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That mistake question.


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“When this campaign is over,” writes Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, “Linda Grabel may be famous.” At least that’s his hope, if not hers. Charles Gibson, the moderator of the second presidential debate, served as talent scout. After sifting through 280 submitted questions, he handpicked Linda Grabel to sandbag President Bush with the dramatic final question: “Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it.”

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Dionne attributes the president’s failure to rattle off his three biggest blunders as a sign of insufficient “humility.” Yet the president could not possibly answer such a question. If he had, George Soros’s 527 groups would have immediately put the juiciest parts on television to prove, “Even President Bush admits he has terrible judgment!” Besides, the second part of Grabel’s question made a direct answer virtually impossible. If Bush had been naive enough to provide opponents with three mistakes, neither he nor anyone else could have been clever enough to have simultaneously devised three persuasive explanations of what was done to fix those mistakes.

The president suspected the reason Grabel’s question was selected was its transparent implication, “Did you make a mistake going into Iraq?” E. J. Dionne apparently thought so too, since he used Linda Grabel’s famous question as an opportunity to claim, “The administration glosses over the fact that its primary argument for war was not humanitarian.” Yet the president acknowledged that mistake, earlier in the St. Louis debate, saying he (and Senator Kerry) had been misinformed by the CIA about WMDs in Iraq. Dionne offers his own suggestions about who the president was referring to when he said he had made some bad appointments, yet he somehow failed to notice we have a new CIA director.

If I ever had to debate with E. J. Dionne, I would be tempted to ask him what were his worst three mistakes and what did he do to fix them. At which point, he could now too easily reply that he made the mistake of quoting me in one of his books.

Alan Reynolds is an economist and senior fellow with the Cato Institute.



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