Friday :: Feb 22, 2008

Debate reactions


by Turkana

Cruising around the tubes...

Blue Texan called it a narrow win for Obama, while Big Tent Democrat saw it as a big win for Clinton.

Steve Clemons has some very good advice for Obama:

So, I may be premature -- but a hearty congratulations to Barack Obama. Now may be the time for magnanimity and embrace of Hillary Clinton, much of her message, her followers and some of her staff. This is not the time for strutting if in fact this first game is over.

It will be interesting to see what happens with McCain now -- but Obama better not underestimate him. And by the way, Hillary is right on health care, right on the strategy to help subprime loan victims, and right on much of her domestic agenda. Obama should borrow a lot more of her stuff.

And frankly, he should grab more of the "details" of the Edwards' policy team.

I agree. I think she wins most of the policy discussions, but of the big three, Edwards was the best. Of course, I'm biased- once Dodd dropped out, I supported Edwards.

As did many, Marc Ambinder wondered why Clinton didn't get aggressive in her criticism:

The puzzler of the night, to me, is why Clinton refused to answer a simple question that she clearly has an answer to: And that is: Is Barack Obama ready to be commander in chief? Clearly -- the answer, for Clinton, is “yes.” It’s her best argument against him. But twice she avoided it and instead recapitulated her own resume.

At this point, she has nothing to lose by making that argument. The fact that she did not suggests to me that she is thinking, already, about life as a Senator from New York supporting Barack Obama and did not want to give John McCain the soundbite that could doom Obama’s candidacy. I don’t think she’s conceded the nomination in her mind, but I do think she had two temporal audiences in mind when she answered: Democrats now and the nation in the fall.

Some assume she's willing to roll into Denver in a WMD-laden Humvee, ready to hold the convention hostage if she doesn't get her way. I assume she's a loyal Democrat, losing a tough race, and that although she won't concede until she's had her last chance, she will, if she fails on March 4, do what's right. She cares about this country and she cares about the Democratic Party, and she understands the stakes, in the general election. Should Obama end this, she'll support him in whatever ways he wants her to.

Josh Marshall also noted her reconciliatory tone:

But there is no mistaking the fact that by every metric and every visible trendline Barack Obama is in the process of winning the nomination. At least conventional political logic would dictate that she had no choice but to go after him just as she has been doing on the campaign trail.

But she didn't.

Some are saying that she realizes she's losing and she wants to lose gracefully or not damage the interests of the Democratic party in the fall. Others that the tack she took is actually the best one for her to take. I suspect it's a bit of both.

Agreed. Not only does she not want to hurt the Party, she understands that debates are not the right places to be aggressively negative. Her Xerox comment was so off-key, and fell so flat. It was but a minor blip in an otherwise fine performance, but it was a clear demonstration that what works before an audience of supporters does not work in a debate.

And Walter Shapiro was among the many who thought her closing comments may have resonated:

But all the armchair speculations in the world could not prepare viewers for the dignity and emotional power of Clinton's answer. "I think everybody here knows I've lived through some crises and some challenging moments in my life," she began. "And I am grateful for the support and the prayers of countless Americans. But people often ask me ... 'How do you keep going?' And I just have to shake my head in wonderment, because with all of the challenges that I've had, they are nothing compared to what I see happening in the lives of Americans every single day."

Then, with the careful geographical precision that is one of her political strengths, Clinton ended this riff by describing a wrenching visit to wounded soldiers at the Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio. It would be melodramatic to believe that a single debate response could rescue a drowning candidate. But Clinton's Austin answer seemed destined to, at minimum, be remembered as a high point of her campaign.

And then maybe out of carelessness or amnesia, Clinton went a beat too far. Turning to Obama, she said, "Whatever happens, we're going to be fine ... I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about." It was a lovely sentiment, one that would make any presidential debater proud. The only problem was -- as the Obama campaign gleefully pointed out in a press release shortly thereafter -- that John Edwards had used almost the identical words in a mid-December debate.

It is safe to say that the overhyped plagiarism issue is officially dead, since both Obama and Clinton have now been nabbed for phrase-swiping. But what will be impossible to know for a few days is whether Clinton -- by recycling Edwards' rhetoric -- marred her moment. The very tentative guess is that Hillary Clinton still managed to inspire voters in Texas and Ohio to look again, perhaps for the last time, at the candidate whom they are poised to jettison in favor of Barack Obama.

And that could help her. Voters in Ohio and Texas know they can end this race. The committed partisans know what they want to do. Those wavering might want to give her another chance, or might have late buyers' remorse. Even if those factors play at the margins, it could be enough to change the narrative.

But my favorite reaction came from Glenn Smith, who was there, in Austin:

You can't be in the room with these two candidates without liking both of them.

I disagree with both candidates on many issues, and on their generally cautious approaches to policy, but even from the distance of a TV screen, I agree with Smith. I love these one-on-one debates. Obama is the frontrunner, and doesn't want more debates, while Clinton, as the underdog, needs them- politics- but they're good for the Party. Engage these two in policy discussions and the strength of the Party shines through.

Turkana :: 3:13 PM :: Comments (14) :: Digg It!