And too close together again, or it looks that way on camera, at least.
As Obama gave his opening statement -- that "past vs. the future" line he's settled on -- Hillary looked at him with a poisonously sweet expression. If looks could kill!
She is not only a much more vicious fighter than he is, she's also much more relaxed and natural. She's got her normally somewhat shrill voice nice and deep and soft, as if she's been coached (and she may well have been). She's leaning intimately on the podium, while Barack is stiff and callow. On all these scores, she's likely to win this debate.
8:12: Hillary's all details. "Realistic and optimistic, but start with realism." We do have problems, we do have enemies. The president shouldn't meet with our enemies in the first year, "putting the prestige of the presidency on the line." She's also going for party unity now, saying the differences with the Republicans are infinitely bigger.
Obama seems to have picked up some of her relaxation, and unbent a little. He's also getting specific, detailing the 5% difference in their health care plans. Hillary thinks we should "force" people to buy health insurance, or take it out of their paychecks; he thinks it should simply be made affordable.
On the mortgage crisis, he doesn't think there should be an interest rate freeze for subprime borrowers, not to protect the banks, but to protect new buyers for whom rates would go up.
Hillary, listening to him, is almost visibly growing fangs.
He says they differ on taking lobbyist money (watch out!), and then he gets to Iraq and says diplomacy should be part of our arsenal, that we should use both carrots and sticks to try to avoid the costly necessity of war.
8:19: A reporter says that most Democrats want full health-care coverage, so how is Obama's voluntary plan going to cover everyone? He says he doesn't believe 15 million people will be left uncovered. He doesn't think they don't want coverage, just that they can's afford it. He will mandate coverage for children.
Hillary calls health "the passionate cause of my public service." Admits she "obviously tackled it during my husband's administration." No flicker of apology for that.
(I'm going to write less and listen more. I find I'm missing the details when I'm trying to report.)
Wolf Blitzer points out that we're all paying for the care of people who come to the ER and are uninsured. He says there are ways to deal with that, bill them for back premiums, for example. He moves past it too fast and doesn't really answer the question.
Obama says he will bring the debate to the people on C-Span in an attempt to enlist the public, enhance transparency and accountability, and bypass the special interests.
This debate is most agreeably wonky. It's good to hear Obama forced to match Hillary's specificity.
She wants to cap premiums, he wants to lower them for all families.
8:28: Make insurance companies cover everyone, including preexisting conditions; don't let them cherry-pick the healthy: Hillary. Drug companies: give Medicare the right to negotiate with them to get prices down. "The health insurance industry is very clever and extremely well-funded. I know this." She's somewhat blaming the advertising by the insurance companies for the failure of her plan.
8:31: "Billions of dollars of new spending . . . raising taxes on Americans. The Repubs are going to call you tax and spend liberals" . . . Obama: "I don't think the Republicans are in a real good position to talk about fiscal responsibility." Obama praises McCain for initially resisting the Bush tax cuts in wartime, but says "the Straight Talk Express lost some wheels" -- showing his mettle as an opponent for McCain.
Roll back the Bush tax cuts on the top one percent, says Obama. "My plan is paid for. . . . The question is, who are the tax cuts for? . . . We cut taxes for people who don't need them. . . . " He quotes Warren Buffet. He'll close loopholes and tax havens, give cuts to people who make $75,000 or less, eliminate taxes for seniors making less than $50,000. The fortunate can afford to pay a little more so that that child in East L.A. (HISPANIC ALERT!) in a "crumbling school" can have a chance.
Wolf B.: "You're going to tax the rich to pay for that?"
Hillary would rescind the tax cuts on the "top end" -- people making over $250,000 a year, which would pay for the tax credits for health insurance -- $55 billion. The other $55 billion would come from modernization, efficiency, and ending corporate welfare to health-care industries. Electronic medical records: "I've worked on for 5 years, bipartisan, with Newt Gingrich, Bill Frist . . . Rand Corp, hardly a bastion of liberal thinking, says we could save ..."
Yes, Obama says, there will be tax increases on wealthy Americans. The people here, looking pretty well-dressed. I'll pay a little more. But we have a moral obligation . . . the investment will pay huge dividends. A healthier population is the only way to control Medicare and Medicaid costs.
Hillary: We'll go back to the pre-Bush tax rates. The country was doing really well with those tax rates.
8:39: Immigration. Jean Cummings asks about the negative economic impact of illegal immigration on the African American community. Obama calls on his experience as a community organizer. Says the problem of underemployment existed before there were so many immigrants; says that's "scapegoating." "A very real difference with the other party." We have to get control of our borders, can't have hundreds of thousands of people coming over without our knowing who they are. Have to crack down on employers. Pay fine, learn English, then, pathway to citizenship, otherwise they'll continue to undercut wages. Obama attributes the economic and employment slowdown to many other factors and says immigration should not be used to divide.
Hillary acknowledges that African Americans HAVE been pushed out of jobs: construction, meat-packing. She's met them. But she says those who talk of rounding up and deporting people are "living in some other country," or is it "on some other planet"? Pay fine, pay back taxes, "try to learn English, and we have to help you do that, because we've cut back so many of those services," and "then you wait in line." She (now) says drivers' licenses would exacerbate the problem of illegals undercutting the labor market.
(Interrupted by a phone call.)
8:57: She says she's better prepared to handle the economy, be commander in chief from day one . . . why is that wrong?
Obama says a bunch of stuff about his resumé, but the essence of it is that he has the ability to "bring people together."
Blitzer asks Hillary how being First Lady qualifies her. She wants to go back before that to her early adulthood, when she brought people together and helped the voiceless and powerless. Now she sounds like she's playing catch-up, trying to imitate Obama's qualifications -- all the good she's done for the poor and prisoners and so on.
Cummings: Neither of you has ever run a business. Why elect you to be CEO of the country?
Hillary: it's much more than a business, it's a trust. It's not out to make a profit, it's to Help People. "We had the CEO MBA president, and look, what, we, got! I am not too happy about the results."
Obama: Mitt Romney has not gotten a very good return on his investment in this campaign! Good one. Obama says his management style compares favorably.
The Kennedys are raised; Hillary immediately says she has three of them in her camp.
Cummings raises the generational issue. Reads an e-mail from a 38-year-old who's never had a chance to vote when a Bush or a Clinton wasn't on the ticket. "How can YOU be an agent of change?"
Hillary: "We're all judged on our own merits. It's grueling . . . we all start from the same place . . . nobody has an advantage. I want to be judged on my own merits. I'm proud of my husband's adminstration -- a lot of good things happened ... " After claiming she doesn't want to be advantaged or disadvantaged, she launches into a very cunning evocation of how good people felt during the Clinton years, the balanced budget, the prosperity . . . and then closes with "it took a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, and it might take another one to clean after the second one." Wild cheers from the audience. She has just had her cake and eaten it too.
Iraq. Blitzer says Obama has set a timeline, Clinton has not -- won't people worry it will lead to an open-ended commitment? (Exactly what McCain is committed to.) She expresses concern for the Iraqis who have helped us
Obama: "important to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." "John McCain says we might be there for 100 years." They're already running against McCain. "I don't just want to run against the war, I want to run against the mindset that got us into the war."
Hillary: "We are. We are. We're having a wonderful time." In a tone of forced gaiety. She mentions Maxine Waters' support. The Iraqis "have to know they have to get serious." Leaving is the best message to send. [????]
(More interruptions. J living in the past, describing the layout of officialdom in his Transylvanian village, drowning out the flimsy present.)
I'm having trouble with this part, anyway, because I don't agree with Democratic orthodoxy on the subject. Over and out; too many interruptions.
UPDATE: I am so relieved, because:
- It was a civilized and substantive debate. Someone must have pointed out to all three candidates (HillBill and Barack) that if they kept it up they were going to a) tear the party apart and b) lose.
- Hillary didn't savage Barack either on fighting skill or on mastery of policy detail. She was being too strategically nice to win on the former, and he was too well-prepared to let her win on the latter. Both had learned from their critics.
- I thought Obama was going to come across as stiff and defensive, but Hillary was very relaxed and that seemed to relax him.
So, like most commentators, I think it was a tie. Of course the way the Dems are (or seem) locked into being rigidly antiwar makes me grind my teeth. Yes, the war was a mistake (in hindsight, the very blindness that made it possible to try it made it inevitable to blow it), but pulling out now for pulling out's sake would be a case of two wrongs not making a right. Remember how we abandoned the Kurds to slaughter in 1991: we have an ugly record of that kind of thing. It is possible that, once in office, a Democratic president would listen to military leaders and moderate his or her stand. The office changes people.