Thursday, February 21, 2008

Texas Dem Debate Transcript Review

(if I can ever get the damn transcript on CNN's site to download...)

OK, here's scoring: a Quotable (something that can be used in an ad down the road to help you, or something people will remember) is worth +1 point. An Un-Quotable (something you really wish you hadn't said) is worth -1 point, as is any total fumble of an issue. Nothing else scores: nothing else will be remembered tomorrow, much less November.

Clinton gets to go first, and she begins by buttering up the locals- standard political campaigning.

I want to take on the tough issues that face us now. I want to stop the health insurance companies from discriminating against people because they're sick. You know, it's unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of race or gender or ethnic origin or religion, but it's OK to discriminate against sick people.

And we're going to end that, because it's time we said no more.

--- Translated for those who don't speak Hillary: "I'm going to force corporations to lose money hand over fist to cover the chronically ill." Guess who gets charged more by the corporations to make up for it? Nonetheless Hillary gets a Quotable, 1-0.

Now Obama's turn:

In Youngstown, Ohio, talked to workers who have seen their plants shipped overseas as a consequence of bad trade deals like NAFTA, literally seeing equipment unbolted from the floors of factories and shipped to China, resulting in devastating job losses and communities completely falling apart.

--- Heard Obama use this line the other day at the rally. Marc Ambinder reports in his debate coverage that during the debate the Clinton campaign sent out an email accusing Obama of plagarism- again- on this line, this time from the Kerry 2004 campaign. Bear that in mind for later...

OBAMA: The problem we have is that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die.

--- would be a Quotable, except that Obama's used it before, at the rally I attended and in other televised speeches. No score.

RAMOS: Very simply, would you meet with him or not, with Raul Castro?

CLINTON: I would not meet with him until there was evidence that change was happening, because I think it's important that they demonstrate clearly that they are committed to change the direction. Then I think, you know, something like diplomatic encounters and negotiations over specifics could take place.

--- Clinton blathers a lot before and after this point, but this is the core of her answer. "Do what we want you to, and then we'll have negotiations about having negotiations for an actual meeting, but don't hold your breath about normalization between the USA and Cuba."

But I do think that it's important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that's where diplomacy makes the biggest difference.

--- Obama strikes back, and scores a Quotable.

SCORE: 1-1 tie.

But a moment later...

BROWN: But that's different from your position back in 2003. You called U.S. policy toward Cuba a miserable failure, and you supported normalizing relations.

BROWN: So you've backtracked now...

OBAMA: I support the eventual normalization. And it's absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton's entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba.

So I think that we have to shift policy. I think our goal has to be ultimately normalization. But that's going to happen in steps. And the first step, as I said, is changing our rules with respect to remittances and with respect to travel.

--- Obama has to dodge, and he does it well.

Clinton responds, taking a lot of unmemorable words to say what she said before: play nice and then maybe we'll talk. Obama responds:

I think, as I said before, preparation is actually absolutely critical in any meeting. And I think it is absolutely true that either of us would step back from some of the Bush unilateralism that's caused so much damage.

But I do think it is important precisely because the Bush administration has done so much damage to American foreign relations that the president take a more active role in diplomacy than might have been true 20 or 30 years ago.

Because the problem is, if we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time. And I think that it's important for us in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, for the president to be willing to take that extra step.

--- In other words, Clinton's diplomatic strategy is no different than George W. Bush's in Obama's eyes. That would be an excellent point to make... but Obama doesn't make it quotable. Score still tied, 1-1.

The debate goes on to the economy. Obama says that the two of them are just about the same on the economy and on trade, sharing the same Democratic agenda; however, what's needed is someone who can actually make the agenda happen by building bridges. He says all of this very not quotably. Rather than go into policy specifics, though, he defers to Clinton.

CLINTON: I would put a moratorium for 90 days, to give us time to work out a way for people to stay in their homes, and I would freeze interest rates for five years. Because these adjustable-rate mortgages, if they keep going up, millions of Americans are going to be homeless. And vacant homes will be across the neighborhoods of Texas and America.

--- The second half of this sounds nice- "if we don't do what I say, you'll be on the street." The first part, and especially the freezing of interest rates for five years... that's total government control of the credit market. That's past socialism clear into communism. Unfortunately, it's not Unquotable, really; it's also not Quotable. Score still 1-1.

And, finally, we need to end George Bush's war on science, which has been waged against scientists and researchers...

--- This would be Quotable... if, alas, if anyone CARED. This last line got applause, but it was so far off the political radar that the moderator hustled Clinton to a premature end to her answer.

The discussion turns to immigration: would you stop immigration raids that have broken up the families of over three million American-born children?

But when we see what's been happening, with literally babies being left with no one to take care of them, children coming home from school, no responsible adult left, that is not the America that I know.

--- Clinton scores a Quotable!

SCORE: Clinton 2, Obama 1.

Obama reminds us that he was one of the prime movers behind the 2007 Democratic/Senate version of immigration reform that died in the House. (He does not mention the fact that Clinton was NOT one of those movers.)

Number one, it is important that we fix the legal immigration system, because right now we've got a backlog that means years for people to apply legally.


And what's worse is, we keep on increasing the fees, so that if you've got a hard working immigrant family, they've got to hire a lawyer; they've got to pay thousands of dollars in fees. They just can't afford it. And it's discriminatory against people who have good character, we should want in this country, but don't have the money. So we've got to fix that.

--- not Quotable, but this is one of the reasons that I outright LOVE Obama's position on immigration. He gets it.

The problem that we have is that we have had an administration that came in promising all sorts of leadership on creating a U.S.- Mexican relationship. And, frankly, President Bush dropped the ball.

--- and I'm going to call that a Quotable, even if he didn't get applause right on that line.

SCORE: 2-2 tie.

The debate goes on to the border fence, which in Texas is about as popular as a sailor with the clap in a whorehouse. Both Clinton and Obama voted for the new border fence, which is still working its slow way through the bureaucracy... and even that is stalled because dozens of property owners have refused access to government surveyors.

CLINTON: I think when both of us voted for this, we were voting for the possibility that where it was appropriate and made sense, it would be considered. But as with so much, the Bush administration has gone off the deep end, and they are unfortunately coming up with a plan that I think is counterproductive. So I would have a review...

KING: Does that mean that you think your vote was wrong, or the implementation of it was wrong?

CLINTON: But, you know, John, there is -- there's a lot we've learned about technology and smart fencing. You know, there is technology that can be used instead of a physical barrier...

--- Clinton utterly dodges the question, and rambles to do it. Unquotable to her.

SCORE: Obama 2, Clinton 1.

One last point I want to make on the immigration issue because we may be moving to different topics: Something that we can do immediately that I think is very important is to pass the Dream Act, which allows children who through no fault of their own are here but have essentially grown up as Americans, allow them the opportunity for higher education.

OBAMA: I do not want two classes of citizens in this country.


I want everybody to prosper. That's going to be a top priority.

--- and score a Quotable for Obama!

SCORE: Obama 3, Clinton 1.

Final immigration question: is there anything bad about the USA potentially becoming bilingual? Neither has a memorable answer: both believe all Americans should speak English, but also that all Americans should be at least bilingual to interact with the global economy.

Now the debate gets personal: the moderator asks Clinton to say, flat out, whether Obama is "all hat and no cattle," as she described Dubya last week.

And there are differences between our records and our accomplishments. I have to confess, I was somewhat amused, the other night, when, on one of the TV shows, one of Senator Obama's supporters couldn't.

--- thank heaven Hillary botched this sentence, otherwise it would have been a very dirty and underhanded Quotable. It's even worse, considering that the supporter in question is State Senator Kirk Watson... former mayor of Austin... the city where the debate was held.

As it is, score is still 3-1 Obama.

OBAMA: Now, I think that Senator Clinton has a fine record and I don't want to denigrate that record. I do think there is a fundamental difference between us in terms of how change comes about. Senator Clinton of late has said: Let's get real. The implication is that the people who've been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional.


And that, you know, the 20 million people who've been paying attention to 19 debates and the editorial boards all across the country at newspapers who have given me endorsements, including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas.


OBAMA: You know, the thinking is that somehow, they're being duped, and eventually they're going to see the reality of things.

--- and the 'delusional' line gets another Quotable!

SCORE: Obama 4, Clinton 1.

The moderator brings up plagarism. Remember that during the debate the Clinton campaign sent out an email accusing Obama of plagarism... AGAIN.

OBAMA: And the notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who was one of my national co-chairs...


... who gave me the line and suggested that I use it, I think, is silly, and...


... you know, this is where we start getting into silly season, in politics, and I think people start getting discouraged about it...


... and they don't want...


What they want is, how are we going to create good jobs and good wages?

How are we going to provide health care to the American people?

How are we going to make sure that college is affordable?

So what I've been talking about, in this speeches -- and I've got to admit, some of them are pretty good.

--- "Silly season" is ANOTHER Quotable, and "some of them are pretty good" comes close, but not close enough.

SCORE: Obama 5, Clinton 1.

CLINTON: And, you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox. And I just don't think...

OBAMA: Come on.


CLINTON: No, but, you know, but, Barack, it is.

--- The transcript does not mention the round of booing at this point, but it was there. Unquotable, with instant reaction, for Clinton; furthermore, the talking heads afterwards are pretty much unanimous about it being the worst moment for either candidate of the entire debate.

SCORE: Obama 5, Clinton 0.

You know, when I proposed a universal health care plan, as did Senator Edwards, we took a big risk, because we know it's politically controversial to say we're going to cover everyone.

And you chose not to do that. You chose to put forth a health care plan that will leave out at least 15 million people. That's a big difference.

When I said we should put a moratorium on home foreclosures, basically your response was, well, that wouldn't work.

--- Well, that last statement is an outright lie, since Obama's own plan includes a moratorium on home foreclosures that's actually longer than Clinton's proposal. Obama said Clinton's whole plan, with its five-year rate freeze, wouldn't work.

However, the repeat of Hillary's claim that the Clinton-Edwards-Romney plan- force everyone to buy corporate health insurance- is superior to Obama's let-people-do-without-if-they-want proposal... sadly, that's Quotable.

SCORE: Obama 5, Clinton 1.

When I released my plan a few months later, we were in a debate and Senator Clinton said we all want universal health care. Of course, I was down 20 points in the polls at the time, and so my plan was pretty good. It's not as good now, but my plan hasn't changed. The politics have changed a little bit.

--- Obama almost calls Clinton out on changing her position on Obama's healthcare plan. But not Quotable.

So we've got a lot of similarities in our plan. We've got a philosophical difference, which we've debated repeatedly, and that is that Senator Clinton believes the only way to achieve universal health care is to force everybody to purchase it.

And my belief is, the reason that people don't have it is not because they don't want it but because they can't afford it.

--- This, however, IS Quotable.

SCORE: Obama 6, Clinton 1.

Obama goes on, not quotably, to point out that the reason Clinton failed to reform healthcare in the 1990s is that she used secrecy and confrontation- old style politics- and that a new politics will be needed to achieve it now.

The moderators ask Clinton if she thinks Obama is not ready to be Commander in Chief. Clinton, instead, takes the debate back to healthcare to rebut Obama's point about universal coverage.

And you know, in one of our earlier debates, John Edwards made a great point. It would be as though Social Security were voluntary. Medicare, one of the great accomplishments of President Johnson, was voluntary. I do not believe that is going to work. So it's not just a philosophical difference.

--- and that is Quotable, alas. The problem is that Social Security and Medicare guarantee coverage to everyone. Hillary's proposal would force everyone to buy health insurance from the same companies who sold home insurance to the residents of New Orleans. Guaranteed? I don't think so. Unfortunately, too many people won't think of that, so Hillary scores.

SCORE: Obama 6, Clinton 2.

OBAMA: Number one, understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it's not a mandate on government to provide health insurance, it's a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works.

OBAMA: Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they have concluded that that 20 percent can't afford it.

In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can't afford it, so now they're worse off than they were. They don't have health insurance and they're paying a fine.

--- and Obama nails it on the head at the top, with another Quotable. The rest of it past the first sentence isn't quotable, but the first sentence is worthy.

SCORE: Obama 7, Clinton 2.

In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you've got to have a very harsh penalty, and Senator Clinton has said that we won't go after their wages.

--- I don't know where she said that, but she did say in an interview a few weeks back that she would consider garnishing the wages of the uninsured to pay for their healthcare.

We FINALLY get back to the question: is Obama not qualified to be Commander in Chief, Mrs. Clinton?

CLINTON: ... So when you think about everything that is going to happen, what we can predict and what we cannot predict, I believe that I am prepared and ready on day one to be commander in chief, to be the president, to turn our economy around, and to begin making a lot of these very difficult decisions that we will inherit from George Bush. And that is what I am putting forth to the voters.

--- That's right: Clinton entirely avoids the actual question. She's not willing to directly attack Obama's readiness. This is interesting- indeed, several pundits have pointed this out, that she was tossed a hanging curve, hell a grapefruit in baseball terms, and she refused to swing.

Obama, of course, thinks he IS ready, and he makes a play to Texas military families: the revolving-door deployments will end when he becomes President. Less than a hundred miles south of Ft. Hood, that's a good thing to say- and Clinton, in her blathering about being ready to be CinC, didn't mention Iraq once. Kosovo, Pakistan, "over eighty countries," but not Iraq.

But it also means using our military wisely. And on what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that.

--- Zing! But not Quotable.

Obama goes on to explain how Al Qaida is stronger than ever in Afghanistan, how our troops are taking Taliban weapons because it's easier than getting supplies from our own side, how the elections in Pakistan leaves our Musharaf-is-our-bestest-buddy policy in the lurch... and softly implies that Clinton is, to a certain extent, responsible for this. Very quiet, very sneaky... and very not Quotable.

Bottom line: Clinton won't say Obama's not qualified to be Commander in Chief, but Obama's willing to at least hint that Clinton's past judgment disqualifies her.

Question: is Iraq better now than it was before the surge?

Clinton answers: only tactically. The Iraqi government hasn't improved at all. Politically things are just as bad. She'll ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces to produce withdrawal plans within sixty days of taking office; of course, the most she'll commit to is one or two brigades a month.

Obama says that the military situation is much better, and praises the soldiers based at Ft. Hood. Now it's his turn to play the local flattery card.

But this is a tactical victory imposed upon a huge strategic blunder. And I think that, when we're having a debate with John McCain, it is going to be much easier for the candidate who was opposed to the concept of invading Iraq in the first place to have a debate about the wisdom of that decision... than having to argue about the tactics subsequent to the decision.

- Good, but not Quotable.

Obama reminds us that we aren't just ignoring Afghanistan: Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, China and Iran have gained greater global power under Bush's watch because of Iraq.

And that is also an argument that we have to have with John McCain because he has said that he is willing to have these troops over there for 100 years. The notion that we would sustain that kind of effort and neglect not only making us more secure here at home, more competitive here at home, allow our economy to sink. As John McCain says, he doesn't really understand the economy that well. It is clear from his embrace of George Bush's policies that he doesn't, and that's what I intend to change when I am president of the United States of America.

--- Almost, but not quite, Quotable. Sorry, Obama.

The moderators accuse Obama of being secretive about earmarks, although he's low on the list of big earmarkers- very low indeed. He fires back, claiming full disclosure and offering the details to the moderators.

As I indicated earlier, one of the things that I did last year was to pass a bill with Tom Coburn, very conservative Republican but a sincere fiscal conservative. And we got together and created what we call Google for Government. It's a searchable database, where every single dollar of federal spending is posted on the Internet, so that ordinary voters can take a look. And if they see a bridge to nowhere being built, they know where it's going and who sponsored it. And if they see a no-bid contract going to Halliburton, they can check that out, too.

And you know, the idea is that we open up the process so that the American people can make judgments about whether or not government is doing what it's supposed to be doing with its taxpayer money. And I've been consistently in favor of more disclosure around earmarks.

--- not Quotable, but a very good example of how Obama does have accomplishments... as well as success reaching across the aisle.

It also shows, by the way, that Obama shares one key economic point with libertarians: the demand that the government's spending be entirely out in the open.

Clinton, on the other hand, had four times as much spending on earmarks as Obama- the moderators give the numbers for both, but not the comparison. Instead the moderators ask the question: since John McCain doesn't do earmarks at all, doesn't he own you on the issue of pork barrel spending?

Well, no, not at all. Because he supported the wasteful tax cuts of the Bush administration and the Iraq war, with the billions of dollars that have been spent, and wants it to continue.

--- I think that's a Quotable, myself.

SCORE: Obama 7, Clinton 3.

We borrow money from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis. That is not a winning strategy for America.

--- And another for Clinton! She does a lot better when she's attacking Bush and/or McCain.

SCORE: Obama 7, Clinton 4.

Clinton is asked next:

RAMOS: As we can see, this has been an extremely close nomination battle that will come down to superdelegates. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest ranking Democrat in government, said recently, and I'm quoting, "It would be a problem" -- and this is a question for you, Senator Clinton -- "it would be a problem for the party if the verdict would be something different than the public has decided."

Do you agree?

CLINTON: Well, you know, these are the rules that are followed, and you know, I think that it will sort itself out. I'm not worried about that. We will have a nominee, and we will have a unified Democratic Party, and we will go on to victory in November.


BROWN: Senator Obama, go ahead. Do you have a response to Senator Clinton?

OBAMA: Well, I think it is important, given how hard Senator Clinton and I have been working, that these primaries and caucuses count for something. And so my belief is that...


... the will of the voters, expressed in this long election process, is what ultimately will determine who our next nominee is going to be.

--- Clinton dodges, Obama sticks. Neither really Quotable, but Clinton comes off looking slightly better.

You know, when I meet mothers who are trying to figure out how to get health care for their kids, it's not just the desperation of that single mom. It's also that when they try to find some help, oftentimes they're hitting a brick wall.

And they don't get a sense that the debates that are happening in Washington right now relate to them at all. And what they believe is that people are trying to get on TV and they're trying to score points and they're trying to win elections, and that they're not interested in knocking down the barriers that stand between the American people and their dreams.

--- Obama scores a long and somewhat verbose Quotable. Why? Because this is visual language. It gives a series of very clear mental images, easy to understand, easy to remember, even if it is rather long.

SCORE: Obama 8, Clinton 4.

Final question: what was the moment of your greatest trial? (This is a question that John McCain has an unbeatable answer to, so it's worth trying out on the Democrats.) Obama points to his overall childhood, but refuses to name a single moment. Wise, since although he comes from a broken home he generally had a good, even somewhat privileged, childhood- private schools, top-notch universities, deeply involved mother and grandparents.

Clinton doesn't actually refuse to give a specific, but she slides away from the question to play up just how many people have it worse than she does. Neither candidate is Quotable, until Clinton gets the very last word:

And, you know, no matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.

(APPLAUSE, as Hillary shakes hands with an awkward-looking Obama)

CLINTON: Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about.

--- This was THE line of the post-debate commentary, so obviously it's Quotable.


Less than an hour after the debate, Ben Smith at and Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo point out significant resemblances in these last lines to John Edwards' and Bill Clinton's prior speeches, from 2007 and 1992.

Which makes all her talk about plagarism and empty speechgiving even more hypocritical.

Which will doubtless be discussed in days to come.

Which makes the line not Quotable, but regrettable, and ultimately Unquotable.

FINAL SCORE: Obama 8, Clinton 3.

To give my thought on why she gave that line, I posted a comment on Marc Ambinder's blog commentary on the debate. It's one of three things, I said:

(1) Preparation to concede the nomination to Obama if (more likely when) she loses either Texas, Ohio, or both.

(2) A manufactured "crying moment", a sign of vulnerability intended to gin up a burst of sympathy from the voters.

(3) A cheap way to make Obama look like a glory hound because he didn't extend the olive branch first.

The one thing it definitely wasn't- as Ben and Josh revealed, and Keith Olbermann has already mentioned on TV- was genuine.

Clinton failed to bring Obama down anywhere except maybe, MAYBE, on healthcare- and I personally think Obama answered her very well on that. Clinton's efforts to make plagarism stick as an attack backfired BIG time. She passed up several opportunities to attack Obama on more substantial issues, while Obama used every opportunity to point out his substance. Finally, her last statement gave her great sympathy, but in the end made her look weak.

Chalk this up as a big win for Obama... and a major loss of an opportunity for Clinton.

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