I’m not good at the kind of scoring that people like our own Mark Halperin do so well after these debates. I can never tell who won or who lost. The fireworks seem to be getting the headlines this morning, and the general consensus is that Hillary Clinton did what she needed to do to stop the bleeding. But this was also the debate that did the best job of clarifying some distinctions among the candidates on the issues. For instance, the exchange between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the pros and cons of the so-called “individual mandate” in health care reform–really the only substantive difference between his plan and hers–was clear and sharp on the tradeoffs of each approach. And the back and forth over raising the $97,000 income cap on Social Security brought into focus the fundamental question that could drive the politics of any reform effort: Is it going to be an insurance program or a welfare program?
Everyone seems to have been complaining that there are far too many of these debates. Maybe the problem has been not the number of them, but rather, the timing. It is really as the candidates go into the home stretch that they finally feel the need to spell out what the real choices are.
Oh, and Ana, I thought the Ross Perot question to Hillary Clinton (though not her dismissive answer about only remembering his charts) was a good one.