The Texas Debate
Last night Obama all but clinched the nomination. You wouldn’t know it from the headlines in the mainstream media, which focus on all sorts of irrelevancies. Apart from his slow start and Clinton’s impressive closing statement, the debate was all his.
On health care, Obama beat back Clinton’s strong challenge. He explained carefully how her mandates would hurt poor families who can’t afford health insurance. He cited actual experience in Massachusetts, where poor families had to pay fines for not buying insurance and still had no insurance. Later he pointed out how Clinton’s secretive and combative approach to health care reform had doomed her 1993 proposals to failure.
Obama consistently took the high road and prevailed. On economic policy, he showed how Clinton’s proposals differ from his only in detail. “The problem we have,” he argued, “is that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die.” Again and again, he contrasted his open, unifying and flexible approach, and his disdain for lobbyists, with Clinton’s secretive, lobbyist-friendly, politics-as-usual approach, which has produced gridlock in Washington.
At crucial moments, Obama managed to cast aside his natural humility and stand up for himself, even against a woman much like his mother. On the question of serving as commander in chief “from day one,” he responded as follows:
- “[O]n what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation—whether or not to go to war in Iraq—I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on [Iraq].”
That was not the only foreign-policy point Obama scored. He also noted that he had been right on going after Al Qaeda in Pakistan and on not coddling Musharraf, and that Clinton had been wrong. He won support among Latinos by promising to make improving relations with Mexico a priority. In the same vein, he also noted that our entire annual aid to Latin America would pay for one week of the war in Iraq.
Two crucial exchanges exposed Clinton’s character. When asked about her earlier opposition to unconditional talks with enemy leaders, Clinton all but recanted. She virtually copied Obama’s ideas right before our eyes, from his immediately previous statement, squirming a bit as she did so. For those who remember her calling Obama “naïve” for those very same views earlier in the campaign, it was a quintessentially sleazy Clinton moment. No doubt her strong supporters will praise her “flexibility.”
Doubts about Clinton’s character climaxed when the questioning turned to her charge that Obama had “plagiarized” a line in his recent speeches from Deval L. Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts. Said Obama, “the notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who’s one of my national co-chairs [and] who gave me the line and suggested that I use it, I think is silly.” The audience gave him laughs and thunderous applause.
Obama then turned serious. He ran through a list of our real problems, saying “I’m happy to have a debate on the issues, but what we shouldn’t be spending time doing is tearing each other down. We should be spending time lifting the country up.” Again he got applause and cheers. When Clinton’s turn to speak came, she tried to reassert the same “plagiarism” charge again, and the audience booed her roundly. That was the only time I have ever seen an audience boo Hillary Clinton.
And so it went all night. Obama easily disposed of the “all hat and no cattle” charge, rattling off lists of specifics at various points in the debate. Midway through the debate, he gave that charge the coup de grace in the following words:
- “Senator Clinton of late has said ‘let’s get real.’ And the implication is, is that, you know, the people who have been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional—(laughter)—and that— (chuckles)—that, you know, the —(laughter)—you know, the 20 million people who have been paying attention to 19 debates, and the editorial boards all across the country at newspapers who have given me endorsements, including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas—(cheers, applause)—you know, the thinking is that somehow they’re being duped and that eventually they’re going to see the reality of things.”
At the debate’s end, after her own rousing closing statement, Clinton herself seemed to sense what is coming. “And you know, whatever happens,” she said,” we’re going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends.”
She’ll need that support once the citizens of Texas and Pennsylvania have had their say. Ohio is less certain, but another debate like last night’s should end Clinton’s run for the presidency.
P.S. For those who’d like to read the debate for themselves, the New York Times has a complete transcript, to which the links in this post refer.