I’m not traveling so am going to watch and report on the Democratic presidential debate tonight. I’m not expecting a lot. The frontrunners are still a bit too much “Bush-lite” for me. For more, see this essay by Financial Times Washington Bureau Chief Edward Luce on “timidity” in Democratic presidential ranks.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer has opened this up and is giving the audience the general playbook.
Terror, terror, terror — the first question is a high fear one directed to Obama. Hasn’t the Bush administration succeeded in keeping the homeland safe? as exhibited by the arrest of three individuals trying to blow up JFK Airport? Obama replied that we are less safe today because of Bush’s actions — not safer. He might be right, but the response is still pushing that fear button — sort of like Fred Thompson saying today that “we are fighting evil.”
John Edwards said that the “Global War on Terror” is a bumper sticker, a political slogan that has masked Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, spying on Americans, and the like. He’s right.
Hillary Clinton disagrees wtih Edwards (and with me). Terrorists are suicidal terrorists — “and we are not safe enough.” More fear.
Ahhh…Kucinich lays it out. The “Patriot Act”, he says, has undermined the liberty of citizens in this country. He would repeal it as unconstitutional. Brave. One really wishes he was more of a front-runner.
Now to Joe Biden. Why were the others on the stage with Biden wrong to oppose the President’s spending bill for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden supported the legislation. He has made the claim that he has fought the President’s plan with a hard and real plan of his own, and he’s right. Biden wouldn’t challenge his Democrat colleagues on their votes.
Hillary Clinton voted for every funding bill in the past regarding this war — and has now changed track. Blitzer asks why. She says they are all united now — all on the stage — of wanting to bring the war to an end. But yet her opener was all about what an unsafe world this has become.
Obama makes the point that he opposed the war before John Edwards did — said John Edwards was four and a half years late. Hillary piles on by saying that this is “Bush’s war” (she is right) — and said that Bush keeps the war going (she is right), but she’s not being honest about the extremely intense complicity between Congressional Democrats and this President in launching this war.
Check out this cool “Talk Clock” on Chris Dodd’s website. He needs to get some more air time.
Bill Richardson doesn’t seem on top of his game. He’s usually more direct and bold — but got caught off guard by Blitzer on a Darfur/genocide question that led into an inchoate response dealing with keeping troops in Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Mike Gravel is doing his thing — puncturing the logic of those who want to keep a military edge on our foreign policy. Thinks the insurgents and the Iraqi population are inseparable at this point — much like Vietnam.
Kucinich wants to stop all funding for the war — but having no funding bill. He’s a purist — not too practical actually — but very compelling. Biden gets hot — and he’s doing a great job now. “It takes 67 votes to end the war!” And he is right that there are no such 67 votes. . .not yet. Nice burst, impressive, and articulate.
John Edwards has a good line: “We have to reestablish trust with the American people as President.” Edwards was being honest and gave credit to Barack Obama for opposing the war from the beginning — and admitted that he, Edwards, was dead wrong in supporting the war. Neither Hillary nor Edwards felt guilty for not reading the National Intelligence Estimate report on Iraq.
Gravel believes that no one who voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution deserves to be President of the United States. He suggests that they don’t have “moral judgment.”
Hillary doesn’t get it. She’s calling Bush wrong for the institutionalized deception about the buildup to the war — and Bush’s refusal to allow inspectors to go back in. But what Wolf Blitzer is NOT pushing is the illogic of the mission creep that occurred when Bush (with an assist from Congress) expanded the theater of conflict from Afghanistan to Iraq.
That was the error! We were taking on bin Laden and his protectors. Saddam Hussein was a classic thug who could be dealt with in a classic “thug management system” that America, Britain, and Europe broadly aren’t bad at. Bin Laden was different. Blitzer is not pushing Hillary in the fact that her own calculus should have driven her to scream about this illegitimate expansion of the war to deal with Hussein, who was clearly already mostly contained in a British-American straight jacket.
Bill Richardson does not believe we need a 700 mile fence on our border with Mexico. Nice statement by Richardson. Biden voted for the fence because there was no alternative, but he’s also not a strong supporter of the new border architectural enhancements. Ahhh. . .Obama voted for the fence too!
But somehow Obama jumped from the fence to border patrol and the guy with TB who slipped through the border. And like — will a fence — or better trained border guard really fix that? I think he didn’t connect there.
Should English be the official language of the United States? Only Gravel said yes. Obama retorts that that kind of question is designed to divide us. (One might say that questions about evolution vs. faith-based alternatives does the same. . .but nonetheless I want to know).
Hillary has the answer. “English should be the national language of the United States, but not the official language because of the legal ramifications.” She’s right actually.
Dodd is also right is that we need more language training in the country — but he’s getting too hot about a relatively unimportant political issues. Too much passion about the wrong thing can be a killer.
Chris Dodd’s Talk Clock has Dodd and Gravel trailing the others. Dodd deserves way more time — but he’s got to break in about stuff that matters.
Argghhhh. . .Obama doesn’t understand the realities of health care. He says that the big difference between his health plan and that of John Edwards is that the latter plan insists on mandated coverage for all Americans. Obama just doesn’t think some people can carry that load.
The reality of the health care debate is that there are too many people who CAN AFFORD health care who are electing NOT to be covered, and their defection from the system makes it very hard to cover the risks and costs of those at the lower end. A mandate is absolutely essential to get everyone covered in a reasonable way. Even a key libertarian writer, Ron Bailey at Reason Magazine wrote that such a mandate system combined with the continuation of a private health care system was the only way to get real coverage that all could accept. Obama is wrong on this, and someone needs to tell him.
Chris Dodd says that America is 42nd in the world in infant mortality. That is incredible, and I didn’t know it.
Edwards says that you must get everyone in the plan — or many millions will be left uncovered. Obama just cut off Blitzer and kept the debate going by talking about Information Technology in rural hospitals. Everyone in the room with me just groaned — and complaints about Blitzer’s weak moderating hand just became the gossip of the moment.
A question about gays in the military for Hillary Clinton — Was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a mistake of the earlier Clinton administration? She says it was a “transition policy.” She properly says that this policy is being applied in a discriminatory fashion. She’s absolutely right, and her answer was impressive. She quoted Barry Goldwater — America’s most famous 20th century conservative in my view — who said “you don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.” Can’t say I like the metaphor, but it’s a good point.
Now to Biden on the same question. Biden says “Peter Pace is flat wrong.” Ok. I’m gonna vote for Biden. . .at least at this moment. He’s actually doing the best of anyone tonight with his boldness, his theater, and he’s got his verbosity way under control.
Bill Richardson thinks that he voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. I don’t think that there ever was a vote — as I believe that Clinton did this by executive order. I think that Richardson may have meant that he voted against the “Defense of Marriage Act.” Not sure here, but I think Richardson may have misspoke.
Bill Richardson said that the ideal job for Bill Clinton was as Secretary General of the UN — but that probably won’t happen. Richardson believes the former President is needed in the Middle East and that he would make the perfect Middle East Peace Envoy.
Barack Obama isn’t saying what he’d do with Clinton other that that “we need solid diplomacy” instead of “bluster.”
Hillary believes in using former presidents to correct the severe damage of the last eight (really 6 1/2) years. Nothing more specific about Bill.
Chris Dodd is outlining an impressive plan on a national energy policy — but nothing about reducing the price of gas. The real answer is to keep the price of oil high, via a tax to fund alternative development.
Gravel, who has no chance of winning this race, says it clearly. He not only looks at the apparent price of gas — but suggests that the blood and money defending that oil supply is an implicit subsidy. Gravel’s money quote to Americans: “You are paying $7.00 a gallon and don’t even know it.”
John Edwards wants to go after the big oil companies and basically thinks that they are gouging Americans. That’s not a good enough answer for most — but probably makes the trial lawyers crowd happy.
Bill Richardson scored with his “Apollo Plan” and his inspired talk that we need to conserve, innovate, create new options. He does have a good plan that he didn’t get enough time to describe.
Biden thinks that we need to fix America’s energy problem by driving far higher CAFE standards on automobiles.
We are now having a three-minute break.
The “Talk Clock” shows Joe Biden at 4 minutes and 45 seconds; Hillary Clinton at 9:25; Chris Dodd at 4 minutes; Edwards at 7:06; Grave at 2:59; Kucinich 2:28; Obama 8 minutes and 19 seconds; Richardson 7:23; and Blitzer 8 minutes and 23 seconds.
Anderson Cooper just asked whether anyone noticed that John Edwards keeps calling Senator Clinton, “Hillary” rather than the former. I noticed, and found it odd — but smart. Too much respect of each other is not a winning style. He’s putting her down in a pleasant way. But she’s not letting him get an inch from her on that. Very interesting how the body language stuff matters on TV.
Voter questions are now up.
The first question has really already been covered. How would you (meaning the candidate) end major military operations in Iraq? Kucinich gave the same answer that he did before — though he did thank the teacher for her and her husband’s “service.”
Barack Obama is asked what he thinks of Kucinich’s response since Obama wants to increase the size of the military by nearly 100,000 troops. (actually 92,000) Obama evaded the question.
Chris Dodd thanks the lady for her service too — they all will no doubt before the evening is over. Says that every president must do what must be done to “make America safe and secure.” He might cut the F-22 among weapons systems that ought to be reviewed with respect to 21st century threats facing America.
The next questioner has asked why American servicemen can’t be treated in hospitals of their choice. Barack is trying to be way to knowledgable and in the weeds on this one. Too micro. Too wonky. Barack advisors need to know that he gives awesome speeches, but his responses lack the luster he needs. I’m eavesdropping on a room FULL of Obama fans and none of them are too thrilled right now.
Richardson would give her son/husband — said husband. . .but it is her son deployed in Iraq — who would get a “Hero’s health card.” Ugh. Richardson lost me on that one. It’s great to help veterans — but please, let’s not become the Soviet Union in the way we obsess around the military and nationalistic features of our already militarized and hyper-nationalistic nation. I know my views will be controversial, bur Richardson is not on a good track here.
Frank Luntz, if advising Obama whom he likes basically, would be pissed right now for the number of “numbers” that Obama has thrown at his public in his response about VA health care policy. Way too complex.
Wow. A question about Iran. Would you use force or diplomacy?
Hillary believes we should have been using diplomacy for years now — and implicitly criticizes Bush for being late to the game and allowing much progress in Iran’s nuclear program with nothing from our side. Wolf Blitzer asks what if diplomacy with Iran fails? She won’t get into hypotheticals — but says the Bush administration doesn’t believe in diplomacy — and actually took a huge swipe at Cheney who the administration sent to the Middle East and questioned how that could be seen as diplomacy. (Here is the clip of Cheney’s comment on Cheney’s “so-called diplomacy“. Sizzling.)
John Edwards thinks that we need carrots and sticks with Iran. Nuclear fuel and economic opportunities on one side — and economic sanctions and isolation on the other.
Biden would do away with “the policy of regime change.” Yes. He’s so right. You can’t negotiate easily or confidently with parties if they think that the moment after a deal this nation will try to destabilize iran’s government. But Biden said “if they have a missile on the pad, I’d take it out.”
The question is about Pakistan to Hillary. How do we reconcile the US relationship with Pakistan when it is not a democracy. She lays out both sides saying on one side Musharraf is not interested in democracy and on the other is a key person we depend on for security help in the region. She suggested a “high profile” group of American advisors who might help Musharraf and Karzai (in Afghanistan) do what was needed to help accomplish American security objectives — but that apparently fell on deaf ears when she suggested this idea to the White House.
Obama made the good point that we should not have allowed ourselves to become distracted by Iraq when we were going after bin Laden in Afghanistan.
John Edwards made the sensible point that given the fragile state of Pakistan’s society and the rising radical Islam there — that we have no idea what might come after Musharraf if his government fell.
I just missed something — so check the transcript. Was in the restroom — and came out and Bill Richardson was saying “I was there.” I think he’s talking about Darfur and genocide. Did Bill Richardson say that the way to move China on Darfur was boycotting the 2008 Olympic games? Geez…
I debated Richard Perle on Crossfire in April 2001 and he made that same proposal when we were in the middle of a crisis with China during the spy plane incident. Take some points away from Bill Richardson on that. John Edwards just jumped in on Richardson’s side — against Chris Dodd who wasn’t silly about this — and so Edwards loses some points too.
My crowd here is saying that Bill Richardson has given (so far) the worst answer of the night on the China/Sudan issue and that Richardson would boycott the 2008 Olympics to get leverage on China with Sudan. No one here buys that. And it seems like a “Bush-lite” answer from a candidate who has been otherwise impressive with his commitment to complex engagement with all international stakeholders. Richardson gave up more territory.
Kucinich got asked about “national service” mandates. Kucinich opposes mandated service. Dodd opposes mandatory service too. Both think people should be inspired — and be given the opportunities to serve the nation if they choose to.
What is the definition of “rich” one New Hampshire self employed guy just asked the candidates. Obama said that in his health care plan, $250,000 of annual income clicks the rich register. He’d roll back the Bush tax cuts to that level of wealth. It’s clear that Obama really needs to smooth out his responses. Way too wonky.
John Edwards uses the $200,000 a year level as the rich line. Edwards just suggested his “college for everyone” proposal — sounds somewhat interesting, but we certainly didn’t get enough time on that idea.
Bill Richardson is a strident budget hawk — wants a constitutional amendment on balancing the budget and wants a line item veto. What’s odd is that he doesn’t get that there is no way for America to invest in itself and to reverse some of the serious current economic erosion without a Keynesian approach in the post-Bush years. We just need to dramatically invest in our public infrastructure — and Richardson doesn’t believe in that.
Kucinich got a hot line in. “We need to stop borrowing money from China to wage a war in Iraq.” He said a lot of other left-pleasing stuff too. But his first line on China was the best.
Would Chris Dodd give up appropriations earmarks for Connecticut if elected? The question implied that earmarks are corrupt. Dodd thinks that we need something along those lines — but not a firm straight-jacket. Dodd thinks we need national fiscal discipline to get financial house back in order. I don’t think that any of the candidates realize that the right answer is that we need new public investment that is focused on high productivity possibilities for the nation.
Hillary did a good job reaching out to Middle Class Americans who reminded the nation that we had a balanced budget six years ago — but that the real story is the way in which the Middle Class is shrinking and bearing more and more burden while the rich acquire more wealth.
Biden calls for “public financing of elections” as the way to end the special interest demand for earmarks. He makes a lot of sense on this. I like that he thinks about the underlying drivers of political realities. More of the candidates need to do this.
Edwards highest priority in the first 100 days is to travel the world and try to re-eastablish America’s moral authority in the world.
Hillary Clinton’s first priority would be to end the Iraq War if Bush had not yet done it.
Obama would focus on ending the Iraq War — and then get his health care plan passed.
Richardson would revitalize education — get science and math out into the schools (?). Has anyone told him that the federal government’s role in education in the nation is. . .like. . .hyper-small?
Biden, in his first 100 days would defuse the tensions with North Korea and Iran — and bring the war in Iraq to a close.
Kucinich said that he would stop funding the war — and then a bunch of other stuff. . . like a non-profit health care system for all, cancelling NAFTA, withdrawing from the WTO, etc.
Gravel said that he wants those on the stage today — part of the American leadership now — to get these problems fixed.
A lot on the table.
My quick response is that Biden did well — so did Hillary. Obama lost some points. He is just too wonky, unclear, and occasionally just stuck in the weeds. Edwards held his own and neither gained nor slipped. I think Richardson dove a few points. Kucinich made his crowd happy. Dodd unfortunately didn’t score as well as he should have. . .and Gravel is where he was before.
And here is the final on the Dodd “Talk Clock.”
— Steve Clemons