Wednesday night’s Pennsylvania Democratic debate hosted by ABC News’ Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos was a near revelation. Instead of snowmen asking inanities journalists were asking tough questions that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama seemed able to answer. The New York Times blog reports that “More than 10 million viewers tuned into Wednesday’s Democratic debate on ABC, making it the most-watched debate of the primary election season.”
The poor performance by both Democrats — in front of so large an audience — benefits presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
The entire first 45 minutes of the debate was spent addressing the most recent gaffes by Clinton and Obama: her false claim to have landed under fire in Bosnia, and his Marxian remarks to a San Francisco audience in which he said rural voters, bitter at their situation, were “clinging” to guns, religion and hatred for people unlike themselves. (All Obama didn’t add was the line about religion being an “opiate of the masses.”)
Both Obama and Clinton managed to muck it up even more rather that finesse themselves away from the flaps.
Gibson started with a general question for both candidates asking if they would “pledge now that whichever one of you wins this contest, you’ll take the other as your running mate, and that the other will agree if they lose, to take second place on the ticket.”
Gibson’s opening question was a chance for Democrat candidates to unify, to let the voters know that recent negative attacks are all just campaign tradition, and they will not go for the jugular for the sake of the Democratic Party.
Fortunately for Republicans, Clinton and Obama didn’t take the hint.
“Well Charlie,” said Hillary, “I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make sure that one of us takes the oath of office next January. I think that has to be the overriding goal, whatever we have to do.” Obama also demurred. Neither wants the other on the national ticket this fall.
Most of the questioning went something like this: Bring up an Obama controversy, let Obama try to answer, press him after he gave a lame answer, let Clinton beat him over the head with it too, then on to the next Obama controversy.
Regarding Obama’s “guns and religion" gaffe, Gibson asked “we’ve talked to a lot of voters. Do you understand that some people in this state find that patronizing and think that you said actually what you meant?”
Gibson on Obama’s long-time pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose outrageous anti-American sermons have drawn a lot of scrutiny: “if you knew he got rough in sermons, why did it take you more than a year to publicly disassociate yourself from his remarks?”
Next came Stephanopoulos’ questions on Wright, “Senator, two questions. Number one, do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do? And number two, if you get the nomination, what will you do when those sermons are played on television again and again and again?”
“But you do believe he’s as patriotic as you are?” asked Stephanopoulos again. Obama answered that Wright is a former Marine.
But so is Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa), whose fervered anti-war rhetoric is an embarrassment to the House.
Next, a video clip of a woman in Latrobe, Pennsylvania addressing Obama’s flag pin flap. (He called wearing the American flag lapel pin “false patriotism” earlier in the campaign).
And then immediately following Stephanopoulos addressed the William Ayers controversy, Obama’s long-time friendship with the former Weather Underground terrorist, who is entirely unrepentant for his role in bombing the Pentagon (an issue the MSM is willfully ignorant of).
In Obama’s response he proceeded to equate his supposed friendship with conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Ok) with his ties to Ayers.
“The fact is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who, during his campaign, once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.”
Stephanopolous told Clinton that “about six in 10 voters that we talk to say they don’t believe you’re honest and trustworthy.”
ABC then played a video clip of a Pennsylvana man who said Hillary lost his vote based on her dishonest “sniper fire” comments.
Fortunately for Hillary, as she said herself “I’ve been in this arena for a long time. I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years.” Clinton had only one controversial issue to discuss while Obama had a more than he could handle. This alone made her the winner of last night’s debate.
When the campaign controversy questions ended it was clear that Hillary had the upper hand in this debate. Obama ran over his allotted time explaining gaffes over and over and over again — Hillary got to catch up on her missed time answering on issues.
Gibson rushed Obama to answer regarding capital tax gains. “Very quickly because I owe Senator Clinton time, but do you want to respond?” asked Gibson.
The Times blog said that “viewership of the debate peaked between 8:30 and 9 p.m. with 11.8 million viewers,” precisely the part of the debate that addressed the candidates not so favorable qualities.
Perhaps by 9pm Democrat viewers were so disgusted with their options (as they should be) that it was time to flip to “American Idol.” There sure was no American idol on the stage in Pennsylvania that night.