Pundits have been slamming Hillary’s debate performance on two counts—her ambiguous answer about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and her evasiveness over whether she would release her papers stored in the Clinton Presidential Library. (Transcript here .)
On the second question, she was particularly unconvincing. When moderator Tim Russert asked her if she would make available her communications with the president in the 1990s, she said that’s "not my decision to make." As if she might not have some pull with the former president. Her evasion makes it sound like she—or Bill—has something to hide. (So far, the dodge seems to be working .)
But on the question of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to offer driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, she’s been getting an unfair rap. Yes, she equivocated: "I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it." Yes, she contradicted herself: When Chris Dodd pointed out that "you thought it made sense to do it," she replied, "No, I didn't, Chris," which is simply untrue. But her waffling served a purpose. She was trying to say that the policy "makes sense" without actively supporting it—a distinction that, while Clintonian, is reasonable for a candidate to make. She recognizes the tough circumstances Spitzer faces and, if you read into her language, it’s clear that she supports his decision. But she also doesn’t want to say something that could be used against her in the general election. ("Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants" in scary bold lettering would fit nicely across the TV screen.)
Russert and others were trying to get her to hitch her trailer to Spitzer’s rig. But she shouldn’t have to—it wasn’t her decision. People are right to be concerned about equivocation, especially from someone whose husband redefined the term. But there’s a middle ground between supporting a policy and denouncing it. For a front-runner to try to occupy that space shouldn’t be all that shocking.