But Obama didn’t let them get away with it:
Attempts to destroy Obama’s candidacy
Bringing up Reverend Wright again
If there is anything that is likely to destroy the candidacy of a black man running for President of the United States it is stirring up racial resentment by painting him as an “angry black man” or at least associating him with one. Previous attempts to destroy Obama’s candidacy by associating him with Reverend Jeremiah Wright having failed, Charlie Gibson decided to give it one more try. He decided to try a new angle: make it seem that Obama had lied when he claimed not to have previously heard the remarks by Reverend Wright that started the controversy:
GIBSON (to Obama): More than a year ago, you rescinded the invitation to him (Wright) to attend the event when you announced your candidacy. He was to give the invocation. And according to the reverend, I'm quoting him, you said to him: "You can get kind of rough in sermons. So, what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public." … But what did you know about his statements that caused you to rescind that invitation? And if you knew he got rough in sermons, why did it take you more than a year to publicly disassociate yourself from his remarks?Obama explained again that, though he had long been aware that Reverend Wright sometimes made controversial remarks, he had never previously heard the remarks that precipitated the recent controversy. And Obama again condemned those remarks.
GIBSON: But you did rescind the invitation to him.Then Stephanopoulos stepped in to challenge Wright’s patriotism, twice (which Obama defended) and ask Obama how he would handle the inevitable attacks against him regarding the Wright issue if he won the Democratic nomination – the implication being that this is a very important issue that warrants continuous national attention.
OBAMA: But that was on something entirely different, Charlie… I wasn’t aware of all these statements… The church is a community that extends beyond the pastor. And that church has done outstanding work for many, many years…
Implying that Obama is patronizing to Pennsylvanians
Most of us are probably familiar with Obama’s remarks regarding the bitterness of many Americans toward their government and how that has affected some of their attitudes. Obama has repeatedly explained how his remarks on that subject did not fully reflect what he meant to say. But ABC could not resist another opportunity to drive in the knife:
GIBSON: But we've talked to a lot of voters. Do you understand that some people in this state find that patronizing and think that you said actually what you meant?What a cowardly and dishonest ploy! Instead of taking responsibility for his own views on the subject, Gibson claims that these are the views of Pennsylvanians. It would have been far more accurate for Gibson to have noted that his expressed views are in fact NOT the opinion of most Pennsylvanians, since Obama’s poll numbers have risen in Pennsylvania since he made those remarks. Obama explained it again:
OBAMA: The point I was making was that when people feel like Washington's not listening to them, when they're promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change and it doesn't, then, politically, they end up focusing on those things that are constant like religion…. It would be pretty hard for me to be condescending towards people of faith since I'm a person of faith and have done more than most other campaigns in reaching out specifically to people of faith….But hey, why let him get off so easy? Stephanopoulos then picked up on the subject, quoted McCain as saying that this is going to be a killer issue in November, and then gave Senator Clinton the opportunity to lambaste Obama some more on the subject (which she was happy to do).
Of all the inanely stupid issues to bring up at a presidential debate, I can’t think of one that tops accusing someone of not wearing the American flag enough. If it’s true that Obama wears the American flag less than other U.S. Senators (Who counts such stupid things?), I doubt that 1% of Americans would be aware of it if our national news media didn’t harp on it.
Again ABC resorted to the dishonest and cowardly ploy of attributing knowledge of and views on this issue to voters rather than to themselves. First, they play a tape featuring a “voter”:
VOTER: Senator Obama, I have a question, and I want to know if you believe in the American flag. I am not questioning your patriotism (yeah, right), but all our servicemen, policemen and EMS wear the flag. I want to know why you don't.Then Gibson volunteered his own opinions on the issue, again attributing them not to himself but to others:
GIBSON: It comes up again and again when we talk to voters. And, as you may know, it is all over the Internet. And it's something of a theme that Senators Clinton and McCain's advisers agree could give you a major vulnerability if you're the candidate in November.Obama responded by making a point that should be obvious to any person over the age of ten – that there are more important ways to measure one’s love of their country than by how often they wear the American flag:
OBAMA: I could not help but love this country for all that it's given me. And so, what I've tried to do is to show my patriotism by how I treat veterans….
And he goes on to mention several other things that should be more important to Americans than how often their President wears the American flag.
Associating Obama with terrorism
The lie that Obama is a Muslim has probably been refuted enough that few Americans believe it. So, ABC needed to find another way to associate him with terrorism. The best they could come up with was to note that Obama had held a meeting in the house of William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who was said by his campaign to be “friendly” with Ayers. Here is Stephanopoulos’ characterization of Ayers and the Weather Underground:
STEPHANOPOULOS: They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He's never apologized for that. And, in fact, on 9/11, he was quoted in the New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."
The Weather Underground was a former anti-Vietnam War organization, which was on the FBI’s ten most-wanted list during the Hoover days. Whether their activities ever killed anyone is not clear to me. Ayers and his wife turned themselves in during the 1980s, and all charges against them were dropped. Anyhow, Stephanopoulos’ characterization of Ayers is clearly misleading at best. Here is what Ayers himself had to say about his supposed advocacy of terrorism:
I heard Sean Hannity tell Senator John McCain that I was an unrepentant terrorist… extolling bombings against the U.S. and even advocating more terrorist bombs. Senator McCain couldn’t believe it, and neither could I. I’m often quoted as saying “I have no regrets”. That is not true. I’m sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Vietnam, and I say “No, I don’t regret anything I did to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government.” Sometimes I add, “I don’t think I did enough”. This is then elided: “He has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings”…. Terrorism is never justifiable, even in a just cause. I’ve never advocated terrorism, never participated in it, never defended it. The U.S. government, by contrast, does it routinely…Obama had this to say to Stephanopoulos:
OBAMA: So this kind of game in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, that somehow their ideas could be attributed to me, I think the American people are smarter than that.Obama might have added that Stephanopoulos had totally mischaracterized Ayers. But how was Obama expected to have researched the background of everyone he’s ever associated with, in preparation for this debate? If that’s the best they can do to associate Obama with terrorism – he had a meeting in the house of someone who has denounced terrorism of any kind much more clearly than anyone in the Bush administration ever did – they’re skating on pretty thin ice.
Characterizing Obama on presumed inconsistencies on the 2nd Amendment and gun control
Apparently ABC believes, or pretends to believe, that it is inconsistent for someone to believe in the Constitutional right to bear arms, and yet simultaneously believe that there are circumstances where government may legitimately put restrictions on guns in the interest of public safety. They apparently don’t understand that, just as our Constitutional right to free speech doesn’t give us the right to libel, to purposely incite others to violence, or yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, there are some things that are not black and white:
GIBSON: Both of you, in the past, have supported strong gun control measures. But now, when I listen to you on the campaign, I hear you emphasizing that you believe in an individual's right to bear arms. Both of you were strong advocates for licensing of guns. Both of you were strong advocates for the registration of guns. Why don't you emphasize that now…?Oh, horrors! – a politician emphasizing one aspect of an issue without emphasizing other aspects of the same issue. Obama countered Gibson by explaining the elementary logic that our government has the responsibility to protect people against violence. So Gibson went further and claimed that “You favored a ban on handguns”. Obama responded:
OBAMA: No, my writing wasn't on that particular questionnaire, Charlie. As I said, I have never favored an all-out ban on handguns. We can make sure that criminals don't have guns in their hands. We can make certain that those who are mentally deranged are not getting a hold of handguns. We can trace guns that have been used in crimes to unscrupulous gun dealers that may be selling to straw purchasers and dumping them on the streets.Trying to make Obama seem like a marginal candidate who can’t win a presidential election
Making Obama seem like a marginal candidate who isn’t a serious contender for the presidency is problematic for ABC, since he’s virtually wrapped up the Democratic nomination, and most national polls have him running ahead of the Republican nominee. The debate moderators would seem downright stupid (and biased) if they directly implied that Obama is unelectable. So instead they tried to get Senator Clinton to do that for them, by asking her several times whether she thinks Obama is electable.
That put her in a bind of course. She would like to convince the Super Delegates that Obama is unelectable. But she risks offending voters by saying that in public. So she tried to evade the question. But the moderators kept on pushing her, so finally she said that yes, yes, yes, Obama can win.
But nice try, George and Charlie.
Pushing right wing talking points
The Iraq War must be pursued
To push the Iraq War, ABC’s first ploy was to again put forth an “ordinary American” who recognizes the wisdom of keeping American troops in Iraq indefinitely, as long as things are not going well:
MANDY GARBER: They (Clinton and Obama) keep saying we want to bring the troops back. But considering what's happening on the ground, how is that going to happen?Then Gibson bopped in to make several implications: that we have made “gains” in Iraq; that we need to stay there indefinitely to protect those gains; and that Bush’s sycophantic generals know best how long we should stay there:
GIBSON: If the military commanders in Iraq came to you on day one, and said, this kind of withdrawal would destabilize Iraq, it would set back all of the gains that we have made, no matter what, you're going to order those troops to come home? General Petraeus was in Washington. You both were there when he testified. Saying that the gains in Iraq are fragile and are reversible. Are you essentially saying: I know better than the military commanders here?Obama set him straight by giving him an elementary lesson in U.S. government:
OBAMA: Because the Commander-in-Chief sets the mission, Charlie. That's not the role of the generals. And one of the things that's been interesting about the president's approach lately has been to say, "Well, I'm just taking cues from General Petraeus." And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership… But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer. We will not have permanent bases there (when Obama is President)…. We are overstretched in a way – we do not have a strategic reserve at this point.Affirmative action is a major problem for poor white working people
With all the economic problems affecting poor, working and middle class Americans today, you would think that debate moderators would pick some of the most important ones for debate discussion – like affordable health care, the housing crisis, or unaffordable education costs for so many American children today. Well, ABC has a pretty good idea of what our major economic problems are: affirmative action and high taxes for the wealthy:
STEPHANOPOULOS (to Obama): As president, how specifically would you recommend changing affirmative action policies so that affluent African-Americans are not given advantages and poor, less affluent whites are?Yep, we have to do something about those affluent African-Americans in order to get our economy back in order. But in fairness to George, I’m sure that emphasizing the importance of solving our affirmative action problems wasn’t his only motive in asking that question. I’m sure that he also felt that it would be good for our country to stir up a little racial animosity towards our black Democratic nominee. Obama tried to broaden the issue a bit:
OBAMA: The basic principle that should guide discussions not just of affirmative action, but how we are admitting young people to college generally, is how do we make sure that we're providing ladders of opportunity for people? How do we make sure that every child in America has a decent shot in pursuing their dreams? And race is still a factor in our society. And I think that for universities and other institutions to say, "You know, we're going to take into account the hardships that somebody has experienced because they're black or Latino or because they're a woman"...Raising taxes on the rich is bad for a sluggish economy
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even if they're wealthy?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator McCain signaled that the No. 1 one issue in the general election campaign on the economy is going to be taxes…. And if the economy is as weak a year from now, as it is today, will you continue – will you persist in your plans to roll back the President Bush's tax cuts for wealthier Americans?When Clinton responded that yes, she would raise taxes on the wealthy to approximately the rate they were paying during her husband’s administration, Stephanopoulos responded, “Even if the economy is weak?”