Thursday, April 17, 2008

Democratic Debate in Philadelphia: Obama’s Waterloo

I noted in my previous entry, on last night's Democratic debate in Philadelphia, that the blogosphere's up in arms over alleged Lee Atwater-style attacks against Barack Obama.

But note the introduction to
today's Los Angeles Times story, which suggests Obama might not have handled things so well, in any case:

The Democratic candidates for president debated forcefully Wednesday over who would prove more electable in November, with Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly raising questions about Barack Obama's past associations and Obama contending that her approach typified the blowtorch political style that Americans decry.

Obama, the Illinois senator, was thrown on the defensive for the first half of the nearly two-hour debate. The moderators, ABC News anchors Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, pressed him on his recent comments about "bitter" small-town Pennsylvanians; his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.; his acquaintance with a long-ago member of the Weather Underground group; and the absence of an American flag in his lapel -- though no one else on stage wore one.

Clinton criticized Obama as well. She defended those who she said were "taken aback and offended" by Obama's remarks at a recent San Francisco fundraiser that voters upset by economic downturns "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment."
The New York senator repeatedly zeroed in on Wright and -- after Stephanopoulos opened the issue -- Obama's relationship with fellow Chicagoan William Ayers, the 1960s radical who is now an education professor at the University of Illinois. She noted that Obama and Ayers were at one point on the same philanthropic board.

"I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about," said Clinton, who repeatedly characterized herself as thoroughly vetted during her husband's administration.
I think Clinton's absolutely correct.

But Captain Ed takes the point further, suggesting that last night was "
Obama's Waterloo":

The last Democratic debate has finally concluded, and perhaps the last chances of ending the primaries early. Thanks to a surprisingly tenacious set of questions for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton from ABC moderaters Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous, Barack Obama got exposed over and over again as an empty suit, while Hillary cleaned his clock. However, the big winner didn’t even take the stage tonight.

The first 45 minutes of the scheduled 90-minute debate (which went 15 minutes over) wound up focusing on the series of gaffes and stumbles from both candidates. Hillary more or less defused the Tuzla Dash by admitting she essentially lied about it, trying at one point to use the “sleep deprivation” defense. Obama, however, never did figure out the First Rule of Holes. Once again, he described religion as a refuge people use when government doesn’t work — a fatal misreading of religious faith in America. He not only came up with bad answers, he looked lost and tentative throughout the entire period.

Hillary didn’t let him off the hook, either, not when it came to Crackerquiddick or on the Wright Stuff. Noting that “you choose your pastor, not your family,” Hillary once again pounded Obama for not doing anything about Wright when he had the chance. She also jumped at the chance to note that former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers was more than just a “neighbor”, as Obama described him. Hillary pointed out that Obama and Ayers worked on a foundation together for years, even after 9/11, even after Ayers said publicly that he didn’t regret his terrorism.

And what was Obama’s response? He compared Ayers to Senator Tom Coburn, who opposes abortion. Of course, Coburn hasn’t bombed abortion clinics, but Obama can’t tell the difference between a Senator and a terrorist. That won’t help him in Middle America either, and Coburn may have a few words for Obama after this night.

By the time Gibson got around to the issues, Obama looked lost and upset. It got worse when Gibson asked about capital-gains tax rates, which Obama has pledged to raise. When Gibson repeatedly pointed out that decreasing the rates actually increased the revenues, Obama simply couldn’t come up with an answer, stammering while trying to change the subject. On guns, both Hillary and Obama stumbled through tortured explanations of how they support a Constitutional right for individuals to own guns while backing gun bans like the one in DC.

The winner of this debate? John McCain. Both Democrats came out of this diminished, but Obama got destroyed in this exchange. If superdelegates had begun to reconsider their support of Obama after Crackerquiddick, they’re speed-dialing Hillary after watching Gibson dismember Obama on national TV tonight.

And kudos to ABC News for taking on both candidates fearlessly. John McCain has to feel grateful not to be included. Don’t forget that you can read through our live blog at any time.

Also, check the Los Angeles Times' analysis of the debate's implications, "Obama Says Debate Foreshadows GOP Campaign."

For all Obama's touted savvy transcendance, he's lately making Michael Dukakis look like a political superstar!