A Good First Start
I watched parts of the Democratic debate last night on MSNBC, and paid attention to the pundit reactions to the candidates. I agree with the pundits that Hillary did a pretty good job last night, whereas I was looking for more from Obama and Edwards. But the local reaction was that the low-key performances of both Edwards and Obama didn’t necessarily hurt them at all. I disagree with Lane Hudson over at the HuffPost about the debate, because Hillary did make some gains, especially by nailing the answer about terrorism attacks here at home, differentiating herself from Edwards and Obama on the use of force overseas, and giving a good answer to the question about access to firearms.
Of course, the real audience for last night’s debate were both the pundits and South Carolina Democrats, so whereas Hillary may have helped herself by impressing the pundits, even Pat Buchanan, it’s true that they all were more interested in not making mistakes. Even David Broder noted that the overall field of the top 6 Democrats is one of their best groups of candidates in years, specifically mentioning that the second tier group of Biden, Dodd, and Richardson are very capable of assuming office. In fact, the Des Moines Register’s influential David Yepsen says the second three helped themselves greatly last night. Politico.com’s Roger Simon said most of the whole field looked good last night, benefiting the American people, and questioned whether or not the GOP field can measure up. Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh was impressed that Biden clearly staked out a separate solution on Iraq that Hirsh thinks reflects the realities on the ground.
Iraq will continue to dominate the discussion in the months ahead, because Bush pledges to continually veto spending measures that call for a withdrawal deadline. General Petraeus said again yesterday that calling for any withdrawal during 2007 isn’t helpful to his efforts, but he reaffirmed that he will be giving the president an assessment in September on how well the surge is working and what efforts the Iraqis are making towards political reconciliation. The outlines for an endgame here at home are lining up.
The original House funding measure called for a later withdrawal date of September 2008, and the public now says that they want Congress not the president to dictate troop levels in Iraq. But they also say that when Bush vetoes the supplemental appropriation, Congress should go ahead and fund the existing troop levels instead of withholding funding.
These mixed messages seem to indicate that the public realizes that Bush is accountable for the surge, but that Democrats and Congress should be in the driver’s seat for winding this war down. This makes the case more clearly that Democrats should allow the funding over the summer without strings and then take control of this war with the 2008 defense budget in the fall, calling for a wind-down by the end of 2008. There are already indications that a compromise is in the works that allows for such funding in the months ahead, as well as some rumblings amongst the GOP that if there is no progress by August, there will be support for shifting the mission and a withdrawal timeline.