Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton began the Democrat debate last night by emphasizing the identity politics they so adamantly deny are part of their campaigns. Clinton said the Republican candidates were “all more of the same” but “neither of us — just by looking at us, are more of the same — we will change our country.”
Clinton later said she thought “having the first woman President would be a huge change to America and the world.”
CNN, the LA Times and Politico-sponsored the nearly two-hour Dem debate in which both candidates tried to contrast themselves with their Republican counterparts who had debated only one night earlier. The questions posed to the Democrats focused largely on Clinton and Obama’s plans for universal healthcare, comprehensive immigration reform and ending the Iraq war in conversational tones. There was little of the heated discussion that raged between Mitt Romney and John McCain on Wednesday.
On healthcare, both spoke of their “passionate” dedication to delivering reform to all Americans. Obama’s plan is voluntary while Clinton’s would mandate coverage of all individuals but, in general, the two seek the same basic goals.
Speaking about immigration reform produced slight tension on the issue of driver’s license for illegal aliens — which Clinton famously agreed and disagreed with the first time she was asked about it in a previous debate. She now firmly denies support in contrast to Obama, who took the chance to underscore her flip flop.
Clinton struck at Obama by mentioning her support for immigration reform in 1994 — “before you were even in the Senate” — but her rhetoric evidently changes depending on campaign location. Reports during Nevada caucuses quoted Clinton as saying “no woman is illegal” and that immigrants should “come out of the shadows.” And since 2004 Obama has rejected the idea of cracking down on businesses that hire illegals.
Both candidates desire a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in America but their ideas of assimilation and amnesty point to chaos that would be costly. For Americans who overwhelmingly opposed integrating illegals into the country at no consequence — as was proved by the grassroots response against the McCain-Kennedy-Bush immigration bill last year — these ideas are not a smart move.
Obama’s positions on Iraq seemed to appeal more to the audience but seemed based on the desire to ignore the consequences for Iraq if a sudden and definite American withdrawal. He said it was important to set a date for withdrawal in order to “send the Iraqi’s a message that we are serious.” Clinton, however, would not concede to having all troops out within a year.
Clinton said she “hoped” to have “as many of our troops out as quickly as possible” taking into account the many contingencies that go along with our commitment, including the “Iraqis that sided with us.” She expressed concern for translators and drivers who would need protection as American troops leave.
John McCain’s recent comment that the war could last “one hundred years” prompted response from Obama who said McCain had a “profound lack of understanding” and Clinton, who also chastised McCain for the remark.
While the two battled withdrawal tactics, no one mentioned that they both voted last year against the Iraq and Afghanistan Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill, which would have provided millions in building and development funding for those countries.
Obama said he wants progress in Iraq but ended the same sentence with “bring the troops home.” He rested again on his 2003 stance against entering Iraq while Clinton was forced to explain her decision to support President Bush’s decision for war. After host Wolf Blitzer asked her if she was “naïve” for supporting Bush, she denied it and explained at length why she believed Saddam Hussein was a reasonable enough threat then.
Obama said it was important “to be right the first time.” Unfortunately, his little time in leadership has given him little opportunity to demonstrate being correct “the first time.”
A false camaraderie was thick between the candidates, who were asked toward the end if an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket was a plausible idea. Both responded with compliments to each other and agreed each would be on the other’s “short list.”
As candidates move into Super Tuesday, it may just be the identity politics they claim to abhor that actually rack up the votes since their positions on the issues don’t appear to be very different.