The “Gotcha” Debate
April 17, 2008 1 Comment
For the 21st time this primary season, the Democratic party candidates gathered for another “debate,” this time in Philadelphia and in advance of next week’s Pennsylvania primary, another in a long line of firewall states for Hillary Clinton.
As Charlie Gibson put it, it was round 15 of a scheduled 10 round bout.
And really, it wasn’t much of a debate, as everything has already been covered and on policy matters and goals, there is very little difference between the two remaining democrats.
Instead, much of the debate, if it can really be called that, consisted of the moderators, one of whom owes his career to a Clinton, asking questions of questionable importance about non-issues and bullshit. It’s no wonder Obama labeled it the “Gotcha Debate.”
Part of the problem, of course, was that neither moderator really seemed up to the task and each had trouble coming up with anything new to ask – though Stephanopoulos did find a new attack on Obama, something about an Obama supporter who used to be a member of the Weather Underground, a domestic “terror” organization (for lack of better term) that died off soon after the end of the Vietnam War.
Even Gibson, who is usually very good, stumbled, and right off the bat. The first question was about the possibility of a joint ticket and Gibson quoted the Constitution, which says that the second-place finisher in the presidential election would be vice-president.
“If it was good enough in colonial times, why not in these times?” he asked.
Never mind the fact that the Constitution was amended to change that in 1804 because they realized how silly that was soon after the two-party system developed or that this is a primary, not a general election…
Both candidates performed as expected, with Clinton taking shot after shot at her Democratic opponent and Obama trying to remain above it while repeating his message of trying to change the whole politics as usual thing.
So the debate really became one of style with Hillary having the opportunity to show off her Wonky side, very effectively answering direct policy questions (most of which she answered first, leaving Obama, who agrees with her on many of them, trying to agree with her while saying something different) and Obama showing his vision and attempt to move past the politics as usual.
The moderators played into Hillary’s style, hitting the Jeremiah Wright flap, the flag pin thing and the “cling to” mess, all of which Hillary happily piled on.
But Obama once again tried to explain himself (time will tell if he’s effective) and offered this:
So the problem that we have in our politics, which is fairly typical, is that you take one person’s statement, if it’s not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death. And that’s what Senator Clinton’s been doing over the last four days. And I understand that…
But the problem is that that’s the kind of politics that we’ve been accustomed to. And I think Senator Clinton learned the wrong lesson from [attacks on her in the 90s], because she’s adopting the same tactics…
What the American people want are not distractions… And yes, they are in part frustrated and angry, because this is what passes for our politics in terms — instead of figuring out, how do we build coalitions to actually move things forward?
Obama returned to that theme over and over, especially when George, a trained Clinton attack dog from back in the day, tried to hammer him on his pastor, asking “Do you believe Jeremiah Wright loves America as much as you?”
Come on. What the fuck kind of question is that?
Obama responded well: “This is somebody who is a former marine…”
The next question went to Clinton about the Bosnia flap and it was wrapped in the recent polling data that shows that 6 in 10 Americans do not believe Hillary Clinton is trustworthy.
When asked, here is what she said:
“On a couple of occasions in the last weeks I just said some things that weren’t in keeping with what I knew to be the case…”
Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t saying something you know not to be the case the VERY DEFINITION OF LYING? Did I miss something or did she just say she flat out lied to us and then offer no explanation as to why?
No wonder her unfavorable rating is higher than its ever been.
George, by the way, let her slide and when Obama was given a chance to hammer on it, he too took the high road and gave her a pass.
That’s when Georgie hit him with the Weather Underground question, citing a quote from Sept. 11, 2001 about how William Ayers wished they had made more bombs. George and Clinton both pounced, making it seem as if this quote was said about or in response to Sept 11, when in truth, it was published on Sept. 11.
Clinton then spoke for New Yorkers, calling NYC “my city,” which really bothers me.
I am a New Yorker. I am not from the city though and I make no claim to it. But here this carpetbagger bitch who at this point had only been a state resident for about a year – and never a city resident – and who lived most of that time in DC serving for a Senate position (for which I voted) has the audacity to speak for all New Yorkers about comments apparently “deeply hurtful” to the people of New York, even though I had never heard the quote before, and the Underground hadn’t done anything in the city since the mid-70s.
Obama, of course, pointed out that this is exactly the type of politics we need to move past, and then, as Clinton again questioned his ties, noting that her own “baggage” had been “rummaged through” for years – Obama pointed out that her husband had pardoned members of the same group.
After a commercial, the moderators got to some real issues, asking about Iraq and the economy and even affirmative action.
During those discussions, Clinton really shined, proving again that she knows her shit and is an excellent senator with an excellent grasp on the issues.
Obama was left repeating many of her answers and agreeing without agreeing, which made him look off his game.
Forced to pick a winner, it would have to be Clinton, though the loser was not Obama but the rest of us, who got to see Clinton once again try to move forward by kneecapping her opponent.
Broken down to its base elements, Clinton argues that she is the better candidate because she is the better attacker with more visible baggage (ignoring, of course, that it’s her baggage that makes her come across as an unpopular liar) and trying to take out the knees of the guy with vision.
Obama, meanwhile, made his case that even if Hillary could win – a point he concedes immediately (and I will not), even though it took major prodding to get her to say the same about him – she will not be able to create the kind of governing majority necessary to make any of the actual changes both seem to want to make.
What was really on display again is the basic difference of her as the hard-working policy wonk vs. him as the big vision guy who can unite people behind him. And as we have seen over and over again – and as the superdelegates need to remember when they cast their all-important votes at the convention – is that we do not elect policy wonks to executive positions in this country.
No one will argue that Al Gore or John Kerry had a better grasp of policy, but George W. Bush was and is able to rally people behind him (granted, he has NO IDEA where he is going and it has proven to be off a damn cliff, but still…), and the voters went against the wonky guy both times.
At this point, Clinton is only hurting herself and her legacy, but man, we can really use her in the Senate, doing the detail work she excels at. One can only hope she is not digging herself too deep in a hole telling lie after lie and hammering her own party’s eventual nominee in such a way that she destroys future possibilities where she might do some real good…
Now, if we can only get the eventual party nominees to agree to more than three debates in which there will be actual policy differences to be laid out, we’ll be doing OK, but the odds of that are even less than Hillary being able to convince those 58 percent of Americans that already think she’s a liar to vote for her…