In the days leading up to the Congressional Black Caucus-sponsored Martin Luther King Jr. Day debate on CNN tonight, a lot of people — including me — were talking about identity politics, the race card, the gender card, but the card that really got played was the personal animosity card.
The candidates started out talking about the economy. Obviously, everything is in a state of dire collapse because of the Republicans, and Hillary seems to believe that the president can commandeer monetary policy. Where she gets that idea, I don’t know. Her husband never did that and his White House is supposedly where she got her experience. There was generally a lot of bank bashing and GOP bashing, with no solid proposals.
It didn’t take long for the sparks to fly between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which made this debate far more vicious than in any of the previous debates or any other candidates. Hillary Clinton actually got booed, and it is already being reported around the world.
And there’s a video here which shows Obama’s full “trajectory of America” quote. (“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.”)
In an almost schoolyard manner, they taunted each other over who was doing the most good while the other was engaged in the worst sleaze.
Obama said that when he was fighting the evils of Reaganomics, Hillary was sitting on the board of Wal-Mart:
Because while I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.
And when she got her turn, Hillary returned fire and brought up the Rezko matter.
“I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, [Tony] Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago.”
Frankly, I think Obama missed an opportunity there. Not that I’m advocating schoolyard fighting between candidates in a debate, but since sleazy campaign contributors were all of a sudden fair game, this would have been a perfect moment for Obama to “drop the Hsu” (as in Norman….) Perfect opening, and Hillary was asking for it.
Hillary also slammed Obama for his “present” votes, and got booed for that too. I’m not convinced that Obama did the greatest job in explaining why that’s such a great tactic in the Illinois legislature, but he seems to think it was. At least he said so. Again, the nastiness seemed out of proportion to the issue, and it showed how personal this has gotten.
For the first time, John Edwards was looking almost reasonable as he gently shamed the combatants by reminding them that none of this squabbling would help the poor.
After the big gladiatorial event was out of the way, things died down a bit, and the candidates turned to discussing the issues that will determine the direction of the election, and the country.
On the issue of health care, Hillary and Edwards both championed state mandates, and ganged up on Obama, who for allowing that he might not use government force to imprison deadbeat patients, came close to being castigated as a “capitalist roader.” It was almost surreal.
Here I have to say that while I’d never vote for Obama, he does at least resemble a human being in terms of style.
Style does matter, and I think one of the things people forget is that there’s a huge gulf between “Obama the Kind” and “Hillary the Cruel.”
It really came through in the health care debate.
Hillary nearly shrieked when she said “I am not running for president to put bandaids on our problems! I want UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE!”
Shrill, braying, and grating. At least Obama sounds reassuring, even if his policies aren’t.
This may be irrational, but if I am going to have to endure socialism, can’t I at least get it with a more calming and soothing voice?
Style aside, there is a slight difference between Hillary and Edwards 100% mandates and the possibility that under Obama’s plan, you might not be arrested for failing to have health insurance. Stephen Green (who was drunkblogging the debate) got it right in that regard:
7:01pm Let’¬Ä¬ôs be honest about something here. The biggest reason to mandate health insurance is to force young, healthy people (millions of whom neither want nor need insurance) to pay in, thus lowering rates (and thus transferring wealth) to millions of old people who have a lot more money than young people. But old people also vote a lot more than young people. And by and large they vote for Democrats.
The Nanny State is out of control, and unfortunately, their wards vote for more Nanny Statism. (Sooner or later, the left will get their way, and I fear that it’s just a question of time.) It’s scares me the way so many people think they are legitimately entitled to other people’s money, and these candidates just blatantly pander to them. But again, I prefer Obama’s seemingly kinder gentler approach. Perhaps I’m a fool. (They say you catch more flies with honey.)
Iraq (and the war on terror and national security) are what I and many voters think become the most important issue. There are only minor differences between the candidates there. All agree that the war is wrong and all commit to pulling out in a year. In playing to this left-wing crowd, they completely duck the issue of the permanent bases which are already in Iraq and the troops that will have to stay there. While the left has been complaining about them for years, Hillary deceptively made it appear that Bush is building them right now:
…there is a big problem looming on the horizon that we had better pay attention to, and that is President Bush is intent upon negotiating a long-term agreement with Iraq which would have permanent bases, permanent troop presence. And he claims he does not need to come to the United States Congress to get permission, he only needs to go to the Iraqi parliament.
That is his stated public position. He was recently in the region, and it is clear that he intends to push forward on this to try to bind the United States government and his successor to his failed policy.
I have been strongly opposed to that. We should not be planning permanent bases and long-term troop commitments.
Interestingly, for the first time, they’re shifting a bit from Bush-bashing to McCain bashing, and Hillary said this:
If John is right and Senator McCain is the Republican nominee, we know that once again we will have a general election about national security. That is what will happen.
I believe of any one of us, I am better positioned and better able to take on John McCain or any Republican when it comes to issues about protecting and defending our country and promoting our interest in the world. And if it is indeed the classic Republican campaign, I’ve been there. I’ve done that.
I fundamentally disagree with that. And I want to tell you why, because I believe that the way we are going to take on somebody like a John McCain on national security is not that we’re sort of — we’ve been sort of like John McCain, but not completely, you know, we voted for the war, but we had reservations.
I think it’s going to be somebody who can serve a strong contrast and say, “We’ve got to overcome the politics of fear in this country.” As commander-in-chief…
As commander-in-chief, all of us would have a responsibility to keep the American people safe. That’s our first responsibility. And I would not hesitate to strike against anybody who would do Americans or American interests’ harm.
But what I do believe…
BLITZER: All right.
OBAMA: Wait, Wolf, let me finish. I was listening to these folks quite some time.
What I do believe is that we have to describe a new foreign policy that says, for example, I will meet not just with our friends, but with our enemies, because I remember what John F. Kennedy said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate.
On this issue (and it is a very important one) Obama scares the crap out of me, and Hillary clearly wins.
Of course that’s just me; the Democratic voters may feel very differently.
Lest anyone forget the idea of tonight’s debate, or the inspirational figure of Dr. King, the candidates were all asked the following:
Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today, unfortunately, he’s not, but if he were alive today, why do you think he would or why should he endorse you?
Edwards laid out all the reasons why King would pick him, and it was getting a bit tedious. This set up Obama to steal the show with “…I don’t think Dr. King would endorse any of us. I think what he would call upon the American people to do is to hold us accountable…” along with a charmingly subtle dig at Hillary that “change does not happen from the top down.”
How wonderful it would be if government leaders really believed that. Hillary was left to fiddle again about “change,” and I was thinking about the missing White House furniture.
There wasn’t the crass focus on identity politics that I expected. With all the talk of accountability, it strikes me that identity politics is a way for people to avoid precisely that. To hide behind personal characteristics and avoid being judged by the content of their character.
God help these candidates if King were to return from the grave and had a chance to see the system of identity politics that the Democratic Party now champions.
Will we ever be allowed to judge people by the content of their character?
In Bill Clinton’s dreams, I’d say….
Eric Scheie is a licensed California attorney (UC Berkeley ’78; USF Law School ’82) currently living in the Philadelphia area. A registered Republican, war-supporting, small “l” libertarian and self-styled “culture war traitor” he writes (often satirically) about cultural issues and politics at ClassicalValues.com.