This one was no fun to watch. I left a high school girls’ basketball game for this?
I regretted my decision right away, as soon as Hillary Clinton began her health care tutorial that went on and on and on.
We’ve heard this argument umpteen times in previous debates, but Senator Clinton never tired of bringing it up, even when the moderators tried to change the subject three times.
“I have to respond to that because this is not just any issue,” she said the first time. The next time it was, “Brian, Brian, wait a minute. I’ve got—this is too important.” And the third time, when Brian Williams finally said, “Senator, I’m going to change the subject,” she just kept going for another eight sentences.
She wasn’t beating a dead horse. She was carting it off to the glue factory.
If she had her way, she would have talked about health care all night long. But even if her plan may be marginally better than Obama’s (and neither is for single payer), she lost points by not letting go. (Later, she almost wouldn’t let Brian Williams cut to commercial break.)
On NAFTA, Obama had the clear advantage. Clinton foolishly criticized Brian Williams for coming to her first on the subject, and then she made an odd reference to Saturday Night Live that did not have the desired effect, whatever that might have been.
On the substance of the issue, both Obama and Tim Russert pointed out irrefutably that Hillary Clinton had been a supporter of NAFTA. So when she said, “I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning, I didn’t have a public position on it,” this was not very persuasive.
And Obama pointed out effectively, later on, that, “You can’t take credit for all the good things that happened but then, when it comes to issues like NAFTA, you say, well, I, behind the scenes, I was disagreeing. That doesn’t work. So you have to, I think, take both responsibility as well as credit.”
On foreign policy, Obama parried Clinton’s criticism that he’s not experienced enough with the rejoinder: “Well, Senator Clinton I think equates experience with longevity in Washington.” And then he went on to talk about judgment, and compared his to hers on the subject of Iraq, calling it “the most important foreign policy decision” of this generation and a “strategic blunder.” He linked her with Bush for “making the decision initially to drive the bus into the ditch.”
Obama looked bad only twice.
First, when Tim Russert asked him why he was going back on a pledge to take public financing. (Obama didn’t give a good answer to that.)
And second, when Clinton accused him of never holding an oversight hearing on NATO’s role in Pakistan, even though he chairs a subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that deals with NATO. All Obama could say to that was, “I became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven’t had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.” So he shirked his duties while running for President?
But other than that, Obama deflected the question about the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, and Clinton’s jab about it. Obama did the obligatory back flip to demonstrate that he was an outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism and a staunch defender of the “special relationship” with Israel. For her part, Clinton grandstanded by saying when she ran for Senate, she rejected the support of the obscure Independence Party because it “was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti-Israel.” She acted as though this was some kind of profile in courage. “It looked as though I might pay a price for that.” Really? In New York?
Through the whole debate, Obama demonstrated poise and grace. He congratulated Senator Clinton several times. He said she has “campaigned magnificently” and even applauded her delivery in that speech where she mocked him about the sky opening with celestial choirs. At the end, he refused Brian Williams’s bait to criticize her.
Clinton, as she usually does, ended strongly. She stressed the value of being the first woman President, saying it would be a “real challenge to the way things have been done, and who gets to do them, and what the rules are.” That line drew applause, which otherwise was few and far between. And she stressed that “we do need a fighter back in the White House,” someone “who gets up in that White House and goes to bat for them.”
The implication was that Obama would not fight for the little guy.
She got the last word. But she did not clinch the deal. And by holding his own, Obama should keep on chugging.