- “If you are the one being criticized and everyone is talking about your responses did you win the debate because nobody seems to be mentioning the other candidate?” MSNBC’s Keith Olberman, 4/16/08 10:48pm approximately 90 minutes after the debate
Barack Obama did win the debate tonight but not by doing the things you would normally associate with what it takes to win one. Neither Obama nor Hillary were really offered the chance to win it in a traditional way. This was a debate where as Howard Fineman put it (And I’ll paraphrase because I don’t remember his exact words), “Four people did their best to hurt Barack Obama. There were the two moderators, Hillary Clinton and by proxy, John McCain.”
The great damage that was done tonight to both Hillary Clinton and John McCain was that this hurricane was unleashed on Obama and he handled it with poise. Of course, with all of this negative attention focused on him, if you evaluate the debate by more traditional measures you would have to give a slight edge to Hillary. The problem for Senators Clinton and McCain is that their slim hope is that they can portray Obama as unready or out of touch. Not only did Obama not appear that way, but by handling this onslaught, he proved he is eminently ready and can handle and perform under a lot of pressure. Even worse for her, Clinton was forced to admit under direct questioning that Obama is electable and can beat McCain.
One of the major storylines after this debate is going to be whether ABC will change its three letter name to RNC which would stand for “Republican Name Calling”. Every thing that the moderators could think of that might hurt Obama was raised and asked from a number of different angles. As both Keith Olberman and Howard Fineman said afterwards on Countdown, the four main Republican talking points on Obama were the center of the debate, Pastor Wright, Bitter, Flag Pin and Ayers. To be fair, Hillary did not come out of this debate unscathed. The moderators zeroed in on her poll numbers that showed that almost 60% of Americans don’t find her honest and trustworthy. That statistic was mentioned in the opening portion of a question that centered on Hillary’s misstatements on her trip to Tuzla, Bosnia. Thus, even though Obama was the center of negative attention, Hillary supporters have a lot to be unhappy about here as well.
Almost not talked about at all were the economy, foreign policy (except for two minor exchanges on the Middle East), NAFTA, the credit crisis, housing foreclosures or any of the other things that most Americans really care about. The only thing that the moderators put out as a discussion point relative to the economy was taxes. Moderators spent what seemed like a third of the debate talking about what taxes Clinton or Obama would raise or cut. If people lose their jobs and their homes then there wont be any taxes for them to pay. Focusing on taxes is a Republican way of thinking about the economy.
I think after this debate, Democrats are going to be reluctant in the future to agree to any ABC (aka RNC) debates. Before the debate was halfway complete, the blogosphere was erupting in outrage at the lack of questions about substantive issues. Obama wins this debate because everyone and this includes Hillary and the moderators behaved as if he is already the presumptive nominee and for Hillary to have changed that dynamic, she needed a knockout. The fact that a knockout wasn’t scored and no real harm was done to Obama at all despite the best efforts of Hillary and the moderators all trying to hurt him is bad news for Hillary. This was the last debate and her last chance to change the narrative of the race. Since she didn’t do that, it underscores the reality that she has lost this race. Speaking of losers, ABC is going to receive a lot of criticism in the mainstream media for the way they conducted this debate but the news is not all bad for them. They could parley this effort into a real play for a share of Faux, I mean Fox News’ conservative viewing audience. Or, with their perfection of a television version of Page 6 gossip journalism perhaps they can create a new reality show called political survivor.