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Tilting at Windmills

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November 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE WRAPUP....Well, the best political team on television (or whatever they call themselves) seems hellbent on agreeing that Hillary is back! Obama just couldn't bring the fire again.

My take is that this just goes to show how starved everyone is for something to talk about. Frankly, Hillary's "stumbles" in the last debate were pretty minor, and there was never any reason to think that she wouldn't be back to her old self this time around. Ditto for Obama, who did about as well as he usually does — namely OK, but not great. The debate format really doesn't seem to favor him. He does better in speeches than he does in soundbites.

As with virtually every debate, the bottom line is that no one made any huge mistakes and no one kicked any serious ass. Pretty much everyone left the stage in about the same shape they were in when they walked onto it.

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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Comments

After 30 minutes listening to the talking heads on CNN, I haven't heard one interesting, useful thing. All about the narrative...

Awful stuff.

Posted by: matt on November 15, 2007 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

In other words, it's pretty much a waste of time.

Posted by: Will Allen on November 15, 2007 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

The Hillary immigration/drivers license question is why I'm losing patience with complaints that politicians aren't honest and genuine. What was really wrong about Hillary's answer on that? It is a complicated issue. In real life, most issues are complicated, and cannot be answered in a few words or with a cheap slogan. In a democracy, politicians need to win public approval to get into power. We can't fault them for not being honest if we're just going to reject them when they are.

Posted by: Lee on November 15, 2007 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

I'm just sick of Wolfie McRussert and his pet nag Malvolio. Yglesias fired off some good stuff about them just now. Can we elect Hillary president and Obama head anchorman for CNN?

Please?

Posted by: Martin on November 15, 2007 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

A few thoughts...

Anyone notice that Kucinich got the biggest response (cheers, applause) on many of his answers? It's really too bad he's not taken seriously by the political powers that be.

I missed the first hour of the debate, but I couldn't shake the feeling that Clinton is positioned somewhere in between a Dem and a Repub position. I thought it was a huge error on her part to not support social security taxes on incomes over $100,000 and then having the idiocy to say that she didn't support such a plan because it would hurt seniors and the middle class. Either Edwards or Obama pointed out that only 6% of the US population earned over 100K. It seems to me that if you earn 100K or 100M then you should be quite happy to contribute to the well-being of elderly Americans.

I missed the first hour of the debate so I'll be interested in hearing what the opening fireworks were all about.

Posted by: nepeta on November 15, 2007 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

I was quite happy to hear from all the 'minor' candidates tonight. Russert almost completely ignored them. Quite rude if nothing else.

Posted by: nepeta on November 15, 2007 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

Lee, the people of a country with as large a population as this one, with the variety of competing constituencies, would no more elect an honest person than the Steinbrenners would hire you to play third base.

Posted by: Will Allen on November 15, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Actually the best line (entertainment wise at least) for me was when Kucinich was asked why he voted against the patriot act. "Because I read it!".

I thought Hillary was a bit evasive on SS "bacuase it is not going broke". Every economist worth his salt knows that, but we gotta cater to that myth.
As one of those 6% (I need that small break, so I can contribute to the wellbeing of a soon to be elderly American (myself). In too much of the country that income level really does feel middle-class.

Posted by: bigTom on November 15, 2007 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Will:

Precisely my point.

Posted by: Lee on November 15, 2007 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary Clinton must have done fairly well in tonights debate. Andrew Sullivan is having very bitchy hissy fit on his blog over the debate. Quote 'Im not a Democrat and I love watching them tear each other Clinton apart".

Posted by: LyleW on November 15, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

There's gotta be a story! Even if there isn't!

Maybe that's how the media's talking heads justify their existence.

Last time they whipped up a story that Hillary fell on her face. The story didn't have much substance to it, since Sen. Clinton is too careful to make the big gaffes (hence making it vital to magnify the little ones), but that's okay -- it's a story.

And the beauty of that story is today they can babble about how she made a powerful comeback -- even if she didn't do spectacularly better (or worse) than last time. That's okay! It's a story!

I'm sick of stories.

Posted by: Zeno on November 15, 2007 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

nepeta: Anyone notice that Kucinich got the biggest response (cheers, applause) on many of his answers?

Maybe because he's a Democrat. At one time that party was pretty popular in this country. Unfortunately most Democrats have failed to heed Harry Truman's advice: given a choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican every time.

I missed the first hour of the debate, but I couldn't shake the feeling that Clinton is positioned somewhere in between a Dem and a Repub position.

So you think she's moved to the left?

I thought it was a huge error on her part to not support social security taxes on incomes over $100,000

Actually that's one of the few positions of hers I agree with (even if not for her flimsy reasons). FDR was right in making people pay for their own Social Security. It keeps it from being seen as a welfare program, and is much of the reason it's so popular and has lasted so many years. If he'd wanted to do it otherwise, it could have been paid from the general fund instead of a dedicated fund fed exclusively from a payroll tax. It was FDR's lock box.

Want to save Social Security and make taxes more progressive? Just eliminate the completely unjustifiable capital gains rates. Use that to balance the budget and pay back the billions that have been borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund.

Posted by: alex on November 15, 2007 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

"So you think she's moved to the left?"

Alex - Haha on the above. Nah, I's say she's about where she's always been. As for social security taxes, I understand your reasoning but why would applying a tax on all income regardless of amount be considered 'welfare?' Everyone contributes the same percentage of their income for the benefit of US retirees. I've never understood the stinginess (if that's what it is) of the wealthy in regard to paying a proportionate amount of income for social benefit. Just makes sense in my worldview unless they enjoy living in a society where many of the elderly have great problems in making ends meet.

Posted by: nepeta on November 15, 2007 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

[deleted]

Posted by: Toby Petzold on November 15, 2007 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is kind of boring. And what exactly does that have to do with how good a president he'd make?

Posted by: scruncher on November 16, 2007 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

When was the last time you felt proud of your country?

Posted by: lampwick on November 16, 2007 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

Run to the left for the primaries. Run to the center for the election. Then when you get elected you can put that irksome duty behind you and toady up to the corporations and money people. Democracy and the masses are such a drag.

Posted by: Luther on November 16, 2007 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

One thing that struck me about the impact of the last debate was how it seemed to get translated almost directly into a measurable loss in Hillary's numbers nationally, and a gain in Obama's (and maybe Edwards?).

The thing in particular that got me was that so many people are paying attention at this early stage.

Her slipups, such as they were, hardly seemed glaring and substantial enough to gain the attention of anyone but pretty hardcore political junkies. Yet, apparently, large swaths of the American public must have been quite aware of what went on, judging by the numbers who shifted their support.

I would have thought that all this would be simply inside baseball at this juncture.

I guess what I'm saying is that the attention of the American public to the issue of the replacement for Bush seems to be pretty extraordinary given where we are in the electoral process.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 16, 2007 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

When was the last time you felt proud of your country?
Posted by: lampwick at 12:12 AM

When we elected Al Gore president in 2000.

Posted by: thersites on November 16, 2007 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

Toby Petzold: Face it: Obama's boring.

May you live in interesting times.

Posted by: Rebecca on November 16, 2007 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

How much do these debates even matter anyway?

I constently think back to the first Bush/Kerry Debate in 2004. Bush was COMPLETELY incoherent. Did that performance hurt him in the end?

I think it`s time to admit that debates in there current format are useless.

As for the Obama thing... he gives fantastic speeches but isn`t a master debater. How often does a President really debate with someone? I pay more attention to the decisions a candidate makes.

Posted by: profbacon on November 16, 2007 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary won hands down--she wiped the floor with the excessively boring Obama and the pretty boy Edwards. Hillary has once again spoke the truth and showed that she is our greatest hope for leading the free world to peace.

Posted by: Bush Lover on November 16, 2007 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

I like Obama, but he is no saint and of course he has masterdebated before. From the rumors in Chicago, he was always carrying glossy copies of Rules for Radicals and Robert's Rules in his briefcase

Posted by: rumor mill on November 16, 2007 at 3:56 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary is back? Did she forget something? I never even noticed that she had left in the first place.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 16, 2007 at 4:23 AM | PERMALINK

nepeta: "Anyone notice that Kucinich got the biggest response (cheers, applause) on many of his answers? It's really too bad he's not taken seriously by the political powers that be."

He would be, if only he were running for Mayor of Munchkinland.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 16, 2007 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK

How much do these debates matter? Good question, but far more relevant 20 or 30 years ago before one's treasure chest had to be filled in order to get noticed. For instance, Romney's already $10 M in the hole (personally), and who's really backing him?

The media handicappers - a far more pervasive and influential group now - rely on politics like a sport, as opposed to yesterday's restrained figures like David Brinkley. It's action daddio, and in a world where pro boxing has fallen on hard times, it became, by default, almost as exciting as fantasy football. Pick a winner and prove how brilliant you are.

When in American history has so much attention been paid this early in the process to a Presidential campaign? Oddly, it's become sexy. Indeed, last night's affair was about sniffing the adrenaline, dare I say testosterone?

Moreover, the media picked its candiadtes - Hillary and Rudy - early on this time out. Why? corporate patronage? PAC money? A Masonic-like cabal deciding what's good for the people, sort of like what the media did for preparations leading up to the Iraqi war? Who really knows?

The prevailing bias, however, is blatant, especially regarding Hillary, who received preferential treatment by Bivalent Blitzer. When he lures the group into a cock fight (no pun intended) in the 1st minute, he's providing Hillary a podium to establish equilibrium not through solid questions and answers on substantive issues, but, instead, regarding any bruises she may have suffered by the "piling on."

Already Blitzer's presumption was that she was unfairly flogged by the "old boys network." So, here, Hillary, before it continues one more iota, state how wonderful you are. It was a charade and tainted the entire affair.

How important was it? It allowed the mainstream media to perpetuate the notion that she held her own. And, unfortunately, in a society short on substance and long on superficiality, that doesn't give the other candidates many viable chances for mass exposure before Iowa and New Hampshire vote.

In the meantime, if Hillary doesn't meltdown, it's widely presumed she'll win the nomination. Which proves it doesn't take very many "insignificant" events, such as last night's debate - along with the widespread support from the media and ruling corporate entities - to go from a realtively inexperienced candidate(35 years? Ha!) and mediocre legislator, yet household name, before winning the party's most treasured seat.

Posted by: arty kraft on November 16, 2007 at 4:54 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary outperforms the others in debates but with the exception of Obama most of the others don't get much of a chance. Richardson is terrible even with the short time he gets. Interesting how Obama never does well in situations that call for him to work with others. Even his bio and work history confirm it. He sees himself as the star of his own show. This guy screams NPD (narcissistic personality disorder).

Posted by: Chrissy on November 16, 2007 at 6:29 AM | PERMALINK

LyleW - (10:58 pm) exactly right.

You can always guage precisely how well Hillary is doing by Andrew Sullivan's level of Clintono-phobia. If he's merely hissingly derogatory she's doing quite badly. If he's shrilly vituperative, she's doing ok. When he's rabidly, monomaniacally unhinged, she's actually doing quite well. The level of Sully's CDS (Clinton Derangement Syndrome) is one of the most consistently predictable & accurate barometers of Hillary's campaign success.

The sad thing is that Sullivan doesn't seem to realize what an open joke his bitchily pissy anti-Hillary commentary has become, even among the Hero/Daddy candidates he champions. Conservatives now loathe him, liberals continue to despise him & even his dreamboat candidate Obama enthusiastically prefers gay-bashing gospel singers. Poor furry, little Sully, all alone in the world with only his Hillary hatred to sustain him. But the saddest thing of all may well be that, unlike Hitchens, he's not even a particularly good writer anymore.

Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on November 16, 2007 at 7:35 AM | PERMALINK

The NYT site has the transcript and the video (thanks Kevin) as well as a transcript analyzer. Enter a word or phrase and the analyzer highlights the transcript for you. The moderators said "all right" 63 times. Iraq comes up 38 times. Total words 19,931. Lots of words, somewhat less substance.

Posted by: TJM on November 16, 2007 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, sure TJM, one could read those 19,931 words, I suppose, but, as MSNBC did not cover the debate, how am I supposed to "really know" what to think until Hardball comes on today?

I hope, I hope little Chris didn't turn in early last night on Martha's Vineyard with the other hoi polloi.

Posted by: bert on November 16, 2007 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

You know what those of us who support candidates other than Hillary Clinton love to hear?--that she "wiped the floor" with people we support for what we consider to be valid reasons, based on policy differences and questions of who will be most effective in the general election.
Last night's debate had a very frustrating quality and felt very stage-managed. What's with the coordinated booing of Obama and Edwards? This week one of the stories involved how the Clinton campaign has been 'planting' questions at her meetings with Iowans. Is this loud and somewhat unspontaneous booing perhaps related in some way? One might imagine so. And why, after Obama gave a thoughful discussion of how we might consider a permanent and effective fix for social security, was Hillary Clinton's rejoinder that it would mean a trillion dollar tax cut on the middle class. Obama was right when he said that incomes earned by only six percent of the American people cannot be considered middle class. And when he called her on it by saying (rightly) that her response was the type of thing he'd expect to hear from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, he was booed. Whether spontaneous booing from the zealous pro-Hillary, or deliberately planned efforts to cow and embarrass her major rivals, the boos, along with her demonstrated commitment to Washington business as usual. make me all the more determined to keep Ms. Clinton from being my presidential candidate. My personal preference would be Edwards. Although he wasn't given as much time as either Clinton or Obama at last night's debate (after several early incisive answers that produced cheers from the audience), he always demonstrates in his clear talk and through his conviction why h'ed be the most effective general election candidate the party could field. I am convinced that if Hillary Clinton is our nominee we will be seeing another John Kerry moment. But I think it may be worse. John Kerry utterly lacked charisma but no one was opposed to him strongly. Because of that he was able to rally many who did not support him as their first choice to work on the general campaign. I strongly fear that a Hillary Clinton candidacy will be different--and not in a positive way. The booing will be remembered. I have no interest in 'wiping the floor' with Ms. Clinton. I am just extraordinarily concerned about having her as my standard bearer.

Posted by: Progressivedem on November 16, 2007 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone else think Dodd could have left the same impression speaking Spanish all night?

Posted by: RollaMO on November 16, 2007 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

This CNN debate was the sucked complete. I thought my tube was much better. These debates, there are just awful anymore.

Posted by: Me_again on November 16, 2007 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

nepeta wrote: "Anyone notice that Kucinich got the biggest response (cheers, applause) on many of his answers? It's really too bad he's not taken seriously by the political powers that be."

Throughout the 2004 primary campaign, Kucinich was setting audiences on fire at Democratic candidate forums and getting multiple standing ovations for nearly every speech. He also got the best audience responses at the national televised candidate debates, in particular when he openly challenged the BS of the corporate media "moderators."

What Kucinich says, and what the positive response to Kucinich's positions and proposals represents, is taken seriously by "the political powers that be" which is why they very ostentatiously refuse to take Kucinich seriously, and why they ridicule and marginalize him.

Universal nonprofit single-payer health care, Medicare for All, under open, transparent and accountable public administration? Ha, what a clown -- seen any UFOs lately?

Do what the majority of Americans and the overwhelming majority of Democrats want, and withdraw from Iraq? Ha, what a munchkin -- and get a load of those big ears!


Donald from Hawaii wrote: "He would be, if only he were running for Mayor of Munchkinland."

There you go.

If Kucinich looked like Robert Redford, he would have been elected president in a landslide in 2004 -- or more likely assassinated.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on November 16, 2007 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Animist- Ever wonder if Lincoln could have been elected today? He was caricatured back then for his look, but today? No way.

Posted by: RollaMO on November 16, 2007 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Somerby has documented how pundits sway the outcome of a debate afterwards. In the case of the last debate, the live-bloggers were giving HRC high marks until the drivers license question. So one bad answer to a question and all we hear for days are things like "Clinton Stumbles" and "Clinton Campaign Momentum Halted".

But I wonder what we'd be saying if she had committed another minor stumble.

In the beginning, I preferred Obama, and was concerned that HRC was pulling such high numbers. But she's been a very strong candidate. I wish she were more of a leftie, but she's way better than any of the Repug troglodytes.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on November 16, 2007 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Ever wonder if Lincoln could have been elected today? He was caricatured back then for his look, but today? No way.

Posted by: RollaMO on November 16, 2007 at 10:14 AM

Lincoln wouldn't have had a chance today (although in our current environment, Abe likely would have been a Democrat -- sorry, Republicans!). Reasons:

1. His looks, as stated before. Not exactly People-magazine photogenic.

2. His education. These days, with his small-town background, Lincoln probably would have attended a law school such as the University of Illinois -- a decent law school, but one not taken all that seriously by the Washington "powers that be."

3. Without the connections stated above, he wouldn't have had a chance at national office.

Posted by: Vincent on November 16, 2007 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

My apologies for the post up-thread. It is BS. I was testing Kevin's "nerdfury" theory. Only one person took the bait, so I guess it failed. Next cleverly named hypothesis please.

Posted by: Bush Lover on November 16, 2007 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

There were in fact "huge mistakes" made, you just need to know what you're talking about.

[Note: this comment may be deleted or even edited without warning by WM]

Posted by: The annoying LonewackoDotCom on November 16, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Kerry won every debate against GW Bush in the 2004 Presidential election cycle, yet he lost the Presidency.

Of course Hillary 'won' the debate according to the media; because she is both the most likely top-tier democrat to lose in 2008 and if she wins will provide the most salacious and devisive coverage during her presidency - which holds on to those viewers during the commercial breaks.

Also, doesn't hurt that Hillary is the most corporate friendly of all the Democratic candidates and all our Mainsteam Media is controlled by just a few corporations.

Hillary = Bush/Cheney Light

Posted by: Brian on November 16, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Chrissy: Richardson is terrible even with the short time he gets.

Richardson impressed me, catually. What do you think is "terrible?" I'm not looking for a fight, I'm really asking.

Posted by: thersites on November 16, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Or should I say: Richardson impressed me, actually.

Posted by: thersites on November 16, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

catually

It is Friday!

Posted by: frankly0 on November 16, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

thersites, in regards to Richardson, he seems slow witted and doesn't seem to say anything except "stop mud slinging" which is an underhanded way of slinging it himself. Besides there really wasn't any mud the others attacked on policy and consistency.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 16, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

If the meme about Obama - that he doesn't do well at soundbites - is correct why doesn't someone propose a one-on-one with Hillary for an hour or 90 minutes on C-SPAN or somesuch... I'd like to see it, and I think it would generate some publicity whether it was produced or if Hillary turned it down.

Posted by: cruel dude on November 16, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: "If Kucinich looked like Robert Redford, he would have been elected president in a landslide in 2004 -- or more likely assassinated."

If Kucinich looked like Robert Redford, he probably wouldn't be in politics.

Besides, Kucinich's physical stature obviously has nothing to do with it. After all, who's the candidate departing each debate with a totally hot babe on his arm?

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