« CT '08 Poll | The RCP Blog Home Page | The Dems' Bidding War on Iraq »

Krugman's Infallibility Complex

In the New York Times today, Paul Krugman explains why it's so vitally important to the left - and to him - that Hillary say she was wrong about her vote on the Iraq war:

For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes.[snip]

The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards -- "I was wrong" -- matter so much to the Democratic base.

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn't sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn't suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.

How much truth is there to Krugman's hunch? As it turns out, the latest FOX News poll contained two questions pertaining to Krugman's argument:

QUESTION: Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate who has changed his or her position on the war in Iraq?

 
More Likely
Less Likely
Not
Major
Factor
 
Total
A Lot
Smwt
Total
A Lot
Smwt
Total
Overall
22
11
11
28
15
13
38
Dem
20
10
10
23
10
13
45
GOP
18
10
8
37
20
17
33
Ind
31
15
16
22
17
6
37

QUESTION: In general, during a time of war, would you prefer a president who: 1) sticks to his convictions, 2) can be persuaded to change his mind and withdraw, 3) depends, 4) don't know.

 
Sticks to
Convictions
Changes
His Mind
Depends
Don't
Know
Overall
45
33
16
6
Dem
28
50
14
8
GOP
70
14
14
2
Ind
36
37
19
8

The results from this poll, at least as it pertains to opinions about Iraq, look to be mixed (at best) for Krugman. Independents are the only group that would be more likely to vote for a candidate who has changed his or her mind on the war, while Republicans and Democrats would be less likely, the former much more strenuously than the latter. But the plurality among all groups, led by Democrats, say it's not a major factor.

Krugman is right about one thing: even with the somewhat loaded wording in the last question, a majority of Dems, by a margin of almost two to one, prefer a presidential candidate who could be persuaded to withdraw in the middle of a war rather than one who would stand by his convictions. Independents were split evenly on that question.

One more thing from Krugman's article. Near the end he argues that both McCain and Giuliani would have "infallibility complexes" similar to Bush and would be unable to admit mistakes. Specifically, Krugman writes about Giuliani:

And as for Rudy Giuliani, there are so many examples of his inability to accept criticism that it's hard to choose.

Here's an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for," the then-mayor ordered the ads removed -- and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait.

Krugman must have missed Giuliani's appearance on Larry King just a few days ago:

KING: A couple of other quick things. Your long relationship with Bernie Kerik, a potential campaign problem?

GIULIANI: It -- you mean the...

KING: The former police commissioner?

GIULIANI: ... his -- recommending him?

KING: His downfall, yes.

GIULIANI: Recommending him and that? It was a mistake. I made a mistake.

And before that King asked Giuliani if mistakes had been made in Iraq. Giuliani replied, "of course there were mistakes." King then asked whether Giuliani would have done a better job of communicating than the current administration, to which Giuliani responded:

GIULIANI: I don't know. I hope -- I hope I would. I mean, you know, I hope -- I hope that I would learn from the mistakes that were made in this situation.

KING: Such as?

GIULIANI: Just as the mistakes I made when I was mayor, I tried to learn from them. If I get to be president of the United States, I probably won't make the same mistakes, because I will have learned from them. I'll probably make different ones.

KING: Now how is...

GIULIANI: And then the next one will learn from the ones that I made. And I would say that about Bill Clinton or George Bush. This job is so difficult that you've got to have humility about it and you have to understand how to look at the past not in a way in which you cast blame, but you learn from it.

I doubt that sounds to most Americans like a man with an infallibility complex.