Last night in Las Vegas the Democrat Presidential candidates squared off again. This is round 12 of a 16 round Democrat debate schedule. The format was loose and the moderator slow to take control, so the first few minutes were ragged. Edwards and Obama took their opening shots at Hillary and she was getting vexed, but she hung in there and gave them back, eventually calling Edwards a mudslinger. In the course of this opening flurry, there were some boos from the audience for Obama and Edwards, and the attack then slowed down and the moderator took better control.
Hillary was back in stride, easily holding her own. When asked about her feelings as a woman being attacked by men, she scored well, especially in front of a Vegas crowd, by answering that they were not attacking her because she is a woman, but because she is winning. When the subject came up again about being in favor of drivers licenses for undocumented aliens, the issue she faltered on at the last debate, Hillary answered with a one word "no" and the other candidates split their votes, all of which showed it is a tricky area. Bill Richardson seemed to simplify it though when he said that as Governor of New Mexico he signed a bill allowing such licenses four years ago, because the police told him these drivers should be licensed as a matter of public safety.
With so many debates, it would have been better to limit each one to a single subject area, instead of jumping around to cover so many topics. Despite efforts to show their differences from each other, the candidates in fact continue to present a fairly unified picture of a Democrat vision for a better America, in contrast to the mess the Bush Administration has made of our country. The Democrats stand for security through diplomacy with support for world wide human rights. They are for preserving traditional social security, developing technology to move us away from fossil fuels, protecting the environment, workers rights, better support of teachers and re-invigorating our educational system.
Hillary, as the likely nominee, has to run a little more to the middle, but like her husband, I think that is where she naturally stands. One exchange that I found significant was on eliminating or raising the ceiling on income subject to social security tax. Hillary said we need to be careful about increasing taxes on the middle class, and when Obama pointed out that only 6% of Americans have income high enough to be affected by such a change, Hillary did not readily join in his willingness to tax these very highest earners. She spoke of working people she knows personally who would be affected by such an increase, a clear indication that she identifies with and is concerned about those people - more like a Republican.
Obama got the biggest welcoming applause, with Hillary second. Obama also got charmed audience looks from African Americans and young people. He still has the charisma factor, but is not doing much to capitalize on it in these debates. The attack mode does not fit well with his style, which probably raises a concern about his ability to be tough when needed. Half the questions last night came from the audience. A university student said the country needs to be brought back together and he asked how the candidates would do that. Biden, Dodd and Richardson cited their history of dealing well with Republicans. Kucinich, the only candidate who has voted unquestionably Democrat on all the issues and who has never had to apologize for a vote turning out wrong, showed why House members don't become President - they operate in a chamber where majority power trumps everything else, so they don't project bi-partisanism. Obama's legislative experience in Illinois and his personal philosophy of governance would seem to indicate a willingness and ability to work with Republicans, certainly more so than Edwards. Hillary and her husband are still hated by most Republicans, but she has shown an ability to work with Republican Senators.
The Bush Administration went six years with a rubber stamp Republican Congress. Bush refuses now to work with a Democrat Congress. On most all issues, Republican Senators filibuster Democrat positions, and Bush offers no compromises. The few that have gotten by the filibuster, like CHIPS, Bush vetoes. Approval ratings for Congress are quite low, especially for Republican members. Hopefully this will be reflected in some of the 2008 Senate races. Kucinich wants to start impeachment proceedings on Bush/Cheney, but that will not get off the ground. The House does have the power of the purse, but trying to use it to negotiate a compromise with Bush on pulling out of Iraq won't work - Bush does not compromise, because his ego is too high and his intelligence too low. What the House Democrats should do is refuse to pass any more funding for the Department of Defense and the War until all US forces have been withdrawn from Iraq, telling Bush he will have to figure out how to most safely remove the troops with the money previously authorized.
Comments I hear now about Hillary seem to assume she will be the nominee, but question her electability. Attacks on her in the debates have been based on her calculated positions, but people seem to realize that calculating is what politicians have to do in order to get elected and then to get things done. The matter of her being a Clinton seems to have faded, but it will be brought up by the Republican nominee. However, I think Hillary can effectively dismiss that by saying, "better a Clinton type than a Bush type", and then pointing out how good things were under Bill and how much the Republican nominee has in common with Bush. Some are concerned whether Americans are ready for a woman President, a concern which shows little respect for Americans or for women. Women deserve the respect to be considered Presidentially qualified. Any American who would not vote for a Presidential candidate because she is a woman, is not deserving of our respect.