The Democratic presidential debate at Drexel Tuesday night was a big local event in Philly, with the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting that the only way to get tickets was through a lottery.
Going into the debate, the Iowa numbers looked like this:
THE NUMBERS — DEMOCRATS
Hillary Rodham Clinton, 29 percent
Barack Obama, 27 percent
John Edwards, 20 percent
Bill Richardson, 7 percent
Joe Biden, 5 percent
Considering all the talk of the invincible Hillary, that’s closer than most people would think.
As PJM’s local Philadelphia debate blogger, I was pretty excited in anticipation, although a quick glimpse around the blogosphere made it clear that most bloggers were definitely not. Who the heck is watching these debates? asked Katharine Ham. TigerHawk didn’t quite make it through. Stephen Green probably wanted to save his liver for better times.
But duty calls. After all, this is my home town, and They Are Here.
The first thing I noticed as the debate started were dark circles around Hillary’s eyes. Or was it makeup to go with the black dress? Hardly the Dracula look, but enough that maybe someone should have been concerned.
Especially considering the earlier speculation (by Ron Rosenbaum and others) about a “potentially devastating sexual scandal involving a leading Presidential candidate.” A Democratic candidate.
So why would the Washington Post be talking about this?
Perhaps her most extraordinary achievement so far has been to largely silence the negative questions about her husband and accentuate him as a positive asset — redefining him from a disgraced, impeached philanderer who pardoned his brother, his cronies and Marc Rich on the way out the door into the statesmanlike eminence grise of the Democratic Party who presided over times of peace and prosperity and is now ready to pass the torch to his wife. She has been helped in that regard by President Bush, whose tumultuous and controversial tenure has fostered nostalgia for the Clinton years.
Might that mean a nostalgic sex scandal involving Bill?
I don’t know, but in advance of the debate, I’d been unnaturally pleased with him, because even though he’s not running for anything, he just keeps having Sister Souljah moments (something of which the nation needs more).
Like this marvelous HOW DARE YOU! moment with a 9/11 Truther. Along with Ed Morrissey, I found myself wanting to thank Bill Clinton for saying that. (Glenn Reynolds said, “Bravo.”) Why can’t there be more of that in the Democratic Party?
I don’t care what you think of her politics, but Hillary can’t pull off a line like that. Had she said “HOW DARE YOU!” with the same level of intensity, it would have been a hit on YouTube, and endlessly regurgitated as comedy. Hillary’s persona cannot do what Bill does. She simply lacks the presidential ethos and that unique form of gravitas tempered by common sense which is second nature for Bill — especially when he’s presented with the opportunity to shame an arrogant crackpot for all of middle America to see.
Not that there weren’t plenty of opportunities for a Sister Souljah moment in tonight’s debate. Sure, it had its boring moments, but every time a question was asked of Kucinich, his answer was…. IMPEACH BUSH!
What to do about a nuclear-armed Iran? IMPEACH BUSH!
What to do about the high price of heating oil this winter? IMPEACH BUSH!
The hedge fund issue? Stand up to Wall Street, End the War, and IMPEACH BUSH!
Like a malevolent Jack in the Box, he just kept popping up with that response. The man is loonier than Ron Paul and no one ever called him on it. More ominously, the only time the audience applauded was when Kucinich said the “I” word. How well this plays in middle America, I don’t know. For his part, Edwards repeatedly referred to Republicans as “NEOCONS!” When he scolded Hillary for her favorable vote on the Iran resolution, he said it was “drafted in the language of the NEOCONS!” (As to what language that would be, I don’t know.) Ian Schwartz has the video of this remarkable statement.
Not only was she far from having a hint of a Sister Souljah moment, I was a little surprised at Hillary’s lackluster performance in tonight’s debate. While there wasn’t blood in the water, Obama and Edwards were scoring points against her, especially Obama, who harped on her failure to have the National Archives release the records of her failed 1993 health care plan from hell.
In the YouTube video, she hedges about whether the records should be released, and Obama nails her on it. “This is an example of her not turning the page” and compares her to Bush.
This exchange caused Bill Richardson to come to Hillary’s defense, and he complained that expressing distrust of Hillary was like an “ad hominem” attack.
While this was more exciting than any of the usual questions and answers, the most exciting part (bordering on a gaffe, really) came later. Asked about the Spitzer plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens (I guess they call them “undocumented workers” or something), Hillary actually claimed to support it, but then backed away and denied actually supporting it after seeing that Senator Dodd was firmly against it, and holding firm.
Here’s an MSNBC account:
Is Clinton blurring the lines AGAIN, now on illegal immigrant driver’s licenses. She said the plan makes sense, but can’t commit apparently. She said she didn’t say she supports the plan, when Dodd said she did. Russert tried to pin her on it, and she obfuscated again.
Edwards called her on it, evoking Bush-Cheney, saying Americans were tired of “double talk.” Obama nodded and got called on and he got to chime in as well.
I haven’t seen the transcript, but the Chicago Tribune account confirms the waffle:
Clinton’s opponents jumped into the fray after she delivered a defense of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s decision to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and then denied supporting the policy.
“They are driving on our roads,” Clinton said, adding, “What Gov. Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum” before objecting to Sen. Chris Dodd’s statement that she supported the policy.
“Unless I missed something, Sen. Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes,” Edwards interrupted.
“I was confused on Sen. Clinton’s answer. I can’t tell whether she was for it or against it,” Obama echoed.
I could tell that she was initially for it. But had she been on her toes, she’d have not been so quick to appear to be for it! It took Senator Dodd’s strong expression of disapproval to remind her that middle America was against it, so she quickly corrected herself and came as close as she could to an about face. And on top of that, she complained that it was a “gotcha” question, which it wasn’t at all. The “gotcha” part was her evasive, finger to the wind waffling, and they all nailed her on it. I didn’t expect that kind of a slip from Hillary. Not quite high drama, but well worth the watch.
Hillary certainly did not win tonight’s debate. (I think Obama did, although Dodd’s articulate and solid performance was quite a surprise.) While I wouldn’t say Hillary is in trouble, tonight I saw a few small cracks beginning to appear in her facade of invulnerability. She lacks her husband’s legendary teflon, she lacks his common sense ability call a spade a spade, and she lacks his sense of humor.
As to humor, the funniest candidate by far was Dennis Kucinich, and I don’t just mean as the IMPEACH BUSH Jack-in-the-box. The most hilarious moment came when he actually admitted — at a presidential debate on national television — that he had seen a UFO.
OK, I like to be on the safe side of things, but they’re right here in my area. So I went outside and looked.
Right now the skies over Philadelphia are clear.
But who says aliens aren’t an issue?
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.
Video highlights of debate at Hot Air