Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Roundup of the Democratic Debate In Philly

The Democrats squared off at Drexel University in Philly tonight for yet another highly controlled debate event. I would rather see another Youtube style debate, or a debate where the audience gets to ask real questions (and where they are allowed to follow-up).

But that day will never come. Unfortunately we will have to settle for these staged PR events.

I knew that there was going to be a debate tonight...but I was not sure exactly where. When I saw the news clips, I noticed that they had my hometown in the background for some reason, even though they were in Philly. Wouldn't it make more sense for the City of Philly to be the backdrop...uummmmm since they were in Philly? I prefer Philly's skyline anyway (apologies to my hometown). Anyway... when I saw my city in the background I went into WT_ ... Hell mode. "There was a debate here, and I didn't know it?.... That can't be, as much as I keep up with the news".

But of course I figured out that it was at Drexel.

St. Louis will have its chance once the big dance starts though. St. Louis should get one of the major General Election Debates next year....as it has for the last several elections.

This meeting was more focused on domestic issues. It was also hyped as the moment when Hillary was going to be confronted by the other candidates. However, they did not seem to put together any meaningful attack against the media's chosen favorite.... despite the fact that there were plenty of things that her opponents could have thrown her way.

Here is a play by play of the festivities from a NY Times liveblogger: (scroll down and read from the bottom up).

Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants 10:58 p.m. Interesting discussion on whether illegal immigrants should be able to get drivers’ licenses, as New York’s governor has proposed. Mrs. Clinton had said two weeks ago in New Hampshire that it made “a lot of sense,” but tonight gave a pretty indecipherable answer. She said that “what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform.”

Mr. Dodd said a driver’s license was a privilege and to extend it to illegal immigrants was “troublesome.” Mrs. Clinton came back to say that she didn’t say it should be done, but that she recognized what the governor was trying to do. She and Mr. Dodd got into a spat about what she had said. She dismissed it as a “gotcha” question.

Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama called her on what seemed to be a shift in her statement. Mr Edwards said, “Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago.” And Mr. Obama uttered a devastating phrase for anyone who remembers the 2004 campaign: he said he couldn’t tell if she is “for it or against it.”

Alternative Minimum Tax 10:39 p.m. The final third of this debate is considerably less intense than the earlier portions. The audience tends to drop off as these things go along, and reporters tend to turn their focus to preparing their stories for looming deadlines. So the moderators try to bring out any “news” early on.

Still, Mr. Russert tries to nail down Mrs. Clinton on whether she supports proposal by Representative Charlie Rangel to eliminate the alternative minimum tax and institute a surtax on those with higher incomes. (The alternative minimum tax was created to prevent millionaires from using loopholes to avoid all federal income taxes, but it can hit people with incomes as low as $50,000.)

Eventually, she says, she will not campaign on Mr. Rangel’s plan, but on the way to saying that, she noted that she and Mr. Clinton had never expected to be in the nation’s top income bracket, that it was a new experience and one she wasn’t entirely comfortable with.

Mr. Obama also said he would not campaign on the Rangel plan, but here he made a smart tactical move, turning the discussion to problems faced not by the richest people in the country but by struggling single mothers.

Social Security 10:13 p.m. Mrs. Clinton is getting a tough grilling tonight from Mr. Russert and she’s being very assertive, very adamant, in making her points. She spurns a suggestion that she has had one position on raising the Social Security payroll tax that she discussed privately with a voter in Iowa and another that she stated in public. In saying she won’t advocate a “specific fix” for Social Security, she reveals a little of her own strategy: “I’m not going to be repeating Republican talking points,” and says that to act like Social Security is in crisis is a “Republican trap.” Mr. Russert quotes Bill Clinton saying that Social Security is in crisis and asks if that was a Republican talking point.

Mr. Obama says he agrees that everyone is against privatization of Social Security, but then raises his bigger objection to Mrs. Clinton, which is an inclination to “muddle through and give convoluted answers” and says Mrs. Clinton “hasn’t been truthful.”

Mrs. Clinton says “I don’t see a difference here,” and that she supports a bipartisan commission on Social Security.

Biden on Giuliani 10:03 p.m. Mr. Biden rises above all this and says he’s not running against Hillary Clinton and turns on …. Rudy Giuliani! As he did in the last Democratic debate, Mr. Biden says Mr. Giuliani is “the most uninformed person” on American foreign policy, adding that all of Mr. Giuliani’s sentences, he says, consist of “a noun, a verb and 9/11.”

On Second Thought 9:44 p.m. Bill Richardson suggests that the candidates should not be going after Mrs. Clinton: “You know what I’m hearing here, I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That it’s bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.”

Christopher Dodd raised the question of Mrs. Clinton’s electability, but also adds, “Look, at the end of this process here, we need to have a Democrat in the White House come Jan. 20, 2009.”

Releasing Documents 9:43 p.m. After the break, Mrs. Clinton says that in a “perverse way,” the Republican obsession with her means they think she is “communicating effectively” about what she’ll do as president.

Mr. Russert asks her whether she will let the National Archives release her documents from your years as First Lady? She says the archives is releasing documents “as they do their process.” Mr. Russert notes that Bill Clinton had written a letter saying that their private communications should not be made public; would she lift that ban? She says it’s not her decision.

Mr. Obama steps in here, which is a place where he makes a clear distinction with Mrs. Clinton. Not releasing these records, when she is making the claim that her years as First Lady are the basis for her experience, he says, is part of the problem. “We need to rebuild trust,” he says and that means being open and accountable. He adds that the Republicans are obsessed with her because it’s a fight they’re comfortable having, and that means she can’t change things. Mr. Edwards continues along these lines. Mr. Richardson urges his fellow Democrats not to bash her, even as he notes his own differences with her. “We need to stay positive,” he says.

‘Tell-the-Truth Mode 9:38 p.m. John Edwards’ experience as a trial lawyer shows, making his case very clearly to the jury. He suggests that Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iran resolution because she was moving from primary mode to general election mode. “Our responsibility should be in tell-the-truth mode,” he said. Mrs. Clinton calls this a semantic difference.

Pledge 9:31 p.m. Interesting exchange when Tim Russert, the moderator, asked Mrs. Clinton to “pledge” that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons on her watch. She said she pledged to “do everything I can” to prevent Iran from doing so. He notes that she’s not making a full pledge. She repeats that she pledged to do everything she could. Whether this works for you probably depends on your definition of pledge. Mr. Edwards will also not make an air-tight pledge, but says, “What I will do is take all the responsible steps that can

be taken to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
Mr. Obama says, “I think all of us are committed to Iran not having nuclear weapons,” and adds: “I think there is a larger point at stake, Tim, and that is we have been governed by fear for the last six years, and this president has used the fear of terrorism to launch a war that should have never been authorized. We are seeing the same pattern now.”

Iran 9:11 p.m. Mrs. Clinton is asked why she voted for the measure declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. She’s certainly not defensive about it. She says her vote was an expression of support for using economic sanctions and “vigorous diplomacy,” not a rush to war. Will this be enough to quell her critics? Mr. Obama says the resolution doesn’t send the right signal to the region and weakens our capacity to influence Iran but does not draw a clear distinction with Mrs. Clinton (he missed the vote himself). Mrs. Clinton, in her clarity of her position, also blurs the lines with her fellow Democrats, saying everyone on the stage “agrees” that President Bush has “made a mess” of the whole situation. Mr. Edwards again is the one who picks up where Mr. Obama left off, saying the resolution “looks like it was written by the neo-cons” and gave Mr. Bush everything he wanted, playing on the idea that Mrs. Clinton is a hawk and part of the Washington establishment.

Out of the Gate 9:02 p.m. Barack Obama is given his chance off the bat to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton. (And to make the first “Rocky” reference.) After a long wind-up, he says Mrs. Clinton has been on both sides of Nafta, torture and Iraq and says, “I think what we need right now is honesty with the American people about where we would take the country. That’s how I’m trying to run my campaign.”

But wow, if that was his opening shot, it was pretty soft. Mrs. Clinton got the signal and goes after the Republicans, not Mr. Obama. But John Edwards picked up the baton from Mr. Obama and also starts in on Mrs. Clinton and says, “I think it is crucial for Democratic voters and caucus-goers to determine who they can trust, who’s honest, who is sincere, who has integrity.”

The Fight in Philadelphia 9 p.m. Hi everyone. We’re watching the Democratic debate in Philadelphia tonight from South Carolina. This one goes for two hours. All aboard!


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