April 17, 2008


Democratic debate dwells on Barack Obama's past: Clinton and the moderators put him on the defensive for the first half of the tense Democratic face-off. (Cathleen Decker and Noam N. Levey, 4/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

The Democratic candidates for president debated forcefully Wednesday over who would prove more electable in November, with Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly raising questions about Barack Obama's past associations and Obama contending that her approach typified the blowtorch political style that Americans decry.

Obama, the Illinois senator, was thrown on the defensive for the first half of the nearly two-hour debate. The moderators, ABC News anchors Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, pressed him on his recent comments about "bitter" small-town Pennsylvanians; his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.; his acquaintance with a long-ago member of the Weather Underground group; and the absence of an American flag in his lapel -- though no one else on stage wore one. [...]

The New York senator repeatedly zeroed in on Wright and -- after Stephanopoulos opened the issue -- Obama's relationship with fellow Chicagoan William Ayers, the 1960s radical who is now an education professor at the University of Illinois. She noted that Obama and Ayers were at one point on the same philanthropic board.

"I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about," said Clinton, who repeatedly characterized herself as thoroughly vetted during her husband's administration.

Adopting a more-in-sorrow-than-anger mien, she added: "I know Sen. Obama's a good man, and I respect him greatly, but I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising. And it goes to this larger set of concerns about, you know, how we are going to run against John McCain," the unofficial GOP nominee.

Obama Pressed in Pa. Debate: Gaffes Are a Focus as He Spars With Clinton (Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz, 4/17/08, Washington Post)
Sen. Barack Obama repeatedly found himself on the defensive here Wednesday night as he sought to bat away criticism of his remarks about small-town values, questions about his patriotism and the incendiary sermons of his former pastor in a potentially pivotal debate six days before Pennsylvania's presidential primary.

In their first head-to-head encounter in nearly two months, Obama (Ill.) and his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), sparred over gaffes, missteps and past statements that could leave them vulnerable in the general election against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee.

But it was Obama, now his party's front-runner, who was pressed most persistently by moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News to answer questions that have dominated the Democratic race in the weeks since the last major contests, held March 4 in Texas and Ohio.

The encounter, particularly in the early stages, seemed more like a grilling of Obama on a Sunday-morning talk show than a debate between the two candidates.

Nothing to Lose (Fred Barnes, 4/17/08, The Weekly Standard)
YOU ONLY HAD TO watch last night's Democratic presidential debate to understand why Hillary Clinton stays in the race. She's losing the nomination fight to Barack Obama in both the delegate count and the popular vote. But if bad things happen to her in a debate or while campaigning, she'll be no worse off. She'll still be losing. Her prospects of winning may be slightly more remote, but they aren't exactly bright now.

But if bad things happen to Obama, that's another story. In a debate, he's bound to be asked questions about matters he'd rather not be front and center in this campaign. And indeed those matters were dwelled on last night: his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his week-old putdown of small town voters, the American flag pin he no longer wears. No good can come to Obama when these issues dominate a nationally televised debate, as they did last night.

Debate Scorecard: Obama's Surly Night (Mark Halperin, 4/17/08, TIME)
Substance: B+

Style: B

Offense: B

Defense: B+

Overall grade: B+

Subdued and secure, but often peevish and cross, seemingly fed up with Clinton's fight and impatient to claim the nomination (the less attractive part of his personality shining through). [...] Despite his aloof, frontrunner's air, sometimes seemed angry, distracted and worn.

Former friends weigh into debate, and the former amity drains out (Alessandra Stanley, April 17, 2008, NY Times)
The debate between Clinton and Obama, in Philadelphia, was fierce and hostile, and Clinton managed to keep her opponent on the defensive for much of it, bludgeoning Obama for his gaffe about bitter voters and his less savory personal connections. When she talked about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., he shifted from foot to foot, looking down and squirming, if not seething, struggling to hang on to his soft diction, flat affect and refusal to project anger.

But viewers were also treated to another, less common spectacle: the veiled ties and tensions between news media stars and political figures that sometimes make voters bitter, leading them to cling to political satire by the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as a way to explain their frustration.

It was weird to see hints of the disgruntled employee/imperious boss dynamic between Stephanopoulos and Clinton. But it was also strange to observe the intramural promos tucked into some of the moderators' questions. Charles Gibson, another moderator, opened by citing a notion proposed by former Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, whom Gibson described as an "elder statesman" of the Democratic Party. Cuomo's son Chris is an anchor on ABC's "Good Morning America," where Gibson also worked for years.

Ms Clinton begins to seem like Ronald Reagan against Gerald Ford or Ted Kennedy against Jimmy Carter, certain the other can't win, but not quite able to wrest the nomination away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 17, 2008 7:44 AM

** Subdued and secure, but often peevish and cross, seemingly fed up with Clinton's fight and impatient to claim the nomination (the less attractive part of his personality shining through). [...] Despite his aloof, frontrunner's air, sometimes seemed angry, distracted and worn. **

And yet, Halperin gives him all Bs and a B+ overall! Some journos really have fallen in love with the guy.

Posted by: Kevin Whited at April 17, 2008 8:29 AM

One rumor has it that the period between this debate and the PA primary is when the Clinton camp will drop their next load on Obama. Supposedly they're waiting after the debate so that she didn't have to answer questions about it. We'll see.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 17, 2008 12:30 PM

The funniest thing about this debate is the whining from the left that the questions were petty, unfair, or just plain mean.

No wonder Hillary and Obama are so tentative and confused. On the one hand, the Left demands that every Republican be subjected to an inquisition, that Bush & Cheney be IMPEACHED, and that talk radio be eliminated. But then, the Left wants all their propaganda to be subsidized, their candidates to be robots (see Ned Lamont), and their ideas and actions to always be above question. This campaign is a hoot.

Posted by: ratbert at April 17, 2008 6:30 PM

Why did ABC lead off with "Mrs. BJ, isn't it true that your a lying sack of something?" and, "Effendi Obama, isn't it true that you are a Commie-loving race-hating baby-murderer?"

The effect was to throw both of these Rovian plants into confusion: they were rattled, off-balance, panicked, and it showed throughout the rest of the debate.

Well, the arguement is that they each have to demonstrate that they are up to facing the same and worse from thoie evil Republicans in the general election.

Maybe. It was still fun to wach, though.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 18, 2008 4:12 AM