You don’t need The Weathermen to know which way the wind blows: This thing is over, and has been for weeks and weeks now. But, ABC held a debate tonight in Philadelphia anyway, and, man, it was a tough slog. [Transcript.] Moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos endlessly trafficked in inanities. (The Weather Underground? Really?) Sen. Clinton found no level she couldn’t passive-aggressively sink beneath: Cringeworthy throughout, she name-dropped Farrakhan and channeled 9iu11iani whenever possible (see, for example, her answers on Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, and she got in Ahmadinejad’s recent remarks as well.) And Sen. Obama seemed tired, a bit rusty, and, after 45 shallow minutes of idiotic gotcha, (justifiably) ticked. (But I thought he still came through in the clutch anyway.)
The only news made tonight? ABC is rather terrible at this whole debate thing. Tonight was basically a fiasco. From Stephanopoulos questioning Obama on flag pins to the tut-tutting about affirmative action to George getting questions from Sean Hannity to Gibson trying to wrest a “no new taxes” pledge from the candidates, virtually every minute tonight was occupied with trite Republican nonsense. Oh, and Gibson’s dim remark at the Manchester debate that two-professor families make $200,000 a year was not a fluke. Apparently, the guy knows less about the economy than John McCain. Tonight he informed us that there “are a heck of a lot of people” making between $97,000 and $200,000 these days. If by “heck of a lot” you mean 14% of the US, well, ok. But some might consider 1 in 7 a rather small minority of the total population, and thus argue that our tax policy should keep the other, more-likely-to-be-struggling 6 out of 7 in mind. Sheesh…less than a week and our friends in the pundit world have already abandoned their newfound blue-collar bitterness.
At any rate, no news or game-changers to speak of. Sen. Obama is still our nominee, Sen. Clinton is still grappling with that fact. If you didn’t watch this tonight, you chose wisely. Update: Having run ABC’s gauntlet of idiocy, Obama brushes his shoulders off, puts distractions on notice, and says no to more debates.
The 20th and (hopefully) final round of the Democratic debate was tonight in Cleveland, Ohio. [Transcript.] Once again, no real gamechangers to mention, and thus, momentum-wise, Sen. Obama came out on top. (I thought he came out on top anyway, but am willing to concede I’m not the best judge of this sort of thing.) I don’t have a lot to add at this point: We always seem to cover the same basic issues in these debates, and Obama was Obama, Clinton was Clinton, and (sigh) Russert was Russert. Rinse and repeat.
That being said, I do think Sen. Clinton’s campaign would have been better served by having last Thursday’s debate performance tonight, even if some people construed her closing as a valedictory. Perhaps it plays better to undecideds looking for a fighter above all else, but I thought this was perhaps Clinton’s weakest debate performance since last October, when she tied herself in knots over drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants. Two particularly cringeworthy moments: 1) Sen. Clinton’s whining about the question order, which drew boos from the crowd and seemed remarkably petty, and 2) Sen. Clinton trying to tar Obama as weak on Farrakhan, and — thanks to Obama drawing attention to her parsing — ending up looking ridiculous. (FWIW, Sen. Obama addressed Farrakan in depth the other day during a Q&A with Jewish-community leaders.) But even notwithstanding those obvious moments, Sen. Clinton just kept trying to press the offense tonight in rather tone-deaf and unpresidential fashion. See also the 16-minute health care hijacking at the start of the debate, where Obama more than held his own. (As well he should — we’ve only gone through this, lo, twenty times or so now.)
At any rate, from this admittedly biased corner Sen. Obama seemed magnanimous and presidential, while Sen. Clinton seemed desperate and petulant. But, from any corner, it’s hard to envision this debate performance resulting in the twenty-point margins Clinton needs in both Ohio and Texas to stay viable. Now is by no means the time for we Obama supporters to take our collective foot off the gas: Keep volunteering, phonebanking, donating, and above all voting. Nevertheless, allowing some latitude to keep the karma gods happy, we’re in garbage time, folks.
Heya. Sorry this is going up so late…I spent the evening at the Generation Obama event in Midtown, so my usual prObama take on the debates got even more reinforcement than usual…
First off, it was heartening to watch a surprisingly substantive debate. The Nevada roundtable was too sweet, and the Myrtle Beach slugfest was too sour, but tonight’s much-heralded showdown in Los Angeles actually seemed just right. [Transcript.] Both candidates were able to tease out and discuss notable differences in their policies, particularly on health care, immigration reform, and Iraq, while keeping a civil, friendly tone that didn’t seem as unnaturally forced as back in Vegas.
With all that being said, and to no one’s surprise, I thought Barack Obama came out ahead this evening. (In fact, I agree with Andrew Sullivan — this might’ve been his best debate thus far.) He showed a clear and nuanced command of policy. He made a solid case for his strengths, most notably on the question of judgment (“Right on Day 1.”) He explained well how he’s more electable, particularly against John McCain. He was wry and personable. And — when it came to the Republicans — he was often devastating. (That Romney takedown was too rich.)
Hillary Clinton was also good tonight, but she gave more than a few answers that were real groaners. On immigration reform, her attempt to be Obamaesque by invoking the Statue of Liberty was strange and flat. More problematically, her answer on drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants made no sense (She’s against licenses for illegals, to protect illegals?) And, worst of all, when given the chance to defuse a zero-sum understanding of the immigrant issue, she instead told a story about an African-American man who blamed Latinos for his job loss, and it was hard not to read an off-putting Bendixen subtext into it.
Most notably, when it came to Iraq in the final third, Clinton was terrible. Rather than just admit she made a mistake in either [a] supporting the war or [b] believing Dubya, she seemed unwilling to concede any possibility of error, and got stuck in an increasingly tortured answer about her position on the AUMF vote. It was unseemly, to say the least, even Dubyaesque. And the more she spun her wheels, the better Obama looked. Update: Apparently, she also butchered the truth about the Levin Amendment.
Still, my general impression is that CNN’s Jeff Toobin basically got the larger chess game right: As a TPM commenter well put it: Hillary Clinton is currently in the lead and is trying to run the four corners until the clock runs out. Barack Obama is surging massively right now and didn’t want to upset that o-mentum unduly. So neither candidate felt they needed to shake up the current paradigm all that much, which helped keep everything friendly.
Instead, Obama wanted to show undecideds that he has presidential gravitas and can policy-wonk as needed. Clinton wanted to staunch her negatives and get the focus back on her rather than Wild Bill. (Which reminds me, no question about Kazakhstan?) In that sense, both candidates accomplished what they came to do.
Now, it’s up to us.
“I understand that most viewers want to know, how am I going to get helped in terms of paying my health care? How am I going to get help being able to go to college? All those things are important. But what’s also important that people are not just willing to say anything to get elected. And that’s what I have tried to do in this campaign, is try to maintain a certain credibility.I don’t mind having policy debates with Senator Clinton or Senator Edwards. But what I don’t enjoy is spending the week or two weeks or the last month having to answer to these kinds of criticisms that are not factually accurate.“
The faux bonhomie of Nevada’s roundtable well behind them, the Democratic candidates started throwing haymakers in tonight’s lively South Carolina debate. [Transcript.] Unlike the last two meetings, I’m not going spend a lot of time on a full-fledged summary, since — when it gets this heated onstage — I don’t think it’s particularly useful. Judging from the comment threads at the various political sites, people will see what they want to see. Clinton supporters are coming out of the woodwork to say she won the night. Well, that was definitely not my impression.
For my part, I was glad to see Barack Obama strongly counter Clinton’s continued distortions in the first hour, and finally push back on Clinton’s dubious “35 years of change” line (including, as it does, twelve years at the Rose Law Firm, which has been billed as Arkansas’ “ultimate establishment law firm.”) And he did a great job in the seated second hour of reasserting his positives — the funny and gracious “first black president” answer, for example — while staying on message.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was at her evasive, misleading, Rovian worst. She did ok on the first question, about the economic stimulus package, but went rapidly downhill thereafter. Rather than running on her own record, She repeated her distortions about Reagan. She repeated her husband’s distortions about Obama’s stance on Iraq. She tried (and failed) to turn Obama’s present votes in the Illinois Senate into a vote for sexual abuse. And she like her husband — basically accused Obama (wrongly) of being Clintonian. (“[I]t is very difficult having a straight-up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern.“)
Clinton also tried to inject the Rezko story into the debate. For those not following, Tony Rezko is a clearly shady Chicago businessmen with whom Obama had dealings with as a state legislator, and an iffy-looking land deal thereafter. An error in judgment, to be sure, and one he’s apologized for (even though it looks like there’s no there there.) Now it’s a fair thing to bring up, as Obama himself admitted. But,to be honest, Rezko is really not a road Hillary Clinton wants to go down. For one, you’d think the Clintons — of all people — would try to avoid insinuating corruption-by-association when it comes to land deals. For another, do Norman Hsu, Marc Rich, and Johnny Chung ring a bell? Shady operators in the margins are and have been the Clintons’ forte.
But I digress. Once the fur started to fly, John Edwards got plugged into the “above the fray” role by default, which may have helped him out among undecideds, I guess. Still, I was glad to see he directed attacks at both Obama and Clinton as he felt warranted, which should prevent another embarrassing post-debate spin along the lines of “the men were picking on me.” But you never know. After all the outrageous displays of intellectual dishonesty from the Clinton camp, both tonight and over the past few weeks, I’d put nothing past them at this point.
Despite the best efforts of Tim Russert, who asked rinky-dink meta-questions about the past week for most of the first segment, the Democratic debate in Los Vegas was a pause for breath tonight, with Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton all going out of their way to dial back the heat and try to bridge the identity politics chasms that have yawned open of late. As such, with all three candidates on their best behavior and looking to avoid direct confrontations that might get nasty, it was the type of debate that made the party and all three contenders look good, but also probably didn’t change very many votes.
From where I sat — and this will surprise exactly no one — I thought Barack Obama came off the best of the three. He seemed gracious in his call to move past last week’s racial firestorm and deflected the — many — attempts by Russert to re-inject race into the debate. He offered the only funny moments of the evening (Brian Williams thinking he was in LA notwithstanding) and seemed convincing and natural. And, perhaps most importantly, he displayed a command of policy specifics and a capacity for nuance, which once again belies the argument that he’s just a oratorical Hope machine. He seemed, in a word, presidential. (Although I do wish, when asked when he’d first decided to run for president, he’d simply said “kindergarten.”)
John Edwards was as good and on-message as always, but it didn’t seem like he managed to do anything tonight that would be a game-changer. (Then again, in an atmosphere of such explicit convivality as tonight, Edwards’ central message — I will fight for you! — didn’t have much of a chance to gain traction anyway. That being said, he did manage to trump Clinton’s dubious “35 years of experience” claim by announcing that “for 54 years I’ve been fighting with every fiber of my being.” 54 years of fighting? Hey, let’s not forget those nine months in the womb, there.) Edwards also brought up one of the first campaign finance questions we’ve heard in awhile — one in which Obama announced he’d ultimately be for public financing, which made me happy — but due to the moderators not seeming to understand their own rules, it never got around to Senator Clinton, where it was likely — and should have been — directed.
Hillary Clinton came across better tonight than she did in New Hampshire, and, to her credit, she also did her part to uphold the truce (at least in public.) But — again, not a shocker here — I still found her dismayingly evasive on several questions: on Robert Johnson (do you believe his ridiculous clarification or do you think his comments were “out of bounds”?), on whether her opponents were qualified (she couldn’t just say yes?), on the bankruptcy bill (you voted for it in 2001 but was glad it didn’t pass?), and of course, on the politics of fear question, to take a few examples. But, as always, she had done her homework, she smartly went after Dubya a few times, and she had the talking points ready to attack on the Yucca Mountain question. (Without meaning to dismiss the important issue at hand, it’s safe to say “Yucca” is apparently Nevadan for “ethanol.”)
So, at any rate, I’d say Obama came off the best tonight, but Edwards and Clinton were both solid as well. (And I would presume supporters of the other two candidates would say the same, with perhaps the names rearranged.) More than anything, tonight was a chance for tempers to cool and for the party to show it was ready — despite the best efforts of Mr. Russert — to discuss matters of substance again. Still, with Nevada this Saturday and South Carolina right around the corner, I wouldn’t expect the next debate to be so congenial.
“I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism.” The attacks grow more pointed among the Dems at last night’s AFL-CIO debate (which I missed), and it sounds like both Obama and Edwards got in some good zingers. (Edwards: “The one thing you can count on is you will never see a picture of me on the front of Fortune magazine saying I am the candidate that big, corporate America is betting on.“) And yet, a new poll finds Senator Clinton widening her lead over Obama to 18 points and enjoying huge advantages in big states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Hmm. Is the race already over? The inveterate pessimist in me says definitely maybe, but let’s remember, Howard Dean was looking pretty solid in August of 2003. We have a ways to go yet. (I mean, the critical Jolie and di Caprio endorsements are still up for grabs, for example. And Obama does have Bourne and Clooney locked up.)