Taking off the Gloves
I watched the Democrats debate last night, particularly to see what Obama and whoever else might do about attacking Hillary Clinton. Obama recently said it was time to take the gloves off, though others have said it is too late because Hillary has the nomination well in hand. Here is how it looked to me.
The debate moderators from NBC quickly established that shots at front-runner Clinton would be welcome. Edwards was the chief puncher, accusing Hillary of being of questionable trustworthiness because of her defensively changing or waffling positions. Obama got his blows in over her political calculations, contributions from special interests and unwillingness to encourage publication by the National Archives of her written communications to President Clinton from the time she served in his administration. A few of the minor candidates echoed some Clinton criticism, including concerns that her high negative poll numbers show she is unelectable.
The most interesting thing to me about the Democratic males joining the all male Republican club in the attacks on the only woman in the race, was that none of the attacks are based on her gender. This is not due to any gentlemanly code, or political correctness, but rather to the fact Hillary seems to have no gender related weakness. The attacks last night were literally to her face and understandably disturbed her, but she handled them admirably, in fact, "like a man".
At this stage of the game, there are two kinds of candidates - top tier and also rans. Also rans can give definite, cut and dried answers and never have to worry about being stuck with what they said, because they are not going to get nominated or elected. Top tier people may get nominated and then in the general election campaign be stuck with what they said on the way to the nomination. There are two general ways to handle that dilemma, speak lies and platitudes all the way through, as George W. Bush did, or project a general spirit and direction while pointing out the necessity for pragmatism, nuance and compromise, as Hillary is doing. The three out of four voters who are anxious for Bush to leave want to replace his devious obstinance with a style more like Hillary has.
Voters know any candidate who is going to be viable for the nomination and electable thereafter has to take special interest money, so that shot did not score on Hillary any more than on Obama and Edwards. I doubt voters are interested in knowing what Hillary wrote to Bill during the failed effort to get health insurance coverage for us all. I think they would be more interested in seeing what she wrote to him about his dalliance with Monica.
The most serious substance based attack was over the vote Hillary cast to condemn the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Though the Democratic nominating electorate is very anti-war, Hillary stood behind her vote, pointing out that three quarters of the Senate voted as she did, including some Democrats who had opposed the Iraq War resolution. She showed she understands the conflicting pressures a President must weigh from the Commander-in chief position when she pointed out Iran is a potential threat to the US and we need to keep open the option to use forceful diplomacy. Her Iraq War vote is more open to questioning as politically calculated. Her Iran vote and her defense of it last night seems to indicate Hillary cast this one not out of a possibility of becoming President some day but rather out of the reality she may actually win the Presidency next year.
Near the end of the debate, Hillary came the closest to stumbling. A question of position about a NY state proposal to issue drivers licenses to illegal/undocumented aliens drew her into that most genuinely splintering issue. First she said she supported the licenses as a public safety issue to bring these unlicensed drivers out of the shadows. As a show of hands revealed the panel of candidates split on the issue, Hillary then tried to provide nuance and a bigger picture view, but did so in a somewhat confusing manner, which Edwards and Obama quickly pointed out. This should not actually hurt her, since the actual question was just about the attempt by one state to resolve a problem of unlicensed drivers who fail to get licensed because of their illegal/undocumented status. As she correctly pointed out, comprehensive immigration reform is needed. The public realizes we have a lot of dialog ahead of us before we come to a national consensus on the issues.
I am not sure what should be made of polls where voters say they would never vote for a particular candidate. Some who say that about Hillary, mostly Republicans, obviously mean it. But some Democrats also may be saying it in an attempt to derail her in favor of their preferred nominee. And some Republicans who certainly would not vote for Hillary, may also refuse to vote for a particular Republican nominee for a specific reason, such as Romney being Mormon or Giuliani pro-choice, and thus not vote or vote third party.
Biden and Richardson did not take specific shots at Hillary. Richardson criticized the "holier than thou" personal nature of the attacks. Biden was refreshingly succinct and, though he strongly disagreed with Hillary on the Iran vote, was very diplomatic sounding, perhaps part of a strategy to move his Senate foreign relations experience into the Secretary of State seat, one which he might fill rather well. Some think Richardson, with his Hispanic heritage, diverse background and Gubernatorial experience may be vying for a VP nod. At this point it seems more likely, if Hillary is doing the choosing, Richardson would be her choice, rather than Obama or Edwards.
Don't forget to hand lots of candy out to the trick or treaters tonight. Remember, Congress extended daylight savings time an extra week in part to please candy makers who wanted more time for the annual extortion. And don't forget to change your smoke alarm batteries, as the fire chiefs, encouraged by the battery makers, recommend. You can read all about these two matters in the NY Times.