The pundits: Obama won the debate last night, thanks to Iraq
by Jr1886, Fri Feb 01, 2008 at 06:10:32 AM EST
Here's what the pundits are saying about the debate last night:
your pretty face is going to hell:
The debate was tepid, very substantive and saw minimal distinction between Clinton and Obama. Then came Iraq. And it ceased to be close.
Obama made the full-spectrum critique of the Iraq war -- tougher on terrorism than she was, comprehensive in his reappraisal of foreign affairs, vociferous on the need to get out of Iraq and what its implications are. This critique that Matt noticed yesterday? It's not a fluke. This is his closing argument against Hillary, and then McCain.
And Clinton had... nothing. A tiny incompetence-dodge argument, an obfuscatory pretense that she didn't actually vote for the war, and a refusal to consider the error an error even when predicating her support for leaving Iraq on the fact that the war is filled with... errors. (Not that she was naive for backing the war!) For ten minutes, Hillary Clinton looked like her caricature. By the time Barack Obama started his reminder that the vote Clinton cast in October 2002 was a vote for the war by saying "I don't want to belabor this..." it was like a mercy killing.
I don't know how a single Democratic voter watches that exchange and thinks, "Yeah, I'm gonna vote for Hillary Clinton! The war was a tough call and maybe it wasn't a mistake, but it's a mistake now!"
Update: My friend Rebecca reminds me: at one point in Clinton's rambling, spastic defense of the Iraq war -- sorry, but it went beyond a defense of her vote -- she said that Saddam Hussein was "competing" to be a champion of the Arab world with Osama bin Laden. Or something. What was that all about? Is Steve Hayes writing her talking points?
Andrew Sullivan wrote,
It was, I think, his best debate in the campaign so far. The one-on-one format elevated him instantly and he commanded the stage and the occasion. Hillary Clinton did not do poorly. All her strengths were on show: the policy mastery, the gaffe-free talking points, the Clinton record in the 1990s. But that made his mastery all the more impressive. The good natured sparring helped him. He neutralized her on healthcare and simply cleaned up on the war in Iraq. But most crucial: he seemed like a president. He was already battling McCain. She was still pivoting off Bush. In his body language, he carefully upstaged her, without looking as if he were trying. By the end of the debate, he was pulling her chair back for her.
I'd say that he won the primary election tonight. She is still a formidable candidate and her massive institutional advantage may eventually give her the nomination. But she hasn't won this primary argument or this primary battle. If she becomes the nominee, it will be because she survived the primaries. He won them.
You know my bias. It's on my sleeve. But I've criticized Obama's performances in the past and couldn't find a flaw tonight. A good closer, as I've been told for over a year now. You can say that again.
Marc Ambinder wrote,
First Thoughts: The Dem Debate
31 Jan 2008 09:56 pm
I was tempted to call this encounter a draw but I am mindful that there are no zero sum debates in presidential politics.
And twenty minutes of Iraq happened. And so I'll give Obama the edge. Clinton was forced, for about 20 minutes, to recapitulate her vote on Iraq, over and over again. It was tough for her. She seemed to mire herself in the details of history.
Obama came into the debate moving up in polls across the country. His presence was, for the first 45 minutes or so, commanding. His opening statement was pitch perfect, segueing from praise for his rivals to the heart of his message. He ably made his case that this is a change election and the trajectory of change is steeper with Obama. His late-in-the-debate answer on Iraq was much better than hers.
Around 50 minutes in, the momentum swung towards Clinton. Obama was put on the defensive by Wolf Blitzer, who tried to goad him into calling Hillary Clinton unprincipled. Clinton, ah, found her voice, managing to show sympathy for undocumented workers and simultaneously pointing out how she took the effects of illegal immigration more seriously than Barack Obama. Clinton, in seeking a bipartisan solution, sounded more like Obama than Obama. Clinton's answer plays well everywhere: among Latinos in California to conservative whites in Oklahoma.
I think Clinton's goal tonight was to essentially humble herself before the Democratic Party that rebuked her so profoundly in South Carolina. Substance and niceness and graciousness were the order of the day. By her own standards she succeeded. She still doesn't have a good answer to the dynasty question. I hear it a lot from voters on the trail. "We are all judged on our own merits" is a tautology.
Surprise: the time limits helped both Clinton and Obama. She had the time to turn every question back to her credentials and her projection of a humble, expansive, gracious character... she had the time to showcase her unmatched policy depth. Obama, who often chafes at soundbite answers, was able to speak in paragraphs and parentheticals and not have it count against him.
A few thoughts:
*Clinton mentioned John Edwards thrice, Obama mentioned him twice, but he also mentioned Bill Richardson, so, they're equal.
* Also: Someone seemed to have planted the idea in Obama's mind that he ought to start taking on John McCain, which he did, effectively.
* Obama really gives a great answer on the war, talking about the mindset differences between himself and Clinton and stressing the need for a date certain. He's found a way to create daylight between himself and Clinton on withdrawing from Iraq.
* Watching the debate from the perspective of a Democrat, it's easy to see why the party is so enthusiastic about its two candidate finalists.
Chuck Todd, one of the best mind in the business wrote,
Did Iraq tip the debate to Obama? We thought last week's contentious and (at times) mean-spirited debate nearly resembled that rumble-in-the-rain scene in "The Outsiders." Yet last night's Clinton vs. Obama event was quite different. Given their polite exchanges, the cordial tone, and the Hollywood setting, we'd have to say that the debate seemed -- at least to Democrats tuning in -- like one of those feel-good movies in which the protagonists, against all odds, come together and win the day: "Remember the Titans,""Stand and Deliver,""Shawshank Redepmtion." Cue the slow clap. As far as evaluating the debate, it was tough to pick a winner in the first hour. Both made very professional and nice impressions in what had to be one of the largest debate audiences to date. Then came Iraq -- an issue that had virtually disappeared from the campaign trail and past debates -- and Clinton once again showed why the issue has been such an Achilles heel for her. Obama just has an easier time talking about his position, while Clinton has to re-explain why she was for it and why she's not for it now. If the debate were being scored like a boxing match, the first 60 minutes would have been judged as a draw, but the last 30 minutes would have been given to Obama on points, thanks to the Iraq issue.
* Levin Amendment returns: Speaking of Iraq, Clinton was asked a question she doesn't always get: Why she voted against the 2002 Levin amendment, which would have required more diplomacy before the US went to war against Iraq. At the debate, Clinton answered as she normally does, "The way that amendment was drafted suggested that the United States would subordinate whatever our judgment might be going forward to the United Nations Security Council. I don't think that was a good precedent. Therefore, I voted against it." But as Al Hunt recently wrote, "It did no such thing, Levin said at the time and a spokesman reiterates now. The proposal's language explicitly required that Congress `not adjourn' before it `promptly considers proposals related to Iraq if the United Nations fails to adopt such a resolution.' Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat who, like Senator Clinton opposed the Levin amendment, said at the time the UN charge was `specious' and that this was a vote about supporting an invasion." Rezko became a household name after last week's debate. Will the same be true of the Levin amendment after last night?
* The debate gap narrows: Overall, it was a strong night for Obama, as he proved that he belonged on the same stage as Clinton. And that's an important accomplishment, because you keep wondering whether undecided voters are waiting to see if Obama can prove his mettle for the presidency. There's a theory that believes just that. And if that theory is true, then last night's debate could prove to be very important to Obama. The audience was undecided voters and former Edwards supporters, and we're guessing these folks have a fairly low bar for Obama to prove himself to them, compared to the bar they have for Clinton since they are still not on board with the more well-known candidate. Also, think about the progress Obama has made in debates since last spring. Clinton regularly cleaned his clock at those events, but now that advantage seemed to disappear. And Clinton can't afford for that gap to disappear. Was last night akin to Reagan and Carter in '80 or Kennedy and Nixon in '60? We'll find out Tuesday.
It's hard to find someone who thought Hillary won the debate. Some observers were willing to call it a draw and Marc Ambinder seems to reconsider his early evaluation about the debate. Here's what he posted early this morning:
Who won last night? In the sense that there's an election a-brewin', someone obvious did. But the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to make a call. For the first solid hour of the debate, Barack Obama was kept on the defensive by Hillary Clinton; she demonstrated her mastery of health care policy and immigration policy. For the final third of the debate, Hillary Clinton was forced to review, over and over and over, her 2002 vote on the use of force resolution.
CNN estimates that between 5 and 6 million people watched the debate, many of them new to the presidential race. Probably 40 million other voters will get their debate impressions via television and radio. And one storyline along predominates: two candidates, about whom the party is pretty darn enthusiastic, being nice to each other and challenging the Republicans. The biggest applause line of last night came after Wolf Blitzer seemed to encourage the crowd to cheer for the prospect of an Obama/Clinton or Clinton/Obama ticket.
Hillary is trumpeting @ Hillaryhub.com a diary on Dailykos that called her perfomance impressive http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/1 /31/224553/233/114/447360. Usually, she receives rave reviews from the talking heads but today is not the case.
What do you make of the debate? Who won? What was the turning point of the debate you based your call on?
My friend Paul who's not crazy about politics think Hillary did very well early on but did poorly at the end on the topic of Iraq. Yet, he was reluctant to call it an Obama win.