Democratic Debate XXI: The Contretemps at the Constitution Center


Remember the first Clinton-Obama one-on-one debate in California? Remember how excited Democrats were about their historic choice between their first female nominee or their first black nominee, either one a shoe-in to lead them back into a glorious era of power and judicial appointments?

That was two-and-a-half months ago.

At 8 p.m. ET, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will lock horns and try to destroy each other as viable national candidates. Feed your liveblogging lust at The Corner, or The American Spectator blog.

8:04: Opening statements. Clinton claims the founding fathers would have wanted a black guy and a woman to take over and "provide the good jobs" some day. I hear the sound of Ron Paul's bullet-holed TV exploding.

8:07: But ABC is introducing each segment with quotes from the Constitution! The candidates take notes on which bits they'll disobey.

8:08: Gibson tells Obama and Clinton to suck it up and choose one another as running mates. God, they hate each other almost as much as people hate them.

8:09: "If it worked in colonial times"? Does Gibson really pine for the harmonious polity of the Adams-Jefferson administration?

8:11: Hillary Clinton gets a weird satisfaction from "holding the hands" of women she let down.

8:12: Obama, contrite: "I think there's no doubt that I can see how people were offended." His heralded comments are slowwwly unpacked and distorted for public consumption.

8:14: "I am the granddaughter of a factory worker from Scranton." Obama insulted her father! I… don't think she's making the most of this, but maybe she's learned that packaged one-liners don't work.

8:17: Clinton punts on the opportunity to call Obama unelectable: It'll be left to the HuffPost comment sections, then.

8:18: Clinton: I can win because people started hating me 16 years ago, not just this week.

8:19: Half a point for Obama for saying "there are sportsmen in my state who support me" rather than claiming (like, uh, some candidates) that he shot a bear that was trying to kill the Pope.

8:22: More weird mush from Clinton: "I'm giving people the feeling they can empower themselves."

8:23: Yes, all of these Obama stories broke in the last month. It's sort of miraculous that he's still winning.

8:24: "There is anger in the black community, where it gets expressed in the barbershop or the church." Cue 67 reporters sprinting to Obama's barbershop to look for anti-Semitism.

8:26: "9/11, which happened in my city of New York"… which she says as ads in Pennsylvania paint her as a rough-hewn daughter of Scranton.

8:28: "The church is a community that extends beyond the pastor," says Obama's focus group, which has miraculously taken control of his larynx.

8:29: I think it'll be harder for Clinton to whine that she's getting the hard first questions this time.

8:30: Are we actually going to debate whether Obama's pastor is patriotic enough for one of his parishioners to be president?

8:32: Clinton isn't nearly adroit enough to talk about "bringing people together" and bite Obama's kneecaps in the same sentence.

8:35: Both candidates are trying to talk past the media, painting them as villains trying to distract the voters by how awesome Obama and Clinton are. Gibson and Stephanopolous are making their jobs easier.

8:38: Instead of actually blogging about this idiotic question, I give you John Prine.

8:42: Shorter Obama: "Fuck you, George."

8:45: I'll be honest: When Obama counterpunched on Ayers and pointed out that Clinton's husband pardoned two members of the Weather Underground, I smiled. She deserved all that and a kick in the teeth.

8:52: What the hell is this question about Iraq doing here? I want to know what angle Barack Obama salutes at!

8:54: Clinton's Iraq solutions… basically the Bush position, plus more ire at Iraqi leaders and "diplomacy." I'm optimistic!

8:56: Obama's position: Telling generals to get ready to leave.

8:59: Should it be U.S. policy to treat an attack on Israel as an attack on the United States? That's sort of a rhetorical question, isn't it?

9:01: Clinton wants an "umbrella of influence" that extends beyond Israel, and would warn Iran that an attack on even more countries would invite destruction.

9:03: I'm either missing something or this is just the Bush Doctrine with fuzzier adjectives.

9:04: Clinton won't raise any taxes on anyone making less than $250,000? That's a hell of a pledge. She's hoping nobody holds her to this.

9:06: Well, Stephanopolous did.

9:09: Why does Obama want to raise taxes if the capital gains tax cut increased revenue? "Fairness."

9:11: Gibson gives him a chance to wiggle away from "taxes all the time, even if they don't work!" Obama hardly move on it. A new capital gains cut "might or might not" increase revenue.

9:12: "I don't want to take one more penny of tax money away from anybody." Some people wonder why she has a credibility problem.

9:24: Guns! Clinton will respect the Second Amendment by hiring more cops and bringing back the assault weapons ban.

9:27: Obama gets asked about Heller… and he "hasn't read the briefs," but "Just because you have an individual right doesn't mean the state or local government can't constrain that right." Oy.

9:32: Obama's not as good tonight at ignoring the questions and pivoting to stuff he wants to discuss.

9:35: Whereas Hillary answers an affirmative action question by talking about early childhood education. "Let's affirmatively invest in our young people!"

9:37: The gas tax moratorium? Really? Really? … Really? Funding the highway trust fund with a tax on oil companies. They are opening Milton Friedman's grave and pissing on his corpse.

9:46: Who wants to bet the last question will be stupid?

9:47: This is not what Clinton will tell superdelegates, unless by "the White House needs a fighter" she means "the black dude who says 'you know' a lot can't win!" It's good for Obama when she gets these first, though: She's better at distorting the question and flattening his playing field.

9:49: Obama will also repeat his talking points to superdelegates! The odds, they are astounding.

WRAPUP: I don't think the 40-minute early Obama pile-on was bad for him. I think the following round, where he seemed rattled and reliant on his script, was bad for him. To believe it's worth junking the Clintons and giving him the nomination, a Democrat needs to think Obama is at least as resilient as Hillary. And he can take the attacks, but he can't get past them.

Clinton's game hasn't changed since February: It's to win enough delegates to close the gap before the convention, then convince superdelegates that Obama is unelectable. She utilized and validated a boatload of Republican attacks on Obama (Ben Smith noticed that she mentioned 9/11 three times while attacking him). She's watched with obvious surprise as Obama survived every attack, as Democrats cling tighter to him. So she's trying to convince them that Republicans will be more successful than her. It's all very meta and I'm unsure if it'll work.