I’m not going to run through every detail of this extremely interesting debate, and I wish I had heard none of the political commentators afterward because listening to Mark Halperin (a virtual friend of mine) after, I was very irritated. He said he gave Obama an A- tonight and then a B+ each to Hillary Clinton and to Edwards.
I have to go with my own filters, not those of others — and to me, regardless of who one supported tonight, it’s clear that each scored points but that Hillary Clinton performed with an authority, presence in that huge hall, and mastery of detail that was just second to none. She hammered Bush on the semi-secret deal he’s trying to rig with the Iraqi government to commit American troops and bases indefinitely — something the others did not mention. She had numbers and details flowing forth as if they were as natural as could be.
One thing that was weird for me in this debate is that Hillary Clinton is clearly not mimicking her husband in any way. John Edwards is. Bill Clinton is the master of anecdotes and “let me tell you all a story” moments. Hillary is dense with facts, details, experiences — but it’s not warm and fuzzy.
I watched Ed Rendell one night at a 4,000 person DNC dinner in the final year of Bill Clinton’s tenure introduce Al Gore in a kind of passing the torch evening from Bill Clinton to Gore. Both Gore and Clinton walked on to the stage at the same time — and Clinton sat meekly behind Gore while the then hoping-to-be 43rd President literally “lost the crowd” which began speaking at an embarrassing volume over his rambling speech.
Clinton walked up after Gore who introduced him warmly (though the two were not speaking to each other in real life) and started his talk with “let me tell you all a story. . .”, and the room went completely quiet.
John Edwards tries that in these debates, and has heartwarming moments — particularly when he spoke about his mill working father tonight — but overall, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama really do Br’er Rabbit stuff. . .and I think I like that.
Here are some other quick reactions just off the top of my head.
First, I was miffed at Obama and Edwards for their ignorance or purposeful duplicity about the subprime home mortgage crisis. They both said that African-Americans were perniciously targeted by lenders. That’s about as untrue as one can imagine. The subprime crisis is an outrage — but it was a systemic problem — and everyone who wanted credit got it. Had everyone else other than the African-American community received loans that were subprime and based on substandard collateral then there would be a case of discrimination, but to argue that Blacks were targeted to give bad loans to — below prime rate levels — was grossly wrong.
Hillary Clinton, alternatively, did not say that. She argues for a “work out” plan that freezes rates for five years (a bit long for my taste and probably hugely economically disruptive) and stops foreclosures for a period of time. The neoliberal Chicago school economist won’t like this approach because it lengthens the period which capital is ineffeciently distributed. But the government — mostly because of a combination of financial innovations in the market it doesn’t understand, leading to poor regulation — actually helped create the housing bubble and the crisis. To extend the bubble to work out the worst elements so that the shock harms fewer people is sensible.
I was surprised to hear Obama and Edwards not embrace this plan. Obama didn’t want to reward speculators. This isn’t a simple game of good guys and bad guys. There are hundreds of billions of dollars of bad loans hiding out there in financial portfolios that are not yet disclosed — and much of the financial network will not finance each other in fear of subsidizing a corrupted portfolio. So, the problem is not only with homeowners but with the entire financial network.
Hillary Clinton got this in a way that really surprised me.
Barack Obama’s answer on US foreign policy was impressive, particularly the part about engaging foreign leaders, the good ones and the bad ones. He gets the general vision of needing something new and different right, but I always find myself wanting more detail.
I thought that Obama was not given a fair shake for his hundred plus “present” votes in the Illinois legislature. That is the way that they do it there. He answered honestly and forthrightly — and Edwards seemed off base to chase it further as it’s mostly an artificial issue overall in my view.
I also liked the fact that while Edwards and Hillary both spoke about green-related job creation, Obama was the only one who said “broadband” and mentioned the need for robust levels of public infrastructure investment across the board. That is the kind of financial stimulus the nation needs now.
I’m glad that Obama got hit by both Hillary Clinton and Edwards for his health plan. He needs to change it and just come up with a plan that covers all Americans. Edwards’ best moment was on health care policy I think, although he was wrong to say that none of their plans cover illegal aliens. I believe that Clinton’s plan does in fact have a sub-tier package of health care for illegals as it’s important to the core mechanism of her plan to cover everyone. When Edwards said that none of them covered illegal aliens, she shook her head no — but then never commented about it.
And while I didn’t like Hillary raising the slum lord issue with Obama, I was surprised to hear him refer to Rezko as “that indivdual.” That individual is someone Barack Obama has known for 17 years and someone who has raised more than $14 million for him and who was on his Senate campaign finance organization. Now Hillary Clinton had Norman Hsu — but while I didn’t expect Obama to embrace Rezko, he might have just said that he was surrounded (as they all are) by people who are not always what they seem to be. At that moment, Barack Obama using “that individual” sounded a lot like — well — you know who. . .
Hillary Clinton was right to blast President Bush’s financial rebate plan in his stimulus package. That kind of spending should be directed at generating America’s next platform for innovation and for rebuilding the core infrastructure of the country. Clinton got some of this right in my view, but Obama was a bit more defined and thorough.
OK, enough now I guess. I’m not sure that these debates matter though I wish they would. I sat tonight watching the debates with a couple of Obama supporters who were groaning about his performance. But Mark Halperin still ranked him first.
They did not — but they still support him. I’m frustrated as I think that Dems need a hybrid Obama-Clinton candidate, and I don’t hear either candidate pushing all of the right buttons, or even enough of the serious, most important ones.
But in my view, Hillary Clinton turned in the best performance tonight. Then came Barack Obama, and close after though not enough came John Edwards.
But just one aside, I “hated” the question Wolf Blitzer posed of “If Martin Luther King was alive today, why would he endorse you?” Waste of our time — and demeaning to King’s legacy and the importance of this debate.
— Steve Clemons