Friday, February 22, 2008

Good night for Democrats

By Libby

I'm working today so I only have time to sneak in a quick reaction to last night's Democratic debate. I watched the whole thing for a change and I thought Hillary never looked better in all senses of the word. She looked sharp and fresh and projected a real warmth that I've seen little of so far on the campaign trail. Obama looked a little less animated than usual. I read somewhere that he came down with a terrible cold the day before so I expect that a stuffy head and the effects of cold medicine dimmed his usually sparkling demeanor a bit.

There weren't a lot of "oh wow" moments and I'm sure the striking exchanges are well covered among the masses of bloggers here including Hillary's ill-advised "change by xerox" remark. Overall, Obama outclassed her. His tone was the more positive. He more often ignored opportunities to take a cheap shots at her and instead focused on how he would confront McCain.

The sharpest exchange was over national health insurance and I think Obama made a better case in defending his plan and deflecting Hillary's digs. I'm not sure Hillary bringing up her previous battles against special interests when she floated her plan in the 90s was advisable, considering she lost that fight then. And while she has a more generous approach to solving the health insurance and economic crises, it wasn't clear to me on how she intends to pay for them. Obama won that round when he tied funding his ideas by drawing down our expenditures in Iraq.

For me, the most telling exchange was in how to handle Cuba. Hillary didn't draw much space between her own approach and Bush's current arrogance in refusing to speak to our adversaries at all. Her premise that other world leaders must satisfy some US imposed criteria before they get the privilege of meeting with the president cleaves too closely to Bush. To the extent that either won this debate, I think Obama won it right there when he said he would personally deliver the criteria that would begin negotiations towards normalizing relationships with adversarial regimes.

Finally, on quick scan, I see much is being made of Hillary's closing remarks. They were good and well delivered. Many have already noted that ironically, in light of the plagiarism kerfluffle, the same language has been used many times previously. For myself, I think the defining moment was when she said she was honored to be standing on stage with Obama. That was unexpected, felt genuine and spoke of a willingness to put the party over her own ambitions. That, I think, is what brought the crowd to its feet.