Some Chinks In The Armor
AP photo of Hillary giving Tim Russert a “f*ck you” smile tonight after the debate
I watched parts of the MSNBC debate from Philly tonight, and as a Clinton supporter this wasn’t a comfortable night. When I endorsed her back in July, I made the case that she handled herself well in debates, and came across as well informed and ready to assume the presidency. Perhaps she was frayed from being the sole target of attention tonight, but Hillary showed some flaws tonight. This wasn’t her best debate, perhaps because she was constantly defending herself from a gang of men: her opponents and Tim Russert.
Yes, she stood her ground well on Iraq, but resorted to a straw man in defending her Iran vote on Kyl-Lieberman, in claiming that she alone was pursuing a middle option between military action (the GOP) and doing nothing (allegedly her Democratic opponents). And I think she did OK in dealing with Social Security. But what troubled me more was that when faced with ongoing pressure tonight, she compared to her opponents was unable to give answers of any real substance on some of the issues. Hillary’s answers on education, energy and oil prices, and the shortage of doctors in this country were lacking compared to most of her competitors. She tried to walk around answering the question on Charlie Rangel’s tax reform bill. And then towards the very end of the debate, she went off the tracks in trying to walk around answering the question on whether or not to give illegal immigrants a driver’s license, and gave John Edwards and Chris Dodd a chance to score major points; Edwards by nailing her for giving what appeared to be two answers and Dodd for cleanly stating he was against giving illegal immigrants a privilege like a driver’s license.
At times she came across as someone who is so guarded against misspeaking that she ends up saying nothing of substance. She has spent so much time positioning herself in the general election on national security that she sometimes can’t demonstrate a breadth of knowledge beyond that and health care. Being able to express clearly 2-3 central points about a range of issues is a virtue. You don't have to be a wonk to do so, nor do you have to apologize for speaking your mind and being comfortable in your own skin.
Overall, although the conventional wisdom was that Obama would amp up the direct challenges tonight against her, it was Edwards and even Dodd and Biden who did that effectively, especially on her vote for Kyl-Lieberman.
After the debate, Chuck Todd said the debate indicates that Hillary will have a tougher time later on when the field is narrowed down to 2-3 opponents solely focused on knocking her off the perch and putting her under continual assault. He may be right, and even though tonight may be just a long, tough evening for her in a challenging setting, her campaign must go to school on this before the next debate.
Hillary, you are 30 points ahead of your nearest Democratic competitor, and your leading GOP opponent resembles Mussolini more and more with each passing day. You can afford to speak your mind, show your smarts and humor, and let down the shield a little.