No, I didn't watch the debate myself. I almost never do. I take it for granted at this point that nobody is going to say anything of substance that contradicts their campaign talking points. Debates are only useful these days for voters who haven't heard a particular candidate's message yet, and at this point we've all heard Clinton, Obama and Edwards until we're sick.
I learned pretty much all I needed to know from the clips that are unavoidable on the news programs today: John Edwards got shunted off to the side, trying to snipe at Obama to make himself look like the only viable not-Hillary candidate. The rest of it was nothing more than a mudslinging duel between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Today Hillary Clinton accused Obama of going into the debate looking for a fight and using prepared talking points. Well, first, heaven forbid a candidate actually be PREPARED for a public appearance. Second, Hillary and Bill have been mudslinging at Obama pretty much non-stop since the day after New Hampshire. It's damn fatuous of Hillary to point at Obama now and say, "He started it! He started it! Not MY fault!"
But because she's Hillary, she's going to get away with it.
And Obama needed to set the record straight on the Clinton attacks, but the mudballs he hurled at her- most notably the fact that she was a corporate board member for the Wal-Mart corporation while she was First Lady of Arkansas- were a very poor idea indeed.
The fact is plain: if Obama engages in negative politics with the Clintons, no matter the fact that most of his attacks are truth and most of theirs are lies, in that kind of fight Obama loses. The Clintons are past masters of gutter politics. In fact, you could very well say gutter politics are all they know. Gutter politics are how Bill Clinton got a second term as Arkansas governor after the voters tossed him out on his ear in his first re-election campaign. Gutter politics got him the nomination in 1992 and brought him victory against Bush in 1992 and Dole in 1996.
And no matter what people say about hating attack ads, the fact is that negative politics works. You can't win over your opponent unless you convince the voters that your opponent does not deserve to win. In most cases negative politics are valid, so long as they are truthful. Of course the Clintons have never let the truth get in the way of their mudslinging (examples here and here from this week alone)- they've figured out that most voters never bother to check on the validity of any accusation one campaign makes against another.
Besides which, there is even more reason for the Clintons to pull every trick in the book to win this election. As many pundits have speculated, including the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, for the Clintons this isn't just about getting back into the White House: this election is a referendum on their performance when they were there before. If Hillary loses the nomination, it means that the Democratic Party has rejected Clinton politics, policies and record. If she loses the general election, it means that the electorate as a whole has picked a continuance of the incredibly corrupt, warlike, and imperial Republican Party rule over a return to the corrupt, untrustworthy and imperial Clintons' rule. Bill and Hillary both want this election with every fiber of their being- because victory would validate their notions that Billary Clinton is/was one of the greatest Presidents in history.
The general consensus from the online pundits I read is that last night's debate had no winner. Edwards looked like Kucinich did last month- someone who didn't belong with the big kids anymore. Clinton succeeded in dragging Obama down to her level: even if Andrew Sullivan is right to say that Clinton started the attack and pressed it, the fact that Obama responded in kind hurts his message of "new politics." If there is a winner, though, it's Hillary- because dirty politics from the Clintons is already expected of them, whereas mudslinging from either Obama or Edwards is NOT expected of THEM.
I'd like to hope that this Obama-leaning correspondent to Andrew Sullivan is representative, and that a lot of undecided Democratic voters will reject her at all costs after her run of attacks...
... but my experience tells me otherwise, and gives me serious cause to believe now that Hillary might just score a come-from-behind win in South Carolina.
And if she does that, that's all she wrote for Obama, who isn't looking all that good going into Tsunami Tuesday as it is...
MSNBC article on the debate itself here.