With 47 days to the Iowa Caucuses, I spent a few days thinking about the performance of the top three Democrats in this last debate and what I thought each of them needed to show in the next and final debate in California on December 10th. In the interests of full disclosure, I am a supporter of John Edwards, but I have attempted to be honest and fair in my evaluations of all of the candidates.
In previous articles, I have expressed how I would support but be less than fully enthusiastic with a Hillary Clinton nomination. I made two main suggestions how she could help me be more enthusiastic about her nomination should it come about. I am somewhat surprised and gratified that she has done exactly what I thought she should do. I am not so arrogant to think that she did those things because I said she should. As far as I know, neither Senator Clinton nor any members of her campaign know that any of my articles or I exist. It just speaks to an awareness of political reality and an improved understanding of the reality of the lives of everyday Americans and of policies that hurt them. Specifically, I suggested in two articles on the candidates, http://opednews.com/maxwrite/manage.php?submit=view&storyid=44114 and http://opednews.com/articles/opedne_steven_l_070223_democratic_president.htm that Senator Clinton take a look at the effects of NAFTA on American manufacturing and Labor and if she didn’t like what she saw, acknowledge that and come out for a new course on trade. Here is an excerpt from the debate on Nov. 15th from the Council on Foreign Relations website:
MR. BLITZER: All right.
Senator Clinton, all of us remember the big NAFTA debate when your husband was president of the United States, and a lot of us remember the debate between Al Gore, who was then vice president, and Ross Perot. Ross Perot was fiercely against NAFTA.
Knowing what we know now, was Ross Perot right? (Laughter.)
SEN. CLINTON: All I can remember from that is a bunch of charts. (Laughter.) That sort of is a vague memory.
Look, NAFTA did not do what many had hoped, and so we do need to take a look at it and we do need to figure out how we're going to have trade relations that are smart, that give the American worker and the American consumer rights around the world.
That acknowledgement by Senator Clinton was very important for me. I have said many times that I supported NAFTA at the time and really wish I hadn’t. It did not turn out the way its Democratic supporters thought that it would. It has hurt many people and was the Coup de grâce for an already hurt US manufacturing sector. Hillary needs to keep letting people know that she is aware of those Republican AND Democratic policies that have been mistakes and have hurt people, particularly the middle class and she needs to further explain what changes she should make.
The other thing she has done since my February 23 article is she has worked to improve her ‘negative’ percentages. She and her campaign need to keep doing that. They need to be seen as kind and reaching out to people and running an inclusive and welcoming campaign. She could take a page out of Al Gore’s book and explain that she is running to be the President of “All of the people.”
Senator Clinton did very well in this debate. It was a big improvement from the last one and she handled criticism very well. What was a mistake was the “Boo birds” that her campaign planted in the crowd. First, she didn’t need to have them because as I said, she handled herself well and dealt with the attacks well, and second, it seemed to me a tactic born of weakness. If your opponents have legitimate issues to raise against you, and you cannot handle them on the stage and have to resort to planting people in the audience to boo your opponents, you have acknowledged your weakness on those issues.
It is particularly worrisome for the campaign of a Democratic candidate to do things like this in the contest for the Democratic nomination because attacks from fellow Democrats are lukewarm and milquetoast compared to what will come from Republicans in the general election. If you have to pull out tricks like these now to handle issues your opponents are raising, you are telling me that you will be in big trouble dealing with Republicans. No one should forget that these events are DEBATES. Your opponents are supposed to be telling people why they are better and more qualified than you are and they are supposed to be attacking your positions. That is why we have these events. Having your supporters sit in the audience and attempt to shout down your opponents (and in fact, the questioners in several instances) with boos when they do exactly what they are supposed to be doing defeats the entire purpose of having debates like these. I’m hoping we see no more of this in California. In fact, I think this debate makes a strong argument for not having a live audience that can attempt to bias the conduct and perception of the debate. What would be the procedure for vetting who gets in and from what campaign? This vetting cannot be done as I think this debate clearly shows.
Barack Obama did well in the debate but he is not risking nearly enough to show distinction between himself and Senator Clinton. He has to be more aggressive. He has to do a lot more to explain to people why he is a better choice. While he is at it, in the next debate he needs to cement in people’s minds why he is running for President in the first place. If I were Obama, I would go back to his book, Audacity of Hope and to his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Use those sources for examples and ammunition to explain who he is, why he is different from Hillary and why he is running for President. Some of that comes out in answers to questions in the debates but not nearly enough.
Obama also needs to reach out and make amends to the GLBT community between now and the next debate because of having Donnie McClurkin sing at a campaign event http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/29/obamas-gospel-concert-tour/ . Because of that event, Barack’s message of hope and tolerance is not resonating with one of the most discriminated against segments of our society. If that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.
John Edwards handled himself very well and maintained his composure in the face of some interesting tactics by the Clinton campaign. I don’t think this last debate gained him any new supporters but I don’t think anyone stopped supporting Edwards because of the boo birds either. If anything, I think seeing Edwards and Obama booed by Clinton supporters would make either of their supporters less likely to bolt their camps for team Clinton. Edwards has to keep drawing distinctions between himself and Clinton but in the next debate, I would mentally separate the debate into three equal parts.
In the first part, I would seek to let people know his vision for America. In the second, I would emphasize the difference he has with Senator Clinton on the “most important” two issues; my suggestion would be the Iran vote, and Iraq. In the final third, I would concentrate on the area he is strongest, his empathy with the middle class and his understanding of middle class worries and issues and what he would to do address them.