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    February 21, 2008

    Live-blogging the Dem debate

    Posted by: Chris

    SECOND UPDATE: It also turns out that Hillary Clinton's final answer also borrowed from a frequent riff from her own husband's '92 campaign:

    [Bill] Clinton, 92: "The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people of this state and this country have been taking for a long time."

    Hillary Clinton, tonight: "You know, the hits I’ve taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country."

    To see a side-by-side comparison between her final answer and Edwards' earlier debate remarks, check out this short YouTube video:

    All in all, I agree entirely with TPM's Josh Marshall about the significance of these "plagiarism" issues, whether aimed at Clinton or Obama:

    Just to be 100% clear, there's nothing in the least wrong with this. And it's a great line. But I think it shows the silliness of the 'plagiarism' charges based on a few borrowed lines. Politicians borrow good lines and catch-phrases. Happens all the time. There's nothing wrong with it.

    UPDATE: Whoa. CNN just reporting that the Obama campaign is sending out an email that points out Hillary's final, emotional statement is remarkably similar -- though not completely word for word -- to an earlier debate statement by John Edwards. If that gets widely reported, it could neutralize what was for her a very strong moment.

    All in all, I think Hillary was better on the evening, and it was a great move to talk out the clock and end on such a rousing note. But I don't think she came anywhere close to drawing the contrasts that could fundamentally change the campaign. Obama avoided any gaffes and succeeded in drawing contrasts as well.

    11:41: Hillary references almost jokingly to the "tests" she's faced, but she says they're nothing compared to the challenges she's seen Americans face. I always roll my eyes when politicians "feel the pain" of the people. When she returns to a more personal focus and her own motivations for being in politics and running for president it's a very strong moment for her. She's "honored" to be on the stage with Obama -- something he said about her earlier -- and reaches out for a handshake. "No matter what happens, we'll be fine."  She draws a standing ovation, but it was also the end of the debate. Did she find her "voice" again?

    11:36: Clinton ducks a question about superdelegates, saying the party will unify. Obama says the primaries should "count for something."

    11:34: Clinton has three times Obama's earmarks, and King contrasts that with McCain's refusal to use earmarks. Clinton turns the answer around by pointing out McCain's support for Bush tax cuts and the Iraq war. Deft but not answering the question.

    11:32: Jon King asks Obama about his pork barrel earmarks, claims he has refused to disclose them. Obama denies that and says he has.

    11:25: Obama draws a contrast, saying he's better positioned to debate John McCain on Iraq because he opposed the war from beginning. Clinton will be reduced to arguing tactics. Her attacks on the plagiarim issue and health care were more pointed, but he's drawing as many contrasts as she is. You would think these two candidates were still tied in the race for the nomination.

    11:23: Asked about the surge, which neither supported, Clinton repeats what she's said in the past about how the surge has succeed tactically but not in its primary goal, which was to give the Iraqi government the breathing room to make political change.

    11:20: Obama does the best he can on his answer, reminding voters that on the most important related issue -- whether to go to war in Iraq -- he was right and she was wrong.

    11:17: Asked again whether she thinks Obama's not ready to be commander in chief, Hillary returns to her own record, and makes a good case for her depth of experince -- although it always rankles me that she counts her eight years as First Lady.

    11:14: The debate over mandates in health care reform strikes me as a bit irrelevant since the form the legislation would take would go through a rigorous debate that depends on many players other than the president of the United States. But they've stuck to it because she thinks it's a good contrast for her.

    11:11: Asked whether when Clinton said, "One of us is ready to be commander in chief on Day One," does that mean he's not, she ducks the question, saying she would "leave that to voters to decide." Returns to health care and for the second time in the debate compliments John Edwards by name.

    11:08: Commercial break. Clinton waited an hour to go on attack. Given the state of the campaign and how tight the polls in Texas (and Ohio) have become, it's really surprising that she hasn't been more aggressive in drawing contrasts. Her attempt to make something out of the plagiarism charge was especially weak, I thought. Still, she does better than him on substantive policy discussions, so perhaps her campaign views that general contrast as the most important one to make.

    11:05: Obama claims she is attacking his health care plan only because he's ahead. He may be right but it's not an effective argument. He's much better sticking to the issues, rejecting her suggestion that his plan isn't universal also. Interesting contrast on her efforts on health care from the '90s, criticizing the lack of transparency and excluding interested parties. Nice point for him that fits his general campaign theme.

    11:00: Hillary smiles broadly and then says, "If your candidacy is about your words, then it should be your words." Uses a clearly pre-planned line (she even glanced down twice to her notes before she said it): "Using someone else's words isn't change you can believe it; it's change you can xerox." The line bombs; boos from the audience and no claps. Also attacks Obama's health care plan for not being universal, and mortgage foreclosures. Finally the aggressiveness that I'd expected. Returns to attacking Bush and says, "Some of us have been fighting for a long time."

    10:58: Asked about the plagiarism accusations pushed by the Clinton campaign, Obama says Massachusetts. Gov. Deval Patrick is co-chair of his campaign and gave him the line and suggested that he use it. "This is when we start getting into silly season in politics and people get discouraged about it," he says. Nicely done. I wish he had mentioned that the Clinton campaign when asked refused to say whether she had done the same thing -- borrowing lines without credit from other politicians.

    10:54: Obama responds by ticking off his accomplishments. Compliments Senator Clinton's record but focuses on "how change comes about." Gets a laugh line in response to Hillary saying in rallies this week that it's time to "get real" as if his supporters are "delusional." References his endorsement by every major Texas newspaper -- a great line for him. All these people and institutions haven't been "duped."

    10:51: Another great line from Hillary: "The next president should be a lot less hat and a lot more cattle." As close as she comes to a barb was repeating that an Obama supporter when asked on MSNBC couldn't come up with a single one of his accomplishments.

    10:48: Where are the contrasts? So far there's no evidence Hillary Clinton will go after Obama aggressively. Jon King clearly wants to rile things up. Asking each candidate about their attack lines abou the other.

    10:43: Asked about whether the U.S. should become bilingual, Clinton says she would encourage bilingualism (even though she doesn't speak a second language), but English should remain common language. Obama essentially agrees. I think it's a great idea to make learning a second language a requirement of primary and secondary schools. It's much easier at that age, trains the brain in much the same way as mathematics and helps expand horizons as well.

    10:40: Obama returns to enforcement in an employment context. Actually that's smart for him, because his voter base is more white men and blacks than Latinos.

    10:38: Asked about border security, Clinton is smart and focuses more on the absurdities of the Bush administration's approach than on what she would do. "Listen to the people who live on the border," she says, another great applause line.

    10:35: Obama talks more about anti-immigrant rhetoric and scapegoating than policy, although he does get to employer regulation eventually. He talks about hefty fines and going to the back of the line, a surprising emphasis given his audience. Makes the point that helping the Mexican economy should be a central part of immigration policy, a great point that could potentially result in fewer undocumented immigrants than more fences and border patrols.

    10:31: Clinton would support stopping raids on undocumented immigrants. A good position for the Texas Democratic primary but not for the general. (P.S. I couldn't agree more.) Ticks through her immigration policy points; no emphasis on securing the borders (surprise, surprise).

    10:27: Clinton takes a shot at Bush, saying the "wealthy and well-connected" have had a president looking after their interests for the last seven years. She's better so far at delivering the snappy applause lines. She also delivers an exhaustive list of policy proposals, including a 90-day foreclosure freeze and a 5-year interest-rate freeze. Popular proposals but extremely interventionist.

    10:24: Obama details his economic plan but hasn't answered the question from CNN's Jon King -- how would a President Obama manage the economy different than a President Clinton. The only contrast he'll draw isn't substantive. He can pull together a coalition and (implicitly) she can't. Will she take the bait?

    10:20: Obama says "extra step" of presidential-level meeting is justified to signal a marked change from the Bush administration's go-it-alone approach.

    10:19: Clinton emphasizes that "prepatory work" should be done first, something Obama also said. She does push diplomatic engagement, so the contrast here isn't so great. Good applause line: Era of unilateralism of Bush administration is over.

    10:17: Obama would meet Castro without precondition, as he said he would in a previous debate with the presidents of Iran and Syria. Human rights and democratic change would be on the table for the visit. No normalization of relations until changes happen. He's right that total isolation of Cuba has netted pretty much nothing to the U.S. except pacifying influential Cuban-Americans in Florida.

    10:15: Clinton is asked if she'll sit down with Raoul Castro, Cuba's new leader. She sets preconditions for direct contact, including democratic change and release of political prisoners. A presidential visit would be "eventual." So why does the U.S. president regularly meet and visit other world leaders who are dictators and even Communist?

    10:10: No historical connections to Texas from Obama, but he references locals he's met on the campaign trail. He seems a bit rundown, with less energy than her. "We both offer detailed proposals," he says, a subtle dig at her claim that he's all talk and no substance.

    10:07: Hillary's opening statement reinforces her ties to Texas, including friendships with Barbara Jordan and Ann Richard, both immensely popular figures. (Richard, by the way, was long rumored to be a lesbian and lived for many years in the same house with her longtime female assistant and close friend). She stays positive, and draws no contrasts -- a bit of a surprise. With the clock ticking, I expected her to come out with guns blazing.

    10:02: The audience in Austin loves both candidates, but they appear to love Barack Obama a bit more than Hillary Clinton. I predict more fireworks than there were in Los Angeles but not as derisive as the Myrtle Beach catfight.

    10:01 p.m.: I have never tried this before, but I thought I would try live-blogging tonight's debate. It could be good or it could be a complete disaster... ;)



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    1. Kevin on Feb 21, 2008 10:41:17 PM:

      Hillary's closing statement was indeed very good. But it was at the end of the 19th debate, and she's losing. So, it was much more a valedictory speech of the losing candidate, going out on a high note, than it was anything near a comeback.

      It's over.

    1. Pete on Feb 21, 2008 10:50:33 PM:

      Ugh! Why would Obama camp release a comparison of Clinton to Edwards words, when his mantra has been to avoid the "dirty" old politics and concentrate on the issues.... This seems to just bring him down to the level he professes to be above!

    1. Randy on Feb 21, 2008 11:14:11 PM:

      It turns out the statement is, well, close to what Edwards said in a prior debate. Ben Smith at politico.com plays out the comparison. Basically Obama is parroting Patrick and Clinton is somewhat mimicking Edwards in the closer. Nothing to get too excited about. I personally wish they would both shut up about the plagarism issue. Obama's campaign could have taken a high road on this. They look like idiots bringing out the Edwards comparison. Bad move on that campaign's part.

    1. Strict Scrutiny on Feb 22, 2008 12:18:44 AM:

      Nice idea to do something different.

      10:15 - So why does the U.S. president regularly meet and visit other world leaders who are dictators and even Communist?

      I take it you're asking why we won't meet with Castro, but yet we will gladly meet with say, Hu Jintao, leader of communist China. The answer, of course, is economics.

      The United States has democratic ideals, but those ideals take a back seat to economic and strategic needs. China and Vietnam, both communist, provide us with cheap goods and raw materials that we need to power our economy. Saudi Arabia, another despotic regime, provides endless oil. And, you see, we need all this stuff to power our economy. So, we ignore the abuses of those governments and maintain cordial relations with them.

      Unfortunately for Cuba, it doesn't have anything we need; so, we're free to criticize that government.

      Our policies toward Cuba are grossly hypocritical. We pal around with the tyrants in China and Uzbekistan, but yet we won't even call Castro on the phone.

      Our attempts to isolate Cuba have failed. I sincerely hope that Barack Obama, if elected, will engage Cuba. It's the best way to bring change to the island.

      And now, I wonder how long it will take from some neo-con pinhead to start shrieking that I'm a communist sympathizer?

    1. Kevin on Feb 22, 2008 1:14:13 AM:

      SS --

      I think you're largely right. Living outside the U.S. has really opened my eyes to how far our country's diplomatic and political position has fallen even with our friends. The time has come for some very clever but very dramatic changes in direction there, and on all fronts.

    1. Geena the transgirl on Feb 22, 2008 1:46:09 AM:

      I think Hillary won by giving those who were with her before tonight, no reason to switch.
      Undecides may break for Obama, but I also think Hillary squeaks by with two wins because she has yet to lose a state where she polled over 50% with less than two weeks out. She's still at 50+ in Texas and Ohio.

      She'll make it a seven game series.

    1. Craig Hickman on Feb 22, 2008 3:59:12 AM:

      Hillary was good. Barack was better. He was the most presidential and made a convincing case for his judgment as Commander-in-Chief. Hillary came across as though she was interviewing for a regular job. She centered her campaign around her experience and being ready on day one, but it doesn't work. Especially when her campaign has been a relative disaster.

      As for Hillary's final moment. It was scripted. She delivered it well, but it was part John Edwards and part Bill Clinton, which I have no problem with, but it's simply not her.

      And I don't know why a person who was minutes before criticized for her wrong judgment in helping to send the US to war would invoke maimed soldiers as her vulnerable moment.

      Incongruous. And that's putting it nicely.

      She said after New Hampshire that she had found her voice. Unfortunately, she left it in Manchester.

    1. Chris on Feb 22, 2008 10:28:53 AM:

      Cuba sits 90 miles from the coast of Florida. Millions of Cuban nationals and their families live in the U.S. The U.S. government tried dozens of times to kill Castro and overturn his government. The U.S. policy of isolation shows no signs of having the impact intended. It was widely assumed the end of the Cold War would cut off Castro's lifeline from the U.S.S.R., but that benefactor has only been replaced by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The U.S. will always have enemies willing to fill in the gap left by our isolationism because Cuba's geographic position makes it the ultimate thumb in the nose to America. It's way past time for a policy of engagement to be tried, especially now that Fidel Castro is gone.

    1. Chris on Feb 22, 2008 11:31:43 AM:

      Pete and Randy: It depends on how the Obama campaign was using the Hillary 'plagiarism' charges. If the Obama camp was making the same claim the Clinton camp had -- that borrowing words suggests inauthenticity -- then they would be stopping to the same level. But if, as was the case, the point was that 'borrowing language' is a common occurrence in politics, including for Clinton herself, then it was a perfectly legitimate point to make -- and a very different one than the Clinton camp's low blow.

    1. Strict Scrutiny on Feb 22, 2008 1:18:51 PM:

      I totally agree with Chris' comment above re: Cuba. Very well stated.

      To Kevin:

      Just so you know, the parting comment in my initial post above was not directed at you at all. Your previous comments have always been friendly and respectful, so I appreciate that and have no issue with you.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Feb 22, 2008 2:13:45 PM:

      Living outside the U.S. has really opened my eyes to how far our country's diplomatic and political position has fallen even with our friends.

      The hilarity for me of living abroad was how many people would bash the United States repeatedly one minute, then in the next talk about how they wanted to visit, emigrate, and work there because there were so many more opportunities.

      Furthermore, I fail to see why we should be interested in the opinion of countries who hide blatant self-interest behind anti-Americanism.

      Meanwhile, Strict Scrutiny, what I find interesting is your upset over us talking and having relationships with China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and whatnot, but then insisting it would be a good thing to engage Cuba because doing so helps bring change.

      As if it hasn't to China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia.

      But then again, these countries are not ruled by vicious demagogues who hate us and everything for which we stand, and who can't open a speech without blaming us for all their problems. The Cubans clearly don't want or like us, and I see no reason not to take them at their word.

      Furthermore, Cuba doesn't need our help. Neither the Soviet Union then, or Chavez now, will let this icon of their "revolutionary ideal" collapse; instead, billions of dollars will be pumped into its economy to maintain the tottering house of cards and, more importantly, taken away from being used on something that might actually hurt us. The only people who actually get screwed in the process are their own citizens, who are being deprived of their own money so that their leaders can purchase worldwide leftist respectability, and that invariably carries its own consequences.

    1. Kevin on Feb 22, 2008 4:24:59 PM:


      LOL! Thanks for that, and I feel the same. But I never imagined myself a neo-con of any type of head (pin, etc.) :-)

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