Last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia proved Hillary Clinton’s vulnerability. Will she be the candidate to beat in the 2008 presidential election or will her bad showing last night leave her vulnerable not only in the general election but in the primaries as well?
Not that any of the others did better. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich was asked in the closing minutes about actress Shirley McLain’s book in which she says that Kucinich had a UFO encounter which affected him deeply. Nothing more need be said about Kucinich’s night on the podium than he confirmed what McLain’s book says. Clinton sighted no UFOs, but her claim that Republicans are obsessed with her was on the Kucinich plane.
A significant portion of the first hour was given to discussion of Iran and the recent Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which endorses presidential action to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force a terrorist organization. Clinton, the only candidate who voted for the amendment, was blasted by almost all the others on the grounds that she was endorsing the Bush administration’s supposed path to war with Iran.
Clinton argued that her vote was nothing more than “expression of support for economic sanctions” as a part of “vigorous diplomacy” that will “stop George Bush and the Republicans from doing something on their own to take offensive military action against Iran.”
John Edwards called it "saber rattling" and others followed his lead. Edwards claimed the measure was “literally written in the language of the neo-cons” and would “enable this President to do exactly what He wants to do.”
Chris Dodd asserted it was a step towards war while Kucinich used his answer period to recommend impeachment of President Bush — the first of two occasions he would do so.
Barack Obama was in weak form, calling himself a “uniter” who can “get people to work together to get things together even when they disagree.” He said the last six years have been “governed by a fear” and because of that, civil liberties have been undermined and America’s reputation has been tarnished worldwide. He spoke extensively of diplomacy and said as President he would arrange a meeting of Muslim leaders to show “we are willing to listen.”
Joe Biden said the resolution “emboldened” President Bush and scolded Bush’s
talk of world war three.” He said that even if America’s stops now with the resolution, “actions have consequences…big nations can’t bluff.”
Each candidate continually stressed diplomacy and reminded viewers they will bring the troops home the moment they take office. However, Clinton was the only one to cast a realistic tone towards timing and security matters in Iraq. Edwards told voters to choose Clinton only if “you believe combat missions should be continued…in the long term….if you believe there is not timetable for withdrawal…”
Clinton fell back into rhetoric about the “complicated” nature of troop withdrawal and stated she would do so in a “responsible manner” that will take time and also require a small number of troops to remain on the ground to counter al-Qaeda forces.
One of Clinton’s worst moments happened when stonewalled the question about whether she would release records of her communications with her husband, the former president, from the National Archives before 2012. Co-moderator Tim Russert asked whether she would ask the records be released early despite former President Clinton’s request that they be withheld from public view until at least 2013. Clinton’s Newspeak answer didn’t satisfy anyone.
Obama used the moment to take a crack at Hillary’s botched job as First Lady, saying that Republicans are obsessed with her in party because “it is the fight that we’ve been through since the ’90s.”
Edwards was most forward in directly confronting Clinton. He criticized her fundraising sources and asked, “Will she be the person who brings about the change in this country? You know, I believe in Santa Claus, I believe in the tooth fairy — but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
After criticism mounted against Clinton, Russert switched gears and asked about Giuliani’s qualifications as President. The candidates denounced him as unqualified and unprepared to lead the country. Biden said Giuliani was the most unqualified person since George W. Bush and noted that, “There’s only three things he [Giuliani] mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11…”
Charlie Rangel’s recent proposal to repeal the alternative minimum tax found support among the candidates. Clinton said she agrees with the goal of Rangel’s plan but failed to give a clear cut answer of full support. Instead, she boosted herself by condemning Republicans, who “have refused to do [anything with taxes] because, very frankly, it hits people who are below their concern…”
When Russert asked Clinton about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to permit illegal aliens to receive legal driver’s licenses — a measure severely opposed by Republicans — she ducked and weaved again. Obama did confirm he supports the measure.
Though the debate demonstrated Clinton’s inability to answer a straight question on serious issues, she is still the frontrunner, albeit much more vulnerable than she was only a day ago.