Tuesday :: Jan 22, 2008

The South Carolina Debate


by eriposte

Unlike the bloviators on TV who actually think their opinions are worth something, I know my opinions aren't, which makes it easier for me to write what I thought about yesterday's debate. I have to say I was initially uneasy with the tone of the debate but on balance I thought this was a kind of debate absolutely worth having because this election is too important and we can't have candidates just being nice to each other all the time and avoid defending their own records. On balance, there is no doubt Sen. Edwards did some good for himself because, rather than mostly repeating parts of his stump speech on where he grew up and who needs to be bashed in Washington (not that that is unimportant), he was engaging the other candidates in a more substantive way and also spending more time discussing his own proposals on what he plans to do. Whether or not that translates into any significant vote gains for him is a question mark at this time. While all candidates had their moments, I think Sen. Clinton outdid Sen. Obama (my thinking is somewhat along the lines of Steve Clemons on this) - but Sen. Obama was clearly in friendly territory, just like Sen. Clinton was in the Nevada debate last year. So, I would be surprised if this debate in any way helps her in SC or hurts Sen. Obama in SC.

What did impress me about Sen. Clinton is the fire she showed in defending and articulating her positions. For example, I was simply blown away by her passionate stance in favor of universal healthcare. Here's the video - take a couple of minutes to watch it.

I'm not going to get into the fact-checking of the debate since I don't have time and I'm sure you can find plenty of that on the web today (there are no angels running for President but you all knew that already, didn't you?). However, I want to make two quick points. One, Sen. Obama and his supporters come across pretty poorly when they keep complaining about how inappropriate it is for President Clinton to be a strong advocate of Sen. Clinton on the campaign trail and challenge Sen. Obama's record. Other than the fact that this is another Clinton Double Standard, this also makes them look like they are weak and can't stomach an ordinary battle, a battle that is going be one-hundredth less difficult than a general election campaign against the Republicans. Sen. Obama's debate performance didn't give me much more confidence about his ability to withstand withering Republican attacks. So, if I keep hearing their complaints, I will take that as a reflection that Sen. Obama and his supporters are positively afraid of a tough fight (especially given that the media has been in the tank for Sen. Obama and against Sen. Clinton for months) - so be careful what you wish for. Second, Sen. Obama tried to deflect the focus on his "present" votes by saying he has always fought for progressive positions. Nice try, but the issue there is not just whether he fought for progressive positions - the issue is what it says about his claimed ability to make tough choices and what it says about him in a leadership position. As I've explained before, you don't get to pick "present" as an option when you are in the White House. You don't get to say "I will neither sign nor veto this Bill" just because you are unhappy with one or two provisions. You won't get more than a few seconds or minutes sometimes to make very tough decisions as a President - decisions that often require you to take actions that you don't like or approve 100%. That's life. It may be easy for Sen. Obama to skip controversial votes in the Senate to avoid taking a public stand, but he can't avoid tough decisions in that manner in the White House. That is really one of the fundamental bases of the critique about his "present" votes. Just because it was a politically "approved" strategy in Illinois, it doesn't mean voting "present" was the right thing to do or that it really showed leadership as some Obama supporters were moronic enough to claim.

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