At present it is unclear whether Obama has come up with an effective public rationale for his "no debate" position that does work politically. (On websites where this issue is being discussed, there's a contingent --large enough to cause concern-- that interprets his refusal as an act of cowardice.) His present stated rationale --he wants to spend more time directly in contact with the voters-- does not do the job.
It is easy to see why it could be difficult to speak effectively to the issue, as a couple of the principle REAL reasons are not politically permissible for Obama to make explicitly. One of these reasons could be stated: "This contest is already over. I won. Why should I join Senator Clinton in pretending that she's still a viable competitor when she's down by three touchdowns with two minutes left?" The other such reason could be stated: "Hillary's a dirty fighter. Why should I agree to put myself into the ring with her for more of her low blows?"
He can't say those things. But here's something that he CAN say. It's something that gets at the real truth, but in a politically advantageous way. And it's something that also turns the tables and issues a strong challenge to Senator Clinton.
"Senator Clinton is challenging me to yet another debate. But that is hardly what we Democrats need right now. It's not only that we've already had an unprecedented <em>21 nationally televised debates</em>, not only that the voters have no need to hear us repeat the various differences and similarities between us one more time. It's more than that.
"We need to keep our eyes on the whole point of this nominating process. The point from the outset has not been to see who is best at fighting our fellow Democrats. The point has been to pick a standard bearer who could take the hopes and the needs of the Democratic electorate --indeed, the hopes and dreams of the whole nation-- and be an effective standard-bearer in the battle for the White House against the Republican Party.
"We are in danger of losing that focus. This contest for the Democratic nomination has already continued longer than anyone thought it would. And it has continued longer than many think it should. There's already evidence that too much focus on battling between ourselves threatens to erode the strength our Party began with.
"After all our current battles of Democrat-against-Democrat, we see some signs of poisoning of the well. Large numbers of the supporters of each of us have been telling pollsters that they would not support the other candidate. Surely we can repair that damage, given time; but at the very least it's time to stop compounding the damage, stop poisoning the well. For this is what comes from treating this contest as a fight between us Democrats rather than as an audition for each of us to be the standard-bearer against our common opponent.
"The voters of Indiana and of North Carolina, and of those other states which have yet to vote, have already had the chance to see us debate nearly two dozen times. What they need to see from us now is which of us can better carry that standard into battle against John McCain this fall.
"So I am going to focus my "debate" against John McCain. I am going to show the voters of Indiana and North Carolina, and the other states, how I will represent them and their interests and their values in doing battle for the presidency against John McCain, against whom I expecting to be contending in the fall campaign.
"And I have a challenge for Senator Clinton.
"So I challenge Senator Clinton to see which of us can best make the case to America, make the case that "It is I, not John McCain, who should be the next president." Let Senator Clinton show how well she can train her fire on our opponent in the fall. And then let the voters decided which of us speaks most persuasively on their behalf for that contest.
"That's how we can make the prolongation of this nominating process into a constructive thing for our party, rather than the destructive thing that it has, in too many ways, become.