I noticed that the Clinton-Obama debate was available online on the MSNBC website, so I caught the last twenty minutes or so live. To the extent that I managed to see it, I thought that it was a draw, in the sense that nothing happened that changed the trajectory of the race. The impression I got was that Hillary Clinton would outscore Mr. Obama, albeit narrowly, on a paper test on any subject that presidential candidates could conceivably be asked about. On the other hand, if I had to go into a situation about which I knew nothing and had the choice of a partner, I would choose Mr. Obama hands down.
The signature moment for me was when Mr. Obama was asked about the support that Louis Farrakhan had given him, given Mr. Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments. This question was doubly loaded, because it also ever so slightly brought race into play. Mr. Obama strongly “denounce[d]” Mr. Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism but seemed to equivocate, to not explicitly reject his support, in a lengthy explanation of his position and relationship with Jews and Israel, and went back and forth with Tim Russert on it. Now, Mrs. Clinton, obviously sensing an opening, chimed in with a somewhat longish explanation of what a “principled” position on Israel that she took during her first US Senate campaign rejecting the support of the Independence Party, which had taken, according to Mrs. Clinton’s explanation, strongly anti-Semitic positionsand suggested that denouncement was not enough － imagine, a pro-Israel position in a New York election. Mr. Obama seemed to quibble further, contending that he didn’t see a real difference between “rejection” and “denouncing”; then, suddenly, turned it around and said that he would both “reject and denounce”.
You know, Mr. Obama could have been winging it all along, hoping for Tim Russert to get him off the hook, and had managed to save himself just in the nick of time by way of Mrs. Clinton’s timely (for him) intervention. As for Mrs. Clinton, she could have just sat there and let Mr. Russert put the shoe on the other foot for a change.
However, I doubt it. I think that Mr. Obama, as the poker player that he is, had been waiting for Mrs. Clinton to come in, with something, then took all the time in the world to find then script his ju-jitsupunch line while Mrs. Clinton was telling her obscure story about the Independence Party of the State of New York. He is that good.
Mr. Obama got game. History tells us that such people can do a lot of good, or a lot of bad, or both.
ADD: I saw the rest of the debate. (It’s on the MSNBC website now). Mr. Obama looked awkward while he dithered on accepting/opting out of public campaign financing. But overall, I didn’t see anything near enough to make me change my mind.
Oh, and I think that Mrs. Clinton’s commitment to children is heartfelt, true. And is there any other major public figure so conflicted between her two halves, the heart and the mind?