Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The Great Debate
The Rumble in Cleveland is under way, and the candidates just did a 16 minute back and forth on universal health insurance coverage (horridly misnamed "universal healthcare" by many Dems on the left. Hillary filibustered most of the discussion, and looked a bit like she was trying to prolong it. Barack finally made the point that my husband and I have been screaming at the television hoping he'd hit in the last few debates, in response to Hillary's claim that his fliers on the issue read like they were written by the big insurance companies. Obama pointed out that "the insurance companies aren't unhappy about a plan mandating that everyone in America buy their product." Bingo.

Hillary just made her first big mistake. Taking the second issue question, on NAFTA, Hillary bitched about always being given the first question in the debates, and adding that "anybody who saw Saturday Night Live" would see her situation, and notice that she isn't the one being offered a fluffed pillow by the moderators (paraphrasing). Way too early to use your "hit the moderators" schtick, Hillary. It looked petty.

Update: I think Obama got the better of Hillary over the entire NAFTA exchange. He was able to get to his prescriptions for job creation before she did, while she wasted her first answer mired in criticisms of the way he and the press have characterized her support (or lack of it) for NAFTA during her husband's term. I will give Hillary points for superior fact control. When she is taking criticism, she puts a game face on while Barack tends to pout.

Update 9:40: Barack just delivered a facial to Hillary on Iraq. She tried the "he gave a speech in 2002 but his judgment since then has been the same as mine and I would look more credible standing next to John McCain" angle, and he responded with this:

"Hillary has said during this campaign that she is ready on day one, but she was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue. the same person she criticizes for having terrible judgment, and we can't have another one of those, she facilitated him."

Ouch.

He also successfully rebutted her claim that he "threatened to bomb Pakistan."

Update 10:06: Hillary got Tim Russert on a question regarding Iraq in which he threw out a hypothetical dire outcome of the U.S. pulling out of Iraq (straight out of Fox Noise, Tim...) Hillary called it out as such, and won that exchange with Tim. Unfortunately, she went right back to criticizing Barack rather than making an affirmative case for herself after that. She did score points on Barack's failure to hold any hearings in his subcommittee on European affairs, which includes NATO. Barack's answer that he was appointed to the chairmanship at the start of the campaign wasn't his best moment.

The candidates then reacted to video clips of them criticizing each other. Both did fine.

Now, Tim Russsert is trying to push the issue of Farrakhan endorsing Barack. Barack already denounced Farrakhan's past statements, and Russert won't let it go. Now, he's trying the angle of making Barack answer for his pastor, Jeremiah Wright's past praise of Farrakhan. How in the hell Barack is supposed to answer for someone else's statements you couldn't tell me. Russert is reaching for ways to prove he doesn't have a crush on Obama, and it doesn't make him look good. Obama's line: "I live in Chicago, he lives in Chicago. I can't tell him he can't say I'm a good guy." He kept the answer on himself.

Now, Hillary is trying to turn it around by pointing to her past rejection of the support of people deemed anti-Semitic, when she was running her Senate campaign in 2000. Hillary just tried to say "there's a difference between 'denouncing' and 'rejecting'" -- okay... Obama's response: "I have to say I don't see the difference between denouncing and rejecting ... but if Senator Clinton feels that the word 'reject' is stronger than 'denounce', I will concede the point, and I'll reject and denounce." Set point: Obama.

I hope I'm still somewhat objective on this, but I have to say that so far, Barack is drinking Hillary's milkshake. He's drinking it up...

The TiVo's caught up now. More after the commercial break.

10:20 update: Obama just answered the "National Journal calls you the most liberal Senator" question by pointing out the two issues that placed him to the left of Ted Kennedy in the conservative mag's rankings: revolving guest worker status that includes a year of illegality if the worker doesn't go home, and the idea of having an independent ethics investigator overseeing Senate ethics probes. He turned it around by saying that the American people don't care about the labels, they care about results.

10:23: does it matter that Hillary couldn't quite name the likely next president of Russia? She was very artful in talking about Putin's hand picked successor without using his name, and you knew it was coming that Russert would try to pin her down on the name. Unfortunately for Hillary, she had a semi-Bushian moment, garbling out "Medeveduh ... whatever..." (For those of you writing this down, his name is Dmitry Medvedev, and yes, I had to look that up...)

10:26: Hillary just answered the "is there any word or vote you'd like to take back" question by naming her vote on Iraq, saying "I would never have taken this country to war as president." It's about as close as she's come to apologizing for the decision. Now she's pivoting to a "what we will inherit from George Bush" soliloqy, which was well done. Obama is taking the question now, saying that during the Schiavo dust-up, he is saying he didn't stand on the floor and stop the Congress from voting to intervene. He is rejecting his inaction, rather than an affirmative vote, saying "sometimes inaction can be as costly as action."

Now, Obama is saying that "there's still a lot of fight left in this contest, but one thing I'm clear about is that Hillary has been campaigning magnificently, she's an outstanding public servant, and I'm honored to be running with her. What's important is that these campaigns deliver for the American people." Damn. this guy just stole Hillary's swan song from the last debate, only when he does it, it doesn't look like the ned, it looks like the beginning. He added that both of them are "running to restore the sense of public service." Well done.

Final question, from Brian Williams:

What question does Hillary need to answer for the voters?

Paraphrasing Barack's answer: "there's no doubt that Hillary is qualified and capable and would be a much better president than McCain, who has tethered himself to the policies of GWB... I don't think she has to answer a question of whether she's capable, but here's why I'm better: I think I can bring this country together in a unique way, across race, religion and other divisions..." Well done.

Hillary's turn: what questions does Barack need to answer:

"Both of us feel strongly about our country and bring enormous energy and commitment to this race and would bring that to the White House." She reprised that it's been an honor to run, and added that it's history making. She finally threw in the fact that she's running to be the first woman president, eliciting the first applause for her of the night. "Either one of us will make history, but the question I have been posing is, who can actually change the country?" Also well done, although her answer was more somber sounding and less genuine sounding than last time (besides, he stole her lines moments before... I guess she's not complaining about having to go first this time. Going last against Barack is no great shakes, either...)

Hillary is reracking her line about the wealthy having had a president, and saying its time the working people had one, too, but her final answer lacked the punch and exuberance that it needed to be effective.

Overall, I think Barack one this debate hands down. Not only did Hillary not knock him out, she really didn't lay a glove on him, and I think her demeanor at the end proves that she knows that.

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posted by JReid @ 9:19 PM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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