Hillary showed signs of weakness in Tuesday’s Democratic debate, but even though Edwards and Obama landed a few soft punches, they didn’t do any lasting damage. This could change if they keep up the pressure, because Hillary showed that she does have a breaking point, and that it was possible to throw her off of her game.
Clinton was on the defensive from beginning to end on Tuesday, both from the moderators — Brian Williams, the NBC anchor, and Tim Russert, host of NBC’s “Meet The Press” — and from her rivals. John Edwards was the most aggressive challenger to Clinton on Tuesday, but Barack Obama and Chris Dodd made telling points against her as well.
The storyline they sought to write was of an evasive front-runner who, for reasons of political calculation, caution or lack of candor, was unwilling to say what she really believes about everything from Social Security to the release of documents from her husband’s administration to whether illegal immigrants should be eligible for drivers licenses.
At times she was typically strong in defending her positions, even if they run counter to the views of many Democratic voters. That was the case on Iran, where she explained her vote for a measure that her rivals said provided President Bush with a legislative rationale to go to war with the Iranians. At other times, however, she was defensive, evasive or both.
If Hillary wants to take credit for the accomplishments of her husband’s administration, it would be wise for her to have some evidence of what exactly her role was as First Lady. What part did she play? What policies does she deserve credit (or blame) for? These are things that we could find out if she asks Bill to unseal those Presidential records. After all, that’s part of the resume she’s pushing as her qualifications for being President. She hasn’t really distinguished herself as a Senator, and has no signature legislation to show for her time there. It is about time for her opponents to call attention to this, and I’m glad that Russert asked the question to give them the opportunity to comment on the subject.
Edwards did what he had to do, except that attacking Hillary is what he has done from the very beginning of his campaign. He is much more comfortable doing that than Barack Obama is, and it showed. That trial lawyer experience served him well here. Obama was given an opening on the very first question to criticize Clinton and to make distinctions between himself and Hillary and he passed on it. I don’t think he is all that comfortable with political combat. Unfortunately, staying above the fray may not work this year. I know Obama is trying to be a different kind of candidate, and provide a contrast to the combative Edwards, and to Hillary, but his heart doesn’t seem to be totally in this campaign.
As far as Balz’s comment on Chris Dodd is concerned, at this point he should be more worried about his own electability than about Hillary’s. He did seem to be engaged in this debate much more than in the previous one, but not enough to change his status in the race. Same goes for Kucinich, who never fails to entertain — in case you missed it, he saw a UFO, just like Shirley McLaine claimed he did. Why are we asking questions about UFOs and Halloween costumes in a Presidential debate??? Are Tim Russert and Brian Williams getting bored? Did they leave the piece of paper with their last question back in the control room? You expect this junk from Chris Matthews, not from these two. They asked enough hard questions, I guess, so I will give them both a pass on this.
This waffling on driver’s licenses for illegals will hurt Hillary, because New Yorkers do not support Governor Spitzer’s proposal. Even a large percentage of Democrats oppose it. Maybe Obama and Edwards won’t be able to take advantage of this, but the Republicans certainly will make it an issue in the general election.