Will voters accept Hillary Clinton's nonapology?

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Welcome to the politics of apologia – the 2007 version.

In the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts had to endure charges that he was flip-flopping on funding for the Iraq war. In 1964, only two senators – Wayne Morse (D) of Oregon and Ernest Gruening (D) of Alaska – voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing President Johnson to expand the Vietnam War. I don't recall any of the others offering apologies.

So now, Sen. Hillary Clinton is being warned by some of her supporters that she may endanger her front-runner status if she refuses to make some outright apology for having voted along with 76 other senators in 2002 to empower the president to use force in Iraq.

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A simple "I was conned and I'm sorry it happened" might have done it.

But the evolution of her position is like a study in self-torture.

At first in 2002, she made a speech supporting the resolution.

In 2003 she said, "I stand by the vote."

In 2004: "I don't regret giving the president authority because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction...."

In 2005: "[I]f Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed...."

And Feb. 17 in New Hampshire: "Obviously, I would not vote that way again if we knew then what we know now."

Still, Senator Clinton has not apologized for her vote, and she apparently doesn't intend to. She reportedly ended the debate in her own camp by deciding that she would not make an apology that she didn't believe in. What she may do is support a resolution revoking the war-making authority contained in the now- controversial 2002 resolution.

Whether that will appease her supporters remains to be seen. What they apparently will not get from her are those three little words. "I am sorry." What her lack of contrition will cost her, that also remains to be seen.

She may take comfort from the "great compromiser," Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, who on the Senate floor in 1839 declared, "I had rather be right than president."

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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