Lincoln-Douglas Debates? Obama Isn't Up to It!
by mbolack, Sun Apr 27, 2008 at 09:01:42 AM EDT
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."
Now, what Senator Clinton is suggesting isn't anywhere near as strenuous as the Lincoln-Douglas debates must have been.
"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?