The Democratic debate in South Carolina suggests that Barack Obama, if not the most likely nominee for his party, is nevertheless an astute observer of Hillary Clinton’s character and policies. Republicans plotting their general election strategies would do well to keep the debate tape handy and look to Obama for guidance.
First and foremost, he made clear that a vote for Hillary is a vote for both Bill and Hillary and their brand of disingenuous politics. Again and again he reminded viewers, like the song says, that what Hillary and Bill say “ain’t necessarily so.” He did not use the “l” (“liar”) word but he came close and used specific examples including their attacks on his Iraq position and his Illinois state legislative voting record to point out their propensity to twist and distort. He used this argument not only defensively to ward off her attacks but as a weapon to heighten the concern in every voter’s mind: Can I really take eight more years of them?
Second, perhaps far more effectively than any of the Republican contenders he explained exactly what is wrong with HillaryCare: the government is coercing you to buy something you may not want. The problem he says is not that people don’t want health insurance; it’s that it is too expensive. Now Republicans may point out that some young, healthy people really don’t want insurance but they can agree with his premise that the government should not bludgeon people into buying what they do not want. Moreover, he pointed out that in Massachusetts mandates of the type Hillary is proposing have proved unsuccessful. Many people would frankly rather pay the fine for not self-insuring than buy the health insurance.
Third, by stressing that he was helping inner city youths while Hillary was on the board of WalMart and that he has cast “thousands of votes” as a state and U.S. lawmaker he made a point worth stressing. Hillary has virtually no experience of her own in key matters of public policy. (The fact that Obama has a light resume himself does not help his cause but that is not our concern, for the moment.) Yes, she championed her failed healthcare plan but her accomplishments are negligible and her executive experience utterly absent.
Whether the GOP nominee is military veteran and long time senator, a U.S. mayor, or one of the two governors, Hillary’s own credentials will pale in comparison. Although she has used “experience” as a club to beat back Obama, it will be she in a general election who will need to explain why an untested and unaccomplished candidate is ready to govern.
Now Obama did not make two other key arguments, but the moderators did. These should also be kept in mind by the GOP contenders.
First, Hillary was asked a simple and direct question. Does she want to win the Iraq war or end it? She immediately launched into her now familiar spiel about how determined she is to begin to bring the troops home within 60 days of her taking office. Enough said. But wait, she went further this time, suggesting that the president could not enter into arrangements for military bases in Iraq without obtaining permission by the Congress. This goes well beyond her normal Iraq rhetoric and suggests a vastly constricted role for the president in conducting defense policy. Now we has pass this off as typical Clinton insincerity that will quickly be discarded if she becomes president, but any GOP opponent should make clear that while he is running for commander in chief she presumably would restyle the presidency as “consultant in chief.”
Second, Hillary showed her hand when she acknowledged that she was not too keen on a stimulus package that included a tax rebate because “she was hoping to do it through spending.” Well, that’s the truth. Indeed, billions and billions of her new spending ideas are premised on huge tax increases and it would be wildly inconsistent, even for a Clinton, to propose some small rebates followed by huge increases in corporate, individual and inheritance taxes. As we head into uncertain economic times the choice could not be more stark. Each and every GOP contender has pledged to keep the Bush tax cuts in place and have offered a smattering of new cuts; Hillary will do the opposite — even in the face of a looming recession.
So if the Democrats have had enough of fuzzy idealism and again have fallen under the spell of the Clintons Republicans should not despair. The debate only proves they will have a wealth of material.