In the Arena

The Democratic Debate

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Tempted to say: they were both just fine. And leave it at that. But…

1. Clinton is, without question, the better debater, BUT…for those worried about Obama’s lack of experience, he absolutely held his own, seemed a plausible President, not a greenhorn.

2. Clinton had the early advantage because the conversation was about health care–and her plan is, let’s face it, better than Obama’s…Obama’s right: most people without health insurance want it and can’t afford it…But Clinton’s righter: It is the moral responsibility of healthy young people who can afford to buy in to do so in order to enlarge the community, lower the rates and make it harder for the insurance companies to reject anyone. They’re going to get old, and ill, and frail eventually, too. I just wish Clinton would make that case more directly. (Obama’s failure to come up with a universal plan remains one of the disappointing mysteries of this campaign.)

3. Obama won the back end of the debate, especially the Iraq portion. Clinton dithered around in the weeds trying (unsuccessfully) to explain her vote…and Obama said a very important thing: That the real problem with Iraq was “the mindset that got us in the war in the first place.” That means he intends to challenge McCain on basic assumptions, which is the best way for Democrats to win the national security debate. As long as McCain can get away with describing tenuous tactical gains as “winning,” he seems stronger. But if Obama–or Clinton–can change the focus of the debate to the question of strategy–the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption and broader foreign policy priorities (real Al Qaeda v. Al Qaeda in Iraq), McCain has a far more diffiult hill to climb. Then again, I can’t imagine that there are more than 37 Americans thrilled by the possibility of a 100 year occupation of the fierce, tribal, non-country of Mesopotamia. Ask the Brits, Turks or the Ancient Persians how much fun that can be.

4. Clinton needed to either (a) acknowledge that Bill had gone a little overboard and that she’d taken him to the woodshed or (b) tell a joke when asked about her husband’s role in the campaign.

But, as I said at the top, both candidates can be proud of their work tonight. Both were plausible Presidents. And both seemed far more serious and knowledgeable than the Republicans of yesternight.