Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It!

There has been a lot of hubbub this month about the primary debates.  Senator Obama was asked tough questions about his associations and beliefs that hadn't come up in previous debates.  Since his less-than-stellar performance in the Pennsylvania primary debate, he has flip-flopped on his willingness to compete in the debate format.  No amount of jabbing by Senator Clinton, nor petitions from voters have persuaded him to change his mind.

Senator Obama is ducking. 

In Obama: No More Debates Before Next Primary, at FOXNEWS.COM, an article previewing Sunday's interview with Fox's Chris Wallace, Obama was definite about not debating:

"Asked why he was repeatedly "ducking" Clinton's debate challenges before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Obama said, as he has before, that he just wants to spend time with voters.

"I'm not ducking. We've had 21 (debates), and so what we've said is, with two weeks, two big states, we want to make sure we're talking to as many folks possible on the ground taking questions from voters," he said, so no debates.

"We're not going to have debates between now and Indiana," he said.

Typically, he exaggerated. In fact, there have been 21 debates, but only 4 pitted him against Senator Clinton alone.

Today, Hillary Clinton raised the bar in a big way:
Clinton Challenges Obama to a 'Lincoln-Douglas' Debate , ABCNEWS.COM  April 26, 2008

Speaking in South Bend, Ind., Sen. Clinton said, "What I think the people in Indiana deserve is a real one-on-one debate, where Sen. Obama and I discuss [the] issues. Now I have accepted the debates that have been offered, and in fact Indiana has a debate commission which organizes this to make sure it's fair and nobody gets any special advantages. I've said I'll be anywhere, anytime in order to debate, because I think the people of Indiana -- after having wandered in the wilderness of American politics for 40 years -- deserve a break. Who knows, we might even carry Indiana in the fall if we start with a good debate right here."

Clinton continued, "Unfortunately, Sen. Obama has not agreed yet, and he's turned down every debate that has been offered. So here I have a proposition my campaign sent his campaign today. You know, after the last debate in Philadelphia, Sen. Obama's supporters complained a little bit about the tough questions (awwwwwww heard in the audience). You know tough questions in a debate are nothing compared to the tough questions you get when you are president."

Clinton challenged Obama, saying, "And they complained about the moderators asking tough questions. So here is my proposal: I'm offering Sen. Obama the chance to debate me one-on-one, no moderators.  Just the two of us going for 90 minutes asking and answering questions. We'll set whatever rules seem fair. I think it would give the people of Indiana -- and I assume a few Americans will tune in because nearly 11 million watched the Philadelphia debate, and I think they would like seeing that discussion. Remember that's what happened during the Lincoln and Douglas debates. Now we have had like four debates between Sen. Obama and myself."

So what is Clinton really talking about here? We've all become so accustomed to the televised mass media-styled debate, however good or bad we may think they are, that a review is in order.  What, exactly, is Senator Clinton talking about here?

According to Wikipedia:

"...The debates were held in seven towns in the state of Illinois: Ottawa on August 21, Freeport on August 27, Jonesboro on September 15, Charleston on September 18, Galesburg on October 7, Quincy on October 13, and Alton on October 15".....

Seven debates in 7 different towns in less than 60 days!  Wow!

"...Each debate had this format: one candidate spoke for an hour, then the other candidate spoke for an hour and a half, and then the first candidate was allowed a half hour "rejoinder." The candidates alternated speaking first. As the incumbent, Douglas spoke first in four of the debates."

Take a quick look at the text of these debates.  Just skim through them.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 from Lincoln Home, National Historic Site, National Park Service website.

Talk about detailed and - may I say it? - wonky!  There were no moderators, but the crowd was obviously shouting out questions now and then.  And the gentlemen often took a cue from those questions, switched gears and answered them, right off the top of their heads.  There were no speech writers or earpieces available to help them out... no teleprompters.  Yet the depth and breadth of their knowledge they displayed - and their ability to convey it - is just mind-boggling!

In fact, I watched in awe a couple of weeks ago when Senator Clinton gave just this kind of speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 15.  It is still available for viewing at CSPAN.ORG, and I heartily encourage you to watch it.  There is no question in my mind that she could hold her own with either Lincoln or Douglas.

An intriguing aside here, also from that Wikipedia entry:

"Newspaper coverage of the debates was intense, as major papers from Chicago sent stenographers to create complete texts of each debate. Then newspapers across the nation reprinted the full text of the debates as published by the Chicago papers.  Interestingly, newspapers that supported Douglas edited his speeches to remove any errors made by the stenographers and to correct grammatical errors, while they left Lincoln's speeches in the rough form in which they had been transcribed. In the same way, Republican papers edited Lincoln's speeches, but left the Douglas texts as reported."

Sound familiar?

Now, what Senator Clinton is suggesting isn't anywhere near as strenuous as the Lincoln-Douglas debates must have been.

Quoting, from the letter the Clinton campaign sent to Senator Obama:

"Senator Clinton believes deeply that political debates are a vital part of our democratic process. It is the American way to place our would-be leaders side by side to hear them articulate and defend their ideas; to challenge each other on their visions for the future; to answer the tough questions about their plans, their records and their judgments; and to celebrate their achievements.

"Senator Obama has declined the invitation from CBS and the North Carolina Democratic Party to appear for a debate at North Carolina State University tomorrow evening. Senator Obama has apparently declined the invitation of the Indiana Debate Commission to appear for a debate in Indiana next week. Senator Obama has not responded to Senator Clinton's challenge to debate in Oregon. Will there be no debates in other upcoming states? The American people, of course, deserve more. They deserve debates before casting their votes. They deserve debates just like the states who have participated in this invigorating process before them.

"I understand that Senator Obama has raised the point that there have already been more than 20 debates this election cycle. However, only four of those have been between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. We can all agree that many important issues have received scant attention during previous debates, including such important topics as education and the energy crisis.

..."In the spirit of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, we make this proposal:
Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will participate in a 90-minute debate in an open public forum.  Just the two of them -- no questioners, no panelists, no video clips. One candidate would speak for two minutes, then the other, alternating back and forth all the way through the debate. Their discussion ­ not any pre-set rules ­ would determine how long they spend on one subject before moving on to another. Such a debate would range across all of the challenges, large and small, we face as a nation or it could focus on the most significant issue we face today -- the economy."

Surely Senator Obama wants open discourse about important issues!  What does it say about him if he refuses?  

  • That he isn't willing to take the risk, now that he is no longer guaranteed "a pillow" at these debates?  He certainly didn't object when the situation was reversed, did he?
  • That he fears he can't really stand up to the questioning and re-questioning of his opponent?  
         With no moderators to keep changing the subject, Obama's reply to a Clinton question could be countered with further      argument.  They could go back and forth on the same subject for quite a while.  Knowing Clinton, she won't let him do one of his famous pivots and change the subject.  She won't let him exaggerate or lie.  She won't let him get away with saying one thing onstage that is contrary to what his surrogates are doing offstage.  She's too smart for that.  Too quick on the uptake.
  • Has he become so dependent on the teleprompters at his rallies that he is worried that voters might realize that there is indeed little substance behind the mask superiority he wears in public?
  • What if all he has is really just short, prepared answers to the most common questions?  Once he gets out of the range of the FAQ, is he afraid we won't find any meat?
  • Or is it just that he's chicken?
  • If he can't handle the relatively soft, wonky questions that Senator Clinton will ask, how could he ever handle John McCain?
  • How could he handle the majority of the msm, once they shed their temporarily friendly coats and revert to their true neo-con Republican bias?

  • How will he hold up under the relentless attacks of the GOP 527s?

The ball's back in your court, Senator Obama.  

Show us... do you know how to play hardball?  Or are you only up to solitaire?

Tags: Barack Obama, Debate, Douglas, Hillary Clinton, lincoln (all tags)



Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Could we have three or four more diaries on this hackneyed subject? Please?

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:06AM | 0 recs
no, no

Obama must accept everything on Clinton's terms.

It not like there were 21 debates already.

by kindthoughts 2008-04-27 09:14AM | 0 recs
He won't debate?





by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:17AM | 0 recs
you got to do this 90's style
He is a maniac, maniac that for sure
And he is running like he has never run before.
by kindthoughts 2008-04-27 09:18AM | 0 recs
correction: 80's style.

by kindthoughts 2008-04-27 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: you got to do this 90's style

I think, instead of Obama or Clinton, we should put Charles in Charge. I mean, my motto has always been, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have- the facts of life.

Am I right, or am I right?

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:22AM | 0 recs
thats a goodie

by kindthoughts 2008-04-27 09:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Yo Rage -

It may backfire on Obama - seeing as how the public perception is that the momentum has shifted to Clinton.  If he is perceived as ducking any challenges and coasting towards the nomination - that could hurt him.  It's a tough choice.  Yes, he struggled in the Penna debate (Unprofessional questions, I agree), however people in the remaining states may feel slighted in the sense of "So, Oregon is not important!"

And, yes, Hillary Clinton is framing the terms.  That's what happens when you get a political edge.  Clinton is not a Ron Paul - and if Obama responds as such, he will be in trouble.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-27 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Again, he's saying "Forget a debate, I'm gonna meet with Hoosiers in person. My time is better spent doing that."

C'mon. You can't deny the people of Indiana would probably rather meet him in person than watch him on TV.

Besides, he can point to Clinton's track record of engaging in the same behavior, and viola! A repeat of Wisconsin.

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

is he going to personally shake the hand of every Hoosier?

yet, he will bomb IN with TV commercials, won't he?

by colebiancardi 2008-04-27 09:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Yep, he sure will. Because he can. I know, it sucks Clinton mismanaged her money and can't do it too, as much as she'd like to.

Enjoy the grapes; hope they're not too sour. ;)

by ragekage 2008-04-27 10:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It
Hmmmmm - them TV commercials ???
Didn't do to great in Penna, eh?
by johnnygunn 2008-04-27 10:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Well, they helped know a 20 point win into a 9 point win. So, yep, I'd say so.

by ragekage 2008-04-27 12:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates?

Heck, all they need to do is use Clinton's words against him. They don't need to create anything new. A few copies of her CiC statement ought to be helpful.

by ragekage 2008-04-27 12:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates

She did the same thing before Wisconsin because she was behind there. He wouldn't do it and won by a wide margin. She's quite transparent and voters can easily see through her.

by Becky G 2008-04-27 09:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Are you saying people aren't as think as they dumb they are?

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:17AM | 0 recs
If only someone was proposing a Lincoln-Douglas


by heresjohnny 2008-04-27 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Clinton's calling what she's proposed Lincoln-Douglas debates, but they're far from them.

She wants back and forth statements of two minutes each.

by politicsmatters 2008-04-27 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

So if that is really the problem, then why doesn't Obama make a counter proposal to have actual Lincoln/Douglas debates, instead of just rejecting them?

by pollbuster 2008-04-27 09:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Why didn't Clinton debate Lazio?

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

They had 3 debates troll. So either your crediblity or your knowledge is severely lacking. /sto _NBC.htmries/09/13/debate.advancer/index .html

by pollbuster 2008-04-27 05:27PM | 0 recs
It's Not Cowardice, It's Strategy

I know the Clinton supporters want another debate --- it is politically advantageous for their candidate to have another debate.  

I get that totally.  So why can't some Clinton supporters get that "cowardice" has nothing to do with Obama saying no to additional debates.  He is making his own assessment and determining that it's not to his advantage to do more debates.  That's why Clinton turned down debate offers during her Senate career --- it wasn't cowardice (she would have cleaned those clowns' clocks), it wasn't disdain for democratic debate, it wasn't to keep her policy views from the voters --- it was smart political strategy.

So why the need to disparage Obama for working the same smart political strategy from the other side?  He's not a coward, he's not a failed "manly man", he's a frontrunner with a lead to protect, going into two big contests (North Carolina and Indiana) where he's the strong favorite in one and running neck-and-neck in the other.  He's performing campaign calculus and making a strategic decision.

This isn't a supposed fear of Clinton "beating" him on policy; this is avoiding "gotcha" questions that could hurt his lead.  This is avoiding free airtime for Clinton.  This is avoiding any legitimization of the view that Clinton is still in this contest (Obama, with the delegate lead and popular vote lead, is now aiming for the general election; thus, the DNC fundraising partnership, the 50-state voter registration drive, the Fox News interview, etc.).

Seriously, it's strange to me why some Clinton supporters pretend that political strategy isn't behind this decision by the Obama campaign --- ESPECIALLY when it leads to rightwing-style personal attacks on the masculinity of Democratic politicians.  We get enough of that crap from the Republicans; why engage in it against our own?

by Slim Tyranny 2008-04-27 09:13AM | 0 recs
Re: It's Not Cowardice, It's Strategy

It's because all these things you're talking about are "facts" and "reality", both of which have well-known pro-Obama biases.

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:14AM | 0 recs
Re: It's Not Cowardice, It's Strategy

Again, the main reason Clinton supporters want another debate is because it's politically advantageous for Clinton.  This is not truly about concern for the voters.  It would be nice if we could talk honestly about this.

In reality, he hasn't "blown" anything.  Voters can find out about his policy views in a myriad of ways that don't involve a one-on-one debate with Clinton.

by Slim Tyranny 2008-04-27 01:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Oh, and a few points.

1) Four debates is twice as many as are scheduled in the general election. And if you want to have another debate like the last one, I'd love to dredge up Whitewater, Norman Hsu, Tuzla, FMLA, SCHIP, her support of NAFTA, hiring unionbusters, mismanaging her campaign, supporting the Weathermen, accusing an 11-year old girl of faking being raped, being a member of Wal-Mart's Board of Directors, her connections with sweatshops on Guam and shady Hong Kong businessmen, Bill's affair with Monica...

Because these are the issues I want addressed, y'know, as an American voter interested in who we're going to elect as President.

2) Senator Clinton was more than happy to skip debates in the exact same manner when it benefited her politically. Karma sucks, huh? But it's already been established by other Clinton supporters that it's okay when she does it, but not Obama.

3) And now we're calling Obama a chicken. Great. We're back in second grade; I guess it does give an indication how desperate the Clinton campaign is, though.

Obama can hit the ground in Indiana and make a hell of a lot more difference to the people of Indiana than a debate would. He can afford to travel, get his name and face out, run ads, and that's a hell of a lot better than a debate, which only benefits Clinton because she's broke and can't engage in any other kind of publicity except free publicity.

Hell, he's already making huge inroads. Ever been to Indiana? Ask any Hoosier what they think of basketball- it's like Texas and high-school football. Hell, the only way Clinton could try to make up this deficit is if she did a few laps in an Indy car.

So stunning revelations in your diary, sir. Just one more comment by me:

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Good thought on Indiana. I live here, and am amazed at the generalizations by Clinton supporters who have no idea what it's like here. The best part is that apparently we matter for now. Not so much, though, if Obama wins here.

by zep93 2008-04-27 11:22AM | 0 recs
The ball is in Obama's court now

How will he define himself if he doesn't debate?  Because everyone else will brand him as being afraid to debate Clinton.

Its his choice, if he doesn't want to.  But he'd better come up with a better answer than "we've had 21 debates", or "I'm winning so I don't have to".  

by 4justice 2008-04-27 09:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The ball is in Obama's court now

How about "The people in Indiana would rather see me in person than on TV"?

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:15AM | 0 recs
Re: The ball is in Obama's court now

Actually "I'm winning so I don't have to is just fine". So is the other one.

by heresjohnny 2008-04-27 09:16AM | 0 recs
Re: The ball is in Obama's court now

he isnt the messiah? someone forget to tell his worshippers.

sorry wont be supporting him in november.

he is filth.

And you gave this man mojo. Why should we believe you have anyone's interest in mind except, perhaps, Rush Limbaugh's?

by ragekage 2008-04-27 10:10AM | 0 recs

we are gonna get flag pin question now in Lincoln-Douglas style.

by kindthoughts 2008-04-27 09:15AM | 0 recs
Lincoln-Douglas Debates?

Anyone ducking a debate clearly shows that they have a lack of confidence in facing the people. To actually point out that we have had too many debates is like saying that we have too much democracy, or we just have too much health. There are too many countries on this earth where the overall political debate is too limited. I never thought we would see this in the democratic primaries; especially from a candidate who prides himself as bringing forth a new politics.

If you are afraid to face the American people,how are you going to be able to lead the nation as president?  How are you going to be able to face the problems of the world as president?

by pollbuster 2008-04-27 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates?

Anyone ducking a debate clearly shows that they have a lack of confidence in facing the people.

I'm going to frame this. We have a Clinton supporter admitting that Senator Clinton clearly has a "lack of confidence in facing the people".

by ragekage 2008-04-27 09:44AM | 0 recs
Obama should not debate anymore

because they are useless soundbite games that don't allow for a serious discussion of the issues.

by bigdcdem 2008-04-27 09:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

I don't read diaries anymore that provide no analysis.  And are just arenas for insults and accusations.  I do, however, have a diary up on Why Obama Should debate.

by CardBoard 2008-04-27 09:25AM | 0 recs
Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It!

I think Obama should agree to at least one more debate, but not before NC and Indiana.  Just b/c one is asked to do something, does not mean it must be granted.  I don't know what her financial situation is, but from a strategic point, I would grant her campaign no free air time.

by venavena 2008-04-27 09:36AM | 0 recs
A real Lincoln-Douglas debate...

would actually play more to Obama's strength than Clinton's proposal--it's more speechifying than argumentative.  I'd actually like to see a real L-D debate between the two.

Heck, they could come do it at Knox College in front of Old Main (the last remaining site of an L-D debate).  After all, both of them have connections to the school...both Obama and Bill Clinton are former commencement speakers and honorary grads.

by Elsinora 2008-04-27 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates?

Obama did poorly in he last debate, the only one in my opinion where the moderators attempted to be fair and impartial. Obama is still screaming about it. The rason he refuses another one is plain as the nose on the face of all the voters who are watching this and seeing his evasions.

by linfar 2008-04-27 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Isn't Up to It!

Probably not up to it.  He might say something questionable like on Fox today when asked about some good Republican ideas.  He thinks Repubs are good on regulation of corporate America:

"Let them figure out how they want to reduce pollution."

(Keep those foxes in the henhouse!)

by moevaughn 2008-04-27 10:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates?

Also, the irony of it all.

Earlier in the campaign, when asked about his experience (or lack thereof), the campaign's response was to compare Sen. Obama to Abraham Lincoln.  I guess he's no Lincoln afterall if he won't even take up HRC's invitation to directly debate, in Lincoln-fashion, the issues.

by moevaughn 2008-04-27 10:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It

Speaking in South Bend, Ind., Sen. Clinton said, "What I think the people in Indiana deserve is a real one-on-one debate, where Sen. Obama and I discuss [the] issues."

No.  What we deserve is a candidate who doesn't air ads about gas prices when she was one of the many who voted for an unnecessary war in the Middle East and is saber rattling against Iran.  

Gas was $2.00 when the war started.  Now it's $3.60. least she called for a gas tax holiday.  That'll save $0.14.  

by freedom78 2008-04-27 07:00PM | 0 recs
So she can fling feces for 2 hours then yell for the next week about how he can't take it.
Yeah, why won't he sign up for that?
by danfromny 2008-04-28 11:00AM | 0 recs


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