Tuesday, January 22, 2008


in Scrappy South Carolina Smackdown
(As Sen. McCaskill & Mom look on)
From Health Care to Electability, A Spicy Debate

For political junkies, it was a three-course meal that included a hearty helping of meat and vegetables, as well as dessert that came early -- topped with sauces both bitter and sweet.

In a spirited yet substantive debate, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama engaged over issues of political conviction to health care coverage that featured feisty exchanges and personal put-downs just six days before the South Carolina Democratic primary. Still lingering in the race, John Edwards won some moments for staying above the fray. But it's questionable whether voters are willing to invite him to the adult table.

Visibly frustrated early on, Obama directly accused both Bill and Hillary Clinton of making factually inaccurate statements, when characterizing his positions on the war and the economy.

Obama defended his recent comments about Ronald Reagan, noting he was a transformational political figure but added that Reagan's agenda was one he objected to. "We've got to appeal to independents and Republicans in order to build a working majority," Obama said.

"It is sometimes difficult to understand what Senator Obama has said, because as soon as he's confronted on it, he says that's not what I meant," Clinton charged.

The two then leveled deeply personal attacks on each other. Obama took a shot at Clinton's work for Wal-Mart: "While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs go overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart," Obama said.

Clinton replied with a stinging remark about Obama's dealings with a Chicago businessman now facing federal charges.

"I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law, and representing your contributor Rezko in his slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago," Clinton responded.

"This is not about us personally," Edwards pleaded.

Obama and Clinton also came at each other with old votes each had cast, and then what they said about those votes later.

"Consistency matters, truthfulness during campaigns makes a difference," Obama said, attempting to make character an issue.

In a discussion over the mortgage crisis, Obama called out Clinton for voting for a bankruptcy bill that she later claimed she was glad didn't pass.

Clinton hit back, noting an amendment that would have capped at 30% the interest rate credit card companies could charge consumers. "It was one of the biggest lobbyist victories," she said, noting that Obama failed to support it.

Perplexingly, Obama said he voted against it because he thought 30% was too high of a ceiling. (It's possible he misspoke?)

"You voted with the credit card companies, that's the bottom line," Clinton said.

Clinton tried to expand the argument that Obama was trying to have it both ways on policy.

"You never take responsibility for any vote," Clinton said, meeting boos from the audience. Clinton cited Obama's legislative voting record -- 130 "present" votes in Illinois. "That's not yes, that's not no, that's maybe." Clinton said.

"I do think its important of whether you're willing to take hard positions," Edwards added.

Obama explained that in Illinois, he would sometimes vote "present," in order to indicate he had problems with a bill that otherwise he was interested in voting for. "What if I had just not shown up to vote on things that mattered to this country," Edwards poked.

Obama cited his fights against the death penalty, and keeping juvenile criminals out of same criminal justice system as adults as issues that proved his political spine.

Obama took aim at Clinton for approaching health care the wrong way, behind-closed-doors and without proper support. But it was Edwards who noted Obama's plan is not universal. "In order for the plan to be universal, it has to mandate coverage for everybody," Edwards said.

Obama called it a legitimate debate, but said his focus would be to lower costs. "The problem is not that folks are trying to avoid getting healthcare. The problem is they can't afford it," Obama said, then turning to mandates in Massachusetts that haven't worked out as planned.

"Folks are having to pay fines and they don't have healthcare. They'd rather go ahead and take the fine because they can't afford the coverage," Obama said of Massachusetts plan.

Obama made the case that if quality plans are available, you don't have to mandate coverage because people will voluntarily purchase it.

Clinton said that if a Democrat doesn't start out with a universal principle, the country will never get there.

"It is not universal," Clinton said of Obama's plan.

WHO CAN BEAT JOHN MCCAIN? Edwards raised the possibility of running against John McCain. He said he was the best-positioned candidate to take on the Republican candidate in places like South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri. Obama argued his showing in northern rural Nevada proved he was bringing new people into the process, including independents and even Republicans. Clinton said if McCain is the nominee, the general election will be centered around the issue of national security. She said she was best positioned to go toe-to-toe with McCain in a race that would highlight war, diplomacy and our international status.

No comments: