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Clinton-Obama Debate Summary

February 25th, 2008

Perhaps it’s a bit late, but I did take down notes on the debate, no sense in wasting it. It’s not a transcription, but a summary–maybe preferable to those who didn’t want to wade through all the details (here’s the transcript in case you do), but also were not satisfied with the press summary.

In their opening statements, Obama won the coin toss and let Clinton go first. Her speech was more of a rah-rah get-the-crowd-cheering speech; Obama was more sober, speaking of people who suffered without health care and factories where equipment was unbolted from the floor and shipped overseas. While Clinton captured the initial mood, Obama made a good choice, enabling him to play off of that and come across as more serious and presidential.

First question: On talks and relations with our enemies, in this case, for example, Cuba:

Clinton: we should meet with leaders with an eye toward normalization, but a presidential meeting should be held back as a plum to reward concessions.

Obama: we should meet with leaders with an eye toward normalization, but we should not hold ourselves so lofty as to say just meeting with our president is a prize; instead, we should realize that valuable and meaningful progress is mostly achieved in early meetings between heads of state.

Comment: both have points to make here. It may be my bias speaking, but I prefer the Obama’s idea. Hillary might a point that if we have a commodity worth something, we can use it as a coin to trade with. However, I think Obama has a better point: better to get the job done instead of waiting and hoping for other countries to pay for the privilege of being seen with our lofty leaders. It is somewhat arrogant, and there is an upside to opening dialogs with others. Being willing to talk is a commodity as well.

Second question: How do differentiate yourselves from each other on the economy?

Obama: Shift tax breaks from companies investing overseas to those investing at home; shift tax cuts from the wealthy to the middle and lower class; move to a “green” economy which will reduce dependence on foreign oil. We agree on many of these, but the difference is how they’re done. We must work together and get rid of special interests.

Clinton: I agree with Obama on the basics he laid out. Also: hold a “trade agreement time-out” until we can review those agreements to make sure they are beneficial to us. Take immediate action on the sub-prime crisis: put a moratorium on foreclosures and freeze interest rates. Next: create green jobs, invest in infrastructure, end Bush’s war on science.

Comment: Obama clearly expected to be able to respond to what Clinton said (as she was allowed with the first question), but the CNN moderator cut off the question after Hillary went over her time, and moved to the next question.

To Clinton: Would you consider stopping federal immigration raids?

Clinton: In “egregious” cases, we would have to continue raids, but otherwise we have to stop. Need to have immigration reform; crack down on employers, federal help for communities on costs for immigration enforcement, help create jobs south of the border, create a path to legalization (pay fines & back taxes, learn English).

Obama: tone down the ugly rhetoric and lessen antagonism toward immigrants; bring comprehensive reform: stronger border security, crack down on employers, require undocumented workers to pay fines, back taxes, learn English–and go to the back of the line. Fix the legal (but discriminatory) immigration system, and improve our relationship with Mexico and fix problems on that side of the border.

Comment: I like the fact that both are for cracking down on employers. In my opinion, that’s the only way to stop illegal immigration–if that’s truly what you want to do, with all the costs that move implies.

Are you for or against the border fence? (Asked to Clinton, whereupon I began to notice that Clinton is for some reason being given first shot so far at any question of interest to the Hispanic community, allowing her to score all the big points, and leaving Obama to say “me too” and mention some side point in addition.)

Clinton: our current policy is stupid. In some places, a fence is good; in other places, it’s bad; decide by asking people who live where the fence would go. (After finishing, interviewer gives Clinton another chance to explain her points.) Where there’s no fence, use technology and manpower.

Obama: We almost entirely agree. Consult with local communities; some places need fences, other places need the manpower & technology. Important point: we need to also deal with the 12 million immigrants here, and to do that, we need to address the problem of incoming immigrants. Also: an immediate solution is to allow immigrant children better access to education, to avoid the creation of “two classes.”

Comment: Both make fair points, but neither makes much sense on the fence. Do they really think we need that, or are they just saying that to get votes? The fence is stupid; it’s not hard to defeat, even without gaping holes and breaks.

By 2050, we’ll have 120 million Hispanics. How about becoming a bilingual nation? (Again, Clinton gets first shot.)

Clinton: as many Americans as possible should become bilingual, but English should remain as “common, unifying” language. English should not be the “official” language, but should be the dominant language.

Obama: important that everyone learns English, but also every student should be learning a second language. If bilingual education helps, then have it, but also emphasize foreign-language study. NCLB, with its standardized testing, has pushed out foreign language study.

For Clinton: You’ve both attacked each other. let’s haul out one of the reasons you think Obama is bad and discuss it. Do you really think Obama is all talk and no substance as you have said on the campaign trail?

Clinton: I respect Obama and this has been a civil campaign, but I offer solutions and I have better records and accomplishments. (Did I hear hissing when Hillary brought up Obama supporter’s inability to name his accomplishments?) Actions speak louder than words.

Obama: I’ve acted a lot: provided health care, tax breaks to struggling families, reformed criminal justice, reformed political financing and pork-barrel spending, helped veterans in need–I have a strong record of action. Our records differ in how we enact change. The charge against me is that everyone who supports me (gives long list) is being duped, when in fact they all recognize that the manner of affecting change is important, and they support my way. We need to inspire people to get past divisions and act at the grassroots level and get real change passed. (great defense)

The moderator jumps on the ‘attack Obama’ bandwagon and brings up “related” (?) point of Obama using speech from Deval Patrick’s speeches.

Obama: Deval Patrick is my national co-chair, advises me, and suggested I use the lines; to suggest this is “plagiarism” is “just silly.” This kind of “silly season” is discouraging and distracts us from the issues. Segues into issues he wants to press–making college affordable, change tax code, get us out of Iraq–specific, concrete proposals. We should spend time on these, not tearing each other down. (OK, that was masterful–especially his “admission” that some of his speeches were “pretty good.” The attack backfired.)

Clinton: if your campaign is “about words,” then they should be your words; if you sell “change you can believe in,” you should not lift “whole passages” and sell “change you can Xerox.” (Obama mutters disapproval, crowd echoes.) Look at the YouTube to see the plagiarism. (Segues into biting attack on Obama over health care and mandates. Hillary is then allowed to ramble on for a while about her accomplishments, despite being way off topic.)

Obama: Responds to health care accusation; explains features which are similar. Defends stand on mandates: it’s not that people don’t want it, it’s that people can’t afford it. It is not true that my plan “leaves out” 15 million people. Clinton’s ’93 was poorly done because it closed out everyone else, even other Democrats; an Obama plan would bring everyone to the table. The point: unless we change the way things are done in Washington, we won’t accomplish anything. (Obama fumbled a bit and was hard to follow in the beginning, but eventually came back and got off enough of an answer to satisfy.)

Comment: This is where I got the distinct impression that CNN was for some reason was trying to throw the debate to Hillary. Not only did they give her first shot at all Hispanic issues, allowing her to score all the points on questions important to a key demographic in Texas, but now they’re essentially doing a “best of” hit-parade of let’s-trash-Obama. They start by suggesting that both of them went negative, which is highly unbalanced (Hillary has been way more negative), but then they just pile on with attacks against Obama. Obama is inexperienced, Obama plagiarizes, Obama’s not ready–huge openings to allow Hillary to attack Obama, where Obama has to go on constant defense. Here’s the last one:

To Clinton: Are you saying Obama’s not ready to be president?

Clinton: I’m ready, you decide about Obama–but I wanna talk about health care. [Moderator tries to stop her, but she steamrolls through.] If we don’t have mandatory health insurance, it won’t work because so many people will not pay.

Comment: See? Not only that, after giving Hillary a chance to rip Obama one more time, the moderator tries to stop Obama and move on before he even gets a chance to speak! Obama won’t have that, however–and the moderator “patiently” allows him a “brief” comment:

Obama: Mandatory programs have a problem: some cannot afford to pay; if you have non penalties, people won’t buy in anyway. If they can’t afford to pay, they are stuck paying fines and still don’t have insurance–so mandates are not a good answer either. We have to debate how to work this out.

Clinton : (Talking over moderator and insisting on taking another turn) Points out that Obama has mandatory insuring of children and fines for people who don’t pay but show up sick after not having insurance. Restates that Social Security and Medicare only work because they are mandatory.

Obama: Point one: everyone will be able to get insurance; two, mandates for children can be effective. If people game the system, we can penalize them. But I am not leaving out 15 million people.

Again, to Clinton: Are you saying Obama’s not ready to be president? (Um, when will get get off the “attack Obama” kick? It’s been almost half the whole debate so far.)

Clinton: I’m experienced. Here’s a list of things I’ve done, and things that are happening that need experience to manage. I am prepared to be president on day one.

Obama: I am ready, I will protect America. We need a strong military, better management, using military wisely. I have shown good judgment where Hillary was wrong, and that has had serious consequences. I decided right on Iraq, I decided right on Pakistan, hillary did not.

Comment: In some ways, Obama is a bit off his mark tonight; he pauses, hems and haws too much. Still, if nothing else, the constant moderator-driven attack against him does allow him to answer the charges directly. Still, you will notice that they never got around to pointing out what Obama criticized Hillary about. They start off by insinuating that Obama attacks Hillary as much as she attacks him, and they leave it with this?

You’re going to face a decorated veteran in the election; things in Iraq are going swimmingly, don’t you agree that the Surge™ has worked?

Clinton: the Surge™ was not just about stopping violence, it was about giving the Iraq government the chance to fix things, and they have not. I would start pulling us out in 60 days, forcing the Iraqis to move faster. I will bring the troops home; we should not continue to be there.

Obama: we’ve seen violence drop in Iraq, that’s thanks to the troops. This is a tactical victory imposed upon a huge strategic blunder. Being against invading Iraq in the first place will be a greater advantage against McCain than it would be to argue smaller differences. The Iraq War has cost us greatly, and has benefitted Iran. This war has been too great a burden on families and veterans, we need to give them what they need. Spending $12 billion in Iraq means we can’t deliver on infrastructure and health care–McCain wants them there for 100 years, meaning we can’t do what we need at home.

Comment: I’m disappointed that neither pointed out that the al-Sadr cease fire had more to do with the drop in violence than Bush’s strategy; I suppose both either disagree with that analysis, or they fear being painted as soldier-haters for not giving the troops full credit for the drop.

Obama, you say you’re against earmarks and pork, but you asked for $91 million in earmarks and you refuse to say why.

Obama: that’s not true. We’ve disclosed all earmarks, I am for transparency in governance. We created Google for Government, to allow people to be aware of what’s being done.

Clinton, you’ve gotten $342 million in earmarks, but McCain says he’s never asked for an earmark and never will. Is he better than you on this?

Clinton: that’s meaningless because he voted for massive tax cuts for the rich and for the Iraq War. (Good point!) Bush got a surplus and balanced budget, and he blew it, and are looking at debts and deficits. I’ll get us back to fiscal responsibility. I’ll stop all tax cuts over $250 million a year and have tax cuts for the middle class. I will move us back to the path of fiscal responsibility and prosperity. (She hints that Bill got us those benefits, and that’s part of what she offers.)

For Clinton: should super-delegates decide a nomination if it goes against the popular vote?

Clinton: Don’t worry, that’ll sort things out, and we will get a nominee and be victorious in November.

Obama: Primaries and caucuses should count for something; the will of the voters will determine the nominee. Having a government that listens to the voters is the most important thing.

What moment of crisis tested you the most?

Obama: The trajectory of my life. Things were hard, I made mistakes, and what was most important was learning to take responsibility and help the community, fight as a civil rights attorney–these made me capable of working together with people and to bring the best out in people.

Clinton: I’ve lived through crises and challenging moments!! But these are nothing to what most Americans face. Others have faced terrible challenges; I have been blessed with a good life, and I want to help others. I am honored to be here with Obama. We’ve gotten support and the American people should too.

Comment: Call me paranoid, but I got the feeling that there was some Clinton-camp audience pre-planning here. If you watched the debate, you’ll note that Hillary supporters did foot-stomping in their cheers for her answers, and it didn’t seem spontaneous. That when she finished her last reply and the audience gave a standing ovation made me more suspicious. It doesn’t take the whole crowd to plan that–if just a few people stand up, most will rise as well. Some say that the ovation was for both candidates, but watching it, it looked like it was for Hillary. Again, on this point I may just be being a bit paranoid.

Overall, I kind of thought that Obama did not do as well as I expected, This was the first debate I have watched, and I expected Obama to be smoother, more confident-sounding. Instead, he seemed to stammer a bit and not get replies off to a rolling start. Hillary seemed more practiced there. But maybe that was just expectation–people who have commented on the debate have said that Obama did better than he had in the past, and that he held his own tonight.

As for Hillary’s performance, I think she sunk herself more than anything else. Her negativity was palpable. When she mentioned Chris Matthew’s stupid “gotcha” question, the crowd actually hissed; when she delivered the obviously scripted “Change you can Xerox” line, there were boos. Had Hillary not pressed these attacks, I think she could have come out with a win (especially with CNN pushing the debate in her favor like they did). She won particular distaste from me with yet another patently false claim–“lifting whole passages” was bogus, especially when Clinton’s rousing debate-ending speech was lifted from a Bill Clinton speech from years back. Again, Clinton tried to say her copying was OK but Obama’s was not because his campaign is “all about words.” What a crock. If someone is eloquent, then they’re only about the words? Get real.

Well, my bias may be showing again, but I really think that Hillary’s attacks were hollow and unpopular, as they have been since South Carolina–but I suppose that with her back to the wall, she must figure she’s got nothing to lose. And after the debate, she took the negative campaigning up a few notches, especially with the “Shame on you, Barack Obama” deal, where she tried to say that he was lying about her campaign with mailed fliers–when, of course, her campaign was sending out mailers with patent lies about Obama’s health plan. And then she decried him for criticizing another Democrat about health plans.

I’ll leave it at that.

Categories: Election 2008 Tags: by
  1. Tim Kane
    February 26th, 2008 at 02:02 | #1

    CNN has done for Hillary what Fox has done for Bush and the republicans. Alsmost no difference.

    See this:


    Politics is a blood sport. Expect Hillary to hit new lows.

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