At the start of this morning's debate, George Stephanopoulos announced that Barack Obama led the pack in the Iowa polls, Hillary Clinton a close second. As the press and this writer have noted, Senator Obama has a target on his back. The first question was about him but not directed to him: “Is Obama ready to be president?”
The Democrats went on the attack: Senator Biden said he was not ready and then George asked Senator Clinton if Senator Obama was ready. She danced around that question (at first) by saying that she was there as a candidate, no negatives. It is important to note that except for Governor Richardson, the remainder has been or are senators. History does not show many examples of senators elected to the presidency. Hillary had this to say about Barack: “naïve and irresponsible — I don’t think a president should give away a ‘bargaining chip’ to anyone.” Barack body language was clear—he was ready for rebuttal.
The other candidates agreed that neither Barack nor anyone “should telegraph intent to our adversaries without precondition.” Dodd (who is polling zero in Iowa) said Obama was “confusing and confused.” Biden on Obama’s readiness: “It was about Pakistan. We have no Pakistan policy but a Musharraf policy. We should be encouraging free elections…I think he can be ready but he is not. There is no on-the-job training for the presidency.” Senator Obama took the criticism like a young Ted Kennedy with who faced a similar charge during his first election and went on to win.
When he was finally given the floor, Obama said: “To prepare for this debate I rode in the bumper cars at the state fair”…applause and laughter. Here are some of his words: “I think there is substantive difference when meeting with our adversaries. We tried the other way it didn’t work. If we have Osama Bin Laden in our sights and have exhausted other options we should take him out.” And he added: “We should describe to the people in debates what our position is about on foreign polity. Aggressive diplomacy…is going to make us safer.”
Next, a clip was shown of Clinton's comments on this same question of military aggression, made two years ago: “No option should be off the table, but I will take nuclear weapons off the table. The Bush administration tried to drum up support for military action for Iraq…bunker buster bombs…this was not a hypothetical…we shouldn’t use hypotheticals (sic)” Obama defended himself by saying there was no difference between their views. “We do have to deal with that [military] problem…Invasion of Iraq has made worse.”
John Edwards asked to give his opinion (on the war): “How about a little hope and optimism? We have a clear path in Iran…(we should) work with our friends in Europe…Musharraf is not a wonderful leader but provides some stability. They have a nuclear weapon…in contention with India over Kashmir. It is not shocking that people in Washington are criticizing [Barack’s position]. Is he right or wrong? I think I would not talk about hypothetical(s) and nuclear weapons, because it limits your options.”
No one agreed that Obama was right. Was he right? He was right. Gravel never held his tongue about the administration which is “’cooking the books’ on Iran. Resolution: Under no circumstances should you invade Iran.” He continued: “What about our destabilizing their government over the past 25 years. A plan the Neocons had back in 1997. They [Democrats] helped Vice President Cheney…who should be committed!”
Then Karl Rove's opinion was introduced from a transcript of the Rush Limbaugh show in which he discounted Clinton's electability: “There is no frontrunner who has gone into a presidency with as high negatives…nobody has ever won the presidency with that high a negative.” Democrats are afraid that Clinton will weigh down the Party. I too predict that the cause and effect of a Clinton candidacy for president could cause some Democrats to run for the door.
Obama followed with: “If you are tired of the backbiting and scorekeeping of DC…a common purpose and a common destiny. We are going to need somebody who can break out of the political patterns over the past 20 years. I’m your guy.”
It was John Edwards who reminded the panel how “in 2006 the dems stood for change. If we become the party of status quo, we will loose. Who’s most likely to bring about change? Take on the lobbyists. You cannot negotiate with them. You have to take their power away from them.” Hillary at some point remarked, “I find it interesting that Karl Rove is so obsessed with me. We know how to win. I had 18 wonderful years in Arkansas where the governor is going to endorse me. I know how to beat them. It [Rove’s criticism] doesn’t matter to me a bit. Of course, you are going to have high negatives.”
On the question of universal health care: Edwards said that the reason “we don’t have universal health care is because of the insurance industry and the drug lobbyists. We should make it clear that we are not going to take money from the drug company or the insurance industry. You can’t sit at the table and negotiate with them.” Dodd, an experienced politician (whom the Kennedys are said to endorse), makes good points. He said, “I brought Republicans to the table on a democratic principle (i.e., family leave act).”
Iraq Out, Soldiers Out?
Can the soldiers be out by December? This question Edwards answered first by saying that “any democratic president will end this war.” However, from listening to the candidates, it seems a clear consensus that exiting Iraq will not be easy, cheap or swift. We [leadership] cannot just go to Wal-Mart and order up a safe, cheap redeployment from Iraq. It seems clear that the quagmire of Iraq has gotten messier over the years, by design. “They [other candidates] cling to strategic mistakes.” said Senator Biden. “There is much more at stake here, how it ends.” He painted a picture of future disasters and said that, “we cannot be out by December.” Obama added much to the conversation “I think Joe is right on the issue how long is this going to take. I agree with John Edwards, all of us would bring this war to an end — I think it is going to be messy. I wish all the people on this stage had asked this question before we got in. Nobody had more experience than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld!” Good point, because Barack said big experience was not the answer. Obama made clear that the ones with the most experience made the biggest and the MOST mistakes.
George then directed the debate to the question of partition—does it make sense? Barack addressed this and said that Iraqis should decide if partition makes sense. Seems logical to me. He said to “put pressure on Republicans to stop giving Bush a blank check. Begin an orderly phased withdrawal.” Dennis Kucinich wryly reminded, “It was a democratic senate, you voted for it. Dems have to stand up to the pledge we made in 2006, bring the troops home now. You cannot expect a new direction with the same kind of thinking…we cannot privatize Iraq’s oil.”
Wrapping up the debate was an emailed “personal God question:” Hillary said, “I don’t pretend to understand the wisdom or the power of God. I have relied on prayer in my life. I am very dependent on my faith and prayer is a big part of that.” The Democrats pray—okay. That’s a good thing. “Prayer only admits that you are not in control and that the prayer does not prevent bad things from happening,” good answer from Edwards.
An email video came in probing truth telling: At what time did they not tell the whole truth? Edwards gave the best answer. He did not tell the whole truth in that he did not speak about his “deep turmoil” about voting for the Iraq war. Clinton said pretty much the same thing, she now regrets giving Bush the war vote because he misused it. Barack, strangely, talked about global warming not being talked about and did not actually answer the question. That was an obvious faux pas.
On performance-based pay: General comments were to give the benefits to teachers who go into the tough areas and not based on merit, this could make teachers bitter, and reform NCLB. Barack said to give the teachers more money, but also not have them spend time teaching to the test. Hillary said we are trying to change the culture within schools. Focus on kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. (That is already in place. There are pre-K schools in Texas where ONLY Spanish-speaking children are admitted. English-speaking children barred from such schools!) We have to know what questions to ask about schools and students left out or included. Who was for full-merit pay? That was dicey. It was unclear, and answers political. Gravel got riled up again, pointing and shouting at Obama and said, “Who are we going to nuke next?” (Translation: why is Obama for building up the military?) Gravel wants to know why not offer (paid for) education from kindergarten to college, as other countries do, for U.S. citizens.
One of the final questions: Should they lower rates for everyone, and not just banks? He asked for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. That was not easy. Richardson said this was “the Katrina of the mortgage lending business” wow—that bad. Gravel kept up the verbal finger pointing. Joe Biden brought up the hedge funds and Gravel said, “Follow the money of those on the stage!” Most agreed that more liquidity was needed. The debate closed with comments from each on how they came to this moment as a presidential candidate, their time to give personal glimpses.
Overall, the debate was more fired-up because the frontrunners are so far out in front! Obama now in first place, Clinton second followed by Edwards and the others all the way down to a zero polling by Dodd. I enjoyed the banter and the volley of Q&A much better focused for this debate. But it still felt like the other debates because the same eight people are there, many saying the same darn things, great things or not. They were scripted and a little stale. I think a winnowed field is on the horizon especially in light of primaries which have been moved up earlier than ever.Powered by Sidelines