It was like one of those Heavyweight fights that ends with a Decision, not a Knockout. The Feb. 26 Ohio MSNBC Debate, the 20th debate in the endless Primary season, saw Sen. Hillary Clinton give her best debate performance — and she still lost on points.
After Clinton lamenting (whining) about her being asked the first question all the time (hey, who has been claiming front runner status for months now?) couple with a very strange citing of a recent Saturday Night Live skit, even asking if Obama wanted another pillow, the debate started with a long, confusing, going-nowhere discussion of Health Care with no mention at all of Single Payer. Then it was on to NAFTA, where Sen. Barack Obama won hands down.
Hillary, the top student in the front row, could barely contain her glee and wait to jump at the chance to answer when Tim Russert was scarcely into his question about her "exuberant" promise during her 2000 Senate campaign to bring 200,000 new jobs to upstate New York, when the actual outcome is 30,000 jobs lost. And leap she did with a well-prepared answer noting that when she made the pledge, she "thought Al Gore was going to be president."
That was followed by Clinton’s dissembling about releasing her tax records, as the other candidates have already done. She’ll "get around to it" was the best she could come up with. Same thing with the 10,000 pages of records related to her schedule as First Lady. Said records have been released from the National Archives and HRC notes they will go before both presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before she again gets around to letting the public see the basis for her "years of experience" claim.
Throughout the debate, Tim Russert was quite rude to Clinton. So much so, that I believe she could have upped her score by talking a couple whacks at him. She was far more civil in the face of his boorish badgering than I would have been. Russert treated Obama in this manner just once by my count.
But Obama rose up on a number of points. After enduring barrage after barrage of Clinton’s wildly thrown blows, he counterpunched each time with succinct devastating jabs. First off, he slam-dunked the war issue. After Clinton called his opposition to the Iraq invasion mere "speeches," Obama noted that he was running for the Senate when he came out with said speeches! Yep. That’s right, he’s one of the "three per-centers" who "knew then" what Hillary claims she knows now and he staked his entire Senate campaign on it. Not quite a TKO, but awfully close.
The decision was his when close to the final bell; he admitted that there is a "vanity and ambition" aspect to any political race. He acknowledged it and then went on to deal with the specifics of issues. Had Hillary Clinton been able to show the self-insight, much less publicly admit to her overarching ambition these past long months, she may well be the true front-runner as the campaign winds down. Instead, her incessant front row student "look at me I’m smart" persona has only emphasized that ambition, turned off millions and derailed her "inevitability."
Obama was hammered with the fact that Minister Louis Farrakahn came out with a recent Obama endorsement. He forcefully rejected Farrakahn and was forced to endless repeat it. Yet Clinton was never chastised for her supporters’ actual smears–like war-criminal Bob Kerrey’s recent HRC endorsement where he noted Obama’s middle name–red meat code for Muslim haters. Kerrey has also been flogging the "fact" that as a child Obama spent time in a "madrassa"–more red meat the GOP will undoubtedly use in the General Election should Obama be the nominee.
This sadly led to an inevitable "my Israel right or wrong" dick-measuring contest. Both candidates vied for the right to be called Israel’s "best friend" in the US Senate. This conflating of righteous support for Jewish civil rights and opposition to anti-Semitism with blind support for Israel (Obama referred to and embraced the "special relationship" Israel enjoys with the US) marked the low point of the debate, if not the campaign. A good referee would have separated the fighters from this death clinch.
In the end, both candidates showed how vastly superior they are to the Republican nominee. But HRC will go down in history as the great Joe Frazier has –surpassed by a once-in-a-lifetime foe.
MICHAEL DONNELLY probably won’t vote for either Dem, but he sure thinks that it really is "historic" what is going on within that usually self-defeating party this election. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org