Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Winning the War on Drugs | Say What You Will About Tonigh... »

Monday, January 21, 2008

What He Said

posted by on January 21 at 20:18 PM

Joshua Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

Hillary can be relentless and like a sledgehammer delivering tendentious but probably effective attacks. But whatever you think of those attacks, Obama isn’t very good at defending himself. And that’s hard for me to ignore when thinking of him as a general election candidate.

In most of these cases—such as the Reagan issue—I think Obama’s remarks have been unobjectionable but ambiguous and certainly susceptible to both misunderstanding and intentional misrepresentation. And if you’re going to talk like that—nuance, as we used to say—be able to defend it when people play with your words. And I don’t see it.

What did you see?

RSS icon Comments


I saw the same things that Joshua M saw: Obama is pretty inept at dealing with Clinton's attacks. He never really gave a satisfactory answer to her charge of not voting when he answered "present" dozens of times in the Illinois legislature, and he's showing himself kind of rattled by both Clinton's as well as Edwards's criticisms. If he can't deal with this kind of debate, how is he going to hold up with real pressure as president? For all of his likeable and inspirational qualities, I'm getting more and more the sense that Obama is still a little green on this stage...

Posted by Adam | January 21, 2008 8:33 PM

I don't agree... I thought his response to the praise of Ronald Reagan was great. Hillary looked way more rattled than he did.

When Obama does seem a bit liaise fair, I get the impression that he is just thinking, "Why am I even bothering to respond to this crap when it is so obvious that I am right?"

Posted by Clint | January 21, 2008 8:42 PM

It was frustrating all around - Hillary was carping and Obama wavering. It was interesting in the sense that we caught a glimpse of spontaneity from candidates that we'll probably seldom see again. But it also displayed the least flattering qualities of both of them.

Posted by tsm | January 21, 2008 8:50 PM

And, like I said before, I'm now thinking the candidate I want to see win the most is Romney. (The nomination, of course - not the election. Ugh.) Maybe I'll caucus with the GOP.

Posted by tsm | January 21, 2008 8:51 PM

Obama did a really nice job being sensitive and open to the people sitting next to him (Edwards and Clinton), like, Obama was right there to reaffirm Edwards when he made jokes in general and jokes about being "the white guy". He's very lovely that way.

Hillary still needs a voice coach, but she is totally on the ball with numbers.. like the amount of change in average African American family income during the Bill Clinton years (up!) versus the last 7 years (down!).

The campaign for general election makes me a little nervous. Edwards pointed out he was (the white guy) that could beat McCain in rural and urban areas of every state in the union, not just in typical democratic strongholds. BUT, it was another night, cat fighting aside, that I was excited for non-Republicans, and America.

Posted by Anna | January 21, 2008 8:52 PM

all around it was a good debate. like @3 said, we saw a lot of spontaneity that just hasn't been there. debates should show the benefits and the flaws of all sides of the argument. and i think tonight's debate did just thatósomething none of the other forums have managed to accomplish.

and edwards actually crawled off the stump and addressed the issues directly, unrobotically. and obama cut out the pep talks for the most part and came across as substantive for once.

you really can't argue with hillary's numbers. girlfriend does her homework. by now, obama should know that well. i'm willing to forgive him that this time around, though, because he actually stepped out of his hope and change rhetoric and talked in terms of solutions. he's never been good at debates, though, which is one reason i still support hillary: as she said tonight she's been dealing with this bullshit for 16 years and she'll keep dealing with it. i think she actually said she'll "go to the mat" and not stop until some change happens.

Posted by kim | January 21, 2008 9:13 PM

Agree w/ the Hillary sledgehammer effect. But listen to what Obama inserted while she was in the process of swinging that sledgehammer:
"I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."

If things gets nastier than they did tonight (and there's no reason to believe they won't), then Obama is going to be forced to go nuclear and start dragging Bill into things more than parenthetically.

And who knows where that ends up...

Posted by Alan | January 21, 2008 9:15 PM

What do I see? I see the odds tilting towards the GOP.

Posted by midwaypete | January 21, 2008 9:20 PM

I checked youtube, there are only highlights. Where can I watch the entire debate online?

Posted by superyeadon | January 21, 2008 9:22 PM

Just in terms of performance, I get annoyed every time Obama stutters. But maybe I'm the only one with that reaction.

Edwards often says things I agree with, but then I keep remembering his performance again Cheney in the debate and I wince. He could have knocked down Cheney but he just sat there and smiled.

Posted by stinkbug | January 21, 2008 9:28 PM

for fuck's sake. the Dems are fucking themselves all over again. If McCain is the GOP candidate we're screwed. All over again.

Posted by M | January 21, 2008 9:28 PM

I also think it's very risky for Obama to bash Bill; I think that approach is gonna blow up his chances.

Posted by stinkbug | January 21, 2008 9:30 PM

You can probably see the whole thing on

As per the debate itself, of course, Obama seemed weak on the debate, his strength is rhetoric, and I find him a little lacking in substance. Mind you, I am no HRC supporter, and find the post a few days ago about the executive branch being made for a populous who needed a figure to worship a valid point. Congress should be so much stronger than it is, and I hate to see two strong senators wasting so much time on this campaign rather than what they can get done in the Senate.

Posted by Jaye | January 21, 2008 9:32 PM

I didn't like it. It felt like mommy and daddy were fighting. We need more unity and less in-fighting.

Posted by Suz | January 21, 2008 9:40 PM

What would Clinton/Obama/Edwards do about this:

Posted by patrick | January 21, 2008 9:59 PM

@14 We need Unity, Experience, and sons of mill-workers

Posted by vooodooo84 | January 21, 2008 10:00 PM

Wow I liked the whole thing. I gotta say we have some totally kick ass candidates. Hil is a sledge but Barak is so calm and reasoned even when frustrated. I love the way he brings things around to a better place. I imagine that's the way Lincoln got his policies accomplished. In the end they all were very respectful of each other. I want them all to be president. The only thing that stuck out for me was that Edwards has a gaping hole when it comes to foreign policy. I love his domestic stance but he doesn't portray much beyond that, he needs to work on that.

Posted by Jersey | January 21, 2008 10:24 PM

I see Obama as trying to carve out a niche by more or less creating a category of liberterian democrats: more or less social liberals who have liberterian leanings when it comes to the economy.
He's actually learned something from Bush. You don't need to speak to every constituency with everything you say. You simply need to appeal to each without alienating the others too much.
That's the way the republicans have managed to make odd bedfellows of the christian right and liberterians, and there's no reason it can't work for Obama and the dems. The question is whether he gets the "without alienating the others too much" bit right. It's ballsy of him to make the move though, and it's definitely a forward thinking move. He's not just thinking about the Clintons at this point. He's thinking of the whitehouse. That's a good thing.

Posted by kinaidos | January 21, 2008 10:28 PM

I did think that it was not Obama's best evening tonight, but I can say that I'm even less thrilled about voting for HRC than ever. She's done her homework, but she hit a few notes tonight that reminded me *again* that she's more running on Bill's record than her own, and that she really is the establishment candidate in the party despite what she says about her plans.

And @6:

he's never been good at debates, though, which is one reason i still support hillary: as she said tonight she's been dealing with this bullshit for 16 years and she'll keep dealing with it. i think she actually said she'll "go to the mat" and not stop until some change happens.

To be frank, there's a *big* difference between dealing with bullshit about personal attacks, and dealing with political bullshit to get policy pushed through. And to be frank, she *didn't* deal with the bullshit. She failed in her attempt to reform health care, and if she actually were an elected official or a cabinet secretary, she would have been out of a job after that.

Is that really dealing with bullshit?

Posted by bma | January 21, 2008 10:33 PM

A campaign is a verbal fight and you don't have the luxury of avoiding attacks. So, one can't "rise above it all" and stick to one's own uplifting speech. Instead, you've got to parry quickly, then pivot and thrust by getting back to your positive message and frame. Hillary is good at that; her attack on Obama for complimenting Republican ideas let her pivot back to the good times under President Clinton.

Obama's not good at it. His main message is his opposition to the Iraq war and how he's unique in that he did not give in to fear, or use fear, the way others did. He could have said "well, Hillary, let's be frank. When Reagan fought the cold war against the Soviets and we won, he didn't use the politics of fear or give in to fear or launch a reckless war, the way you and George Bush did with that vote to allow a war in Iraq. President Reagan trusted in America's greatness and strength. I'd do the same thing to fight Islmaic terrorists. We're going to wait them out, we're going to show the people over there we have a better way, we're going to fully and adequately defend and attack when they threaten harm, but we're not going to launch reckless wars out of fear or fearmongering -- like you helped to do when you gave George Bush carte blanche to start the war."

"We need a wiser and steadier hand on the tiller, and that's the change I will bring as President."

Quibbling about what Bill said and carping that both Hill and Bill were attacking him, without getting back to his positive message that would put Hillary on defense, shows Obama's not ready to fight McCain and the GOP 527's.

Posted by Cleve | January 21, 2008 10:42 PM

Yes, we all recall how important those debates were for Bush in 2004. Kerry creamed him in all the debates while Bush kept waiting for instructions via the black-box strapped to his back.... and Muddle America still voted for him.

(And he stole Ohio anyway, read the Conyers report)

Hillary might be a better debater, but does it dismantle her negatives? Or emphasize them?

Posted by Andy Niable | January 21, 2008 11:20 PM

You people continually underestimate Obama because he's new and Hillary's been around the block. It seems like people are expecting him to crack at any moment under the pressure of it all. You all just wait and see. I'm telling you, this kid ain't someone to take lightly.

Posted by markinthepark | January 22, 2008 12:44 AM

Count me as an Obama supporter, but this is really starting to look like a Clinton/Obama ticket.

To those who think this isn't viable, consider: Hillary will do anything to be president, right? ANYTHING. Attaching herself to the Obama tide seems like a no-brainer. And if you're Obama, what are you going to do? NOT accept such an offer?

Yeah, things got a little testy tonight, but in the big picture, big deal. Obama has been cautious not to call Bill a liar -- but I'd seriously pay money to hear it happen!

Obama will probably win South Carolina. But it's hard to see how he makes a big run on Super Tuesday. He's behind in a lot of key states, and the waning Edwards vote seems to be pretty evenly working its way to Clinton and Obama.

Altogether now... Clinton/Obama '08... As much as I'd rather see it Obama/Biden, I'm getting warmed up to the new reality.

Posted by oneway | January 22, 2008 1:02 AM

I still stand by this - best ticket out there:

Posted by call me a snot | January 22, 2008 1:45 AM

I can't say how excited I am about a Clinton/Obama Ticket. That would be totally perfect.

Posted by Andreas | January 22, 2008 1:53 AM

I prefer Obama/Clinton

Posted by breaker | January 22, 2008 2:11 AM

It's hard for me to consider what this may have looked like to someone who didn't know she was lying, but if you all thought she won this round, then she won it. I couldn't get past "LIAR!"

Which is apparently how Reality Based Community saw it [note his bounty offer at the end]:

Posted by Phoebe | January 22, 2008 3:45 AM

I think that a President Obama would give kick ass State of the Union speeches that would go down in history books, but he'd get bulldozed by the Repubs. on a daily basis.

Posted by um | January 22, 2008 6:13 AM

hillary sounded shrill and her attacks came off as needless and did not show her in a good light. her debate performances make her look like a weaker candidate all the time. she may get the nomination, she looks terrible to me in the general. shrill, annoying and souless.

@21 has it right. the majority of americans don't care about who "won" the debate. maybe hillary got her numbers right (though I think Obama, especially in the 2nd half, "won" this debate) but she is not likeable. she would not "wear well" in the general.

her main point is that she's a great bureaucrat. guess what, that was Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry's claim. bureaucrats lose, engaging powerful leaders win. Obama should be the nominee if you actually want to win in November.

Posted by grznt | January 22, 2008 6:38 AM

i told my dad (a "dan evans" republican) that if the R's wanted to win in 2000, they should nominate McCain. he would have killed Gore by 10 points.

if you want to win the general election, not debate score cards or old-establishment democratic endorsements (who have presided over a nice long tradition of D loses) then you should be for Obama.

Posted by grznt | January 22, 2008 6:42 AM

Remember his wife talking about how he's not willing to win at all costs?

Apparently, if he can't win the office by being thoughtful and civil, he doesn't want it.

I've had moments of worry about this when it comes to the general election, but in truth, I think you can tear the Repubs to shreds while being thoughtful and civil. Just tell the truth.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | January 22, 2008 7:01 AM

I'm a lifelong Dem voter, usually vote a straight Dem ticket -- dunno that I could vote for Hillary over McCain (though Lieberman as his running mate could tip the balance, the way it made me have to hold my nose to vote Gore in 2000) and I literally don't know anyone personally who's hasn't said the same thing to me.

Posted by sad troof | January 22, 2008 8:45 AM

Clinton/Obama would be a dream ticket for me.

@24- who is this Edwards fellow? Bob Edwards from NPR?

Posted by Big Sven | January 22, 2008 9:04 AM

Count me as another one in the camp with @32. I'm done with Hillary. I can't stand to listen to her sleazy and tendentious attacks any longer. I never thought I'd say this as a lifelong dem but if she wins the nomination I'm sitting this one out come November.
Also--to all those who are salivating over a Clinton/Obama ticket, I think you haven't been paying much attention. They loathe each other. Not gonna happen.

Posted by power forward | January 22, 2008 9:47 AM

@32 and @ 34 I'm right there with you...

The Dems better wake up and realize how many of us exist who believe the same thing.

Posted by Reality Check | January 22, 2008 11:34 AM

The Clinton haters who are threatening to sit out the election need to get over themselves. Hillary Clinton on her worst day is better than John McCain on his best day, and she's better than the rest of the Republicans, too.

I'm not a big fan of the Clintons. I hated Bill Clinton's triangulating politics so much that I voted for Ralph Nader--in 1996! But you have to compare with the last seven years, and realize that every single Republican has campaigned on continuing the mistakes of the Bush presidency. You want more useless war in Iraq--hey, vote McCain, who will also scare the country shitless about terrorism for his own benefit and who was a key player in legalizing military tribunals and the president's right to redefine torture back in 2006. Or don't vote, which is just as bad as voting for McCain.

The way the Clinton and Obama campaigns are starting to go at each other, the Democrats are going to lose in November unless the two factions come to some kind of power-sharing agreement. Anyone who's not blinded by candidate preference can see that the top three Democrats are all capable people with relatively similar politics, and different approaches to bring to the table that complement each other. We need a unity government of the center left, and that means finding roles for all three of the top candidates. If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, Obama's her best choice for VP. If Obama wins it, I think he'd be better off choosing Wesley Clark (who is close to the Clintons), with Hillary Clinton taking over for Harry Reid in the Senate leadership, coordinating the White House and Congressional approach on legislation. Edwards could lead the health care effort, or take some official anti-poverty position in an Obama administration. But if people take the losses of the primary season personally and refuse to play nice after we have a nominee, then we as a party, as liberals, and as Americans, are fucked.

Posted by Cascadian | January 22, 2008 12:16 PM

Same thing, honestly. He can't defend himself against a seasoned politician attacking him on specifics. She can, and does, often coming back swinging hard. Unless he can improve his ability to deal with confrontation in debate, he just won't cut it in this election. Hillary's got my vote right now.

Posted by ferin | January 22, 2008 7:11 PM

@ 2 (Clint)

When you rebut other arguments using mis-spelled foreign terms you don't help your cause in the least!

Let me guess, you PAID for your subscription to The Stranger and you're determined to get the most of it.....

Posted by forgive me but | January 22, 2008 11:39 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).