a suburb of Obfuscation City. “I would not — and if in Congress, if we in Congress, working as hard as we can to get the 60 votes you need to do anything in the Senate — believe me, I understand the frustration and outrage, you have to have 60 votes to cap troops, to limit funding, to do anything. If we in Congress don’t end this war before January 2009, as president, I will.”

She expects to be very busy in the White House in January 2009, “because once and for all, we are going to provide quality, affordable, universal health care coverage to every single American.” (Haven’t we seen this movie before?) Not only that, she will have another four years to find out how those lost records wound up in her living quarters. Bill will have a lot of time on his hands, and he can help.

These are the golden days for John Edwards, Hillary, Barack Obama — and let’s not forget Joe Biden, always looking for a speech or a position paper to nip — who are free to say anything that pops into their heads, and nobody is the worse for it. The substance of what they’re saying is not important. Substance, like the weather, is always changing. But how they say it, with one part wishy, another part washy, tells us a lot about how decisive we can expect them to be when the sound of the guns drowns out what they say.

Nobody likes the war in Iraq, George W. Bush probably least of all. But it’s worth remembering, as we watch John Edwards, Hillary and the gang stumbling, stammering and blundering through “answers” to the most straightforward questions, that they were among the 77 members of the U.S. Senate who voted to go to war, and basked in the praise of the 70 percent of the American people who shared their resolve. It’s easy to bask when everyone is shocked and awed.

Pruden on Politics runs Tuesdays and Fridays.

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