Friday, February 22, 2008

Reflections on last night’s debate

I watched almost all of the debate last night which is a rarity for me. I usually get tired of them after a bit, although I must confess there were several moments when I flipped to CBS to watch a bit of CSI. Hillary Clinton’s tired attacks on Barack Obama haven’t gotten any better or more interesting. Anyway, here are my comments:

1. Obama destroyed her on Cuba and Engaging Foreign Dictators: HRC touted the same old line, when they change, we’ll change. Shorter HRC: Not lifting the embargo or anything else. Obama expressly stated he would be willing to meet with Raul Castro assuming certain issues were on the agenda (human rights) and stated again that he would lift the travel ban and the ban on remittances. He did well on those points. Could have sold it harder (talking about families separated by a failed policy, etc) but no real complaints.
Then the CNN woman suggested that he was backtracking on his lifting the embargo position from several months ago and Obama devastated her on that point as well. He said that of course he favored lifting the embargo, but that there is a process, a step by step process that must be pursued before that can happen. I thought he was very strong on that point.

Then the debate turned to engaging foreign leaders and here things got worse for HRC. She restated her tired adages about not meeting with dictators. Nothing new there. But Obama suggested that we should meet with them and that there was nothing unusual about that. He could have been much, much stronger here (Nixon going to China in 72 for example) and I was a bit annoyed that he didn’t try to peg the shunning policy on the current president (since every president since Nixon until Bush II has actively engaged foreign dictators) but he was strong. The one new bit he did offer was that the US can’t appear as better than everyone else and that HRC’s idea of withholding presidential summits would just fuel the sense of American elitism. It’s an interesting point and he might just be right. Bottom line – the debate started off very poorly for HRC and Obama was awesome.

2. Health Care: This is obviously HRC’s strong issue. But it’s also a clear weakness for her as a candidate. The reason is, the public doesn’t care much or even understand the finer divergent details between Obama and HRC on this issue. Frankly, I don’t even really understand it all that well and I certainly couldn’t say who is “right” on this issue. HRC was really aggressive during this part of the debate but I don’t think it won her anything more than “a few debating points” as David Gergen put it. This would have been a great strength of hers against McCain, but against Obama, who has a very similar plan, I just don’t see her making inroads or gaining support because she requires a mandate and he doesn’t.

Not only that though, I think there was something in Obama’s tone that was a bit different this time. He implied that if his plan didn’t work 100%, he would expand it, change it, and do what it took to ensure 100% coverage. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I think that pretty much trumps her expertise on the matter.

3. The negative ads: HRC’s campaign made some very pathetic and frankly idiotic complaints against Barack this week (namely that he “plagiarized” and that he was all talk and no action. These were very, very stupid things to say because not only did they not resonate with voters, they set Obama up to destroy her in this debate. Which he did. Thoroughly. To the plagiarized claim, he stated that he lifted one line from a man who is on his election committee who suggested he use it. HRC came back with her “Xerox” line which was soundly booed. And rightfully so. In her heart, I’m sure she knows that she was being petty and unpresidential.
To the all talk, no action claim, Obama just destroyed her again. Essentially he said that that was an insult to not only the things he’s done but to the millions of people that have voted for him. He went on to state that words do matter and that he uses words to motivate the public, to make them partners in change. He looked very presidential while, once again, HRC looked petty.

4. Tone: I thought there were several moments where it looked as if HRC was conceding. When she shook Barack’s hand, for example, and her closing statement. I don’t think that defined her other than suggesting that she’s going to lose gracefully. But in general, I thought, like many others, that if HRC was going to have a chance, put up a real fight, she was going to have to come out with the knives out. She didn’t do that. Instead, he basically had nothing new to offer and repeated tired lines from previous debates. I’m guessing she did that on purpose. For awhile now my big fear has been that she would destroy the Democratic Party to win. Let’s hope last night’s essential concession becomes a trend. Because the more she listens to Mark Penn (her advisor), the uglier and pettier things get and that’s bad for Democrats.

Conclusion: I thought Obama came off very presidential last night. He's a vastly better debater than he was when he started this process and it showed. HRC looked graceful in defeat. I think the contest is now (unofficially) over. Bring on Robot McCain.



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