Despite the best intentions, I only ended up watching about half of last night’s debate and, even then, I wasn’t really paying complete attention to the television set. Part of it was fatigue, and part of it is just the fact that listening to two Democrats tell me how they want to spend my money and run my life just didn’t interest me that much.
That said, I will say that I was somewhat surprised by the debate in some respects. Given what’s at stake on Tuesday, it was much less confrontational than I thought it would be:
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) — Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent their last debate before next week’s Super Tuesday contests pointing out differences on Iraq, health care and the economy — but without all of the finger-pointing that’s marked their campaigns.
The exchange was in sharp contrast to previous debates because of the absence of political sniping, yet was one of the most substantive policy discussions yet in the race for the nomination.
Yes, well, at some points “substantive” turned into mind-numbing as Hillary and Obama got into the minute details of their health care proposals, which are far more similar than different regardless of what the candidates might say. The one point where I think Obama did manage to score some points was when the subject turned to Iraq; once again, Hillary was unwilling to come out and say that her vote in favor of war in 2002 was a mistake. In front of a Democratic crowd, that seemed to help Obama.
Ron Chusid agrees that Obama scored points on the war, and says that Hillary failed to do anything to blunt Obama’s surge:
Clinton is in a no win position on Iraq. No matter how she tries to wiggle out of it, she was wrong. She is trying to copy John Kerry’s position that the vote was not the same as supporting going to war. Unfortunately this argument didn’t work politically for Kerry and it will be even harder for Clinton to use it. Kerry opposed the war before it started, giving some credibility to his argument, but Clinton did not. If Kerry could not get away from his IWR vote, Clinton has much less of a chance. Clinton also copied Kerry’s language in discussing going to war as a last resort.
Obama also outsmarted Clinton on immigration. Obama used a question to sound more attractive to Latino voters, where he has been weaker than Clinton, and refrained from blaming immigrants for the economic problems of blacks. Clinton fell into the trap of framing immigration as a black vs. Latino conflict and took the black side. This won’t be enough to get the black vote to move from Obama to Clinton, but this exchange could pick up some Latino votes for Obama.
With momentum already moving in Obama’s direction, and Obama cutting the gap between the two to only four points, Clinton needed a clear victory to return to her previous position as overwhelming front runner. Obama might not have done enough to jump significantly, but following the debate we will probably continue to see movement towards Obama.
The immigration question that Ron mentions was interesting. It was a Politico question from a voter and seemed designed to force Obama into a racial corner:
This is from Kim Millman (ph) from Burnsville, Minnesota. And she says, “there’s been no acknowledgement by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of immigration on the African-American community. How do you propose to address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor?”
Senator Obama, you want to go first on that? And it’s for both of you.
Obama’s response, whether you agree with it or not was politically masterful:
OBAMA: Well, let me first of all say that I have worked on the streets of Chicago as an organizer with people who have been laid off from steel plants, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and, you know, all of them are feeling economically insecure right now, and they have been for many years. Before the latest round of immigrants showed up, you had huge unemployment rates among African-American youth.
And, so, I think to suggest somehow that the problem that we’re seeing in inner-city unemployment, for example, is attributable to immigrants, I think, is a case of scapegoating that I do not believe in, I do not subscribe to.
And I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad for not watching the whole debate, even Stephen Green skipped his regular drunkblogging.