(Full disclosure: I support Barack Obama and voted for him so if you're looking for an unbiased analysis of the debate go elsewhere.)
It appears that the Obama campaign took my advice and abandoned the nice guy routine in last night's debate. It's a risky strategy but at this stage in the campaign he needs to be taking some risks or he's going to get his block knocked off on Super Tuesday.
Obama has always been the longshot from the very beginning. Even at this stage, he can't match Billary's name recognition and familiarity with the voters. Especially among the Democratic base, Billary is still held in high regard. And facing a large deficit in the California, New York, and New Jersey polls, Obama needed to let it all hang out last night. And he did.
Obama's failure to take on Billary given all the accusations would have soon caused the media to begin raising the question of whether he was a patsy and whether he was tough enough to be president. People would rightly ask, if he can't handle Billary how can he handle al Qaeda? He hit back hard at the Clintons while at the same time keeping his cool while Hillary lost hers. The Clintonian attacks knocked him off his message but he answered them and then got back to his game in the second half of the debate. Now, for the highlights (according to me). The transcript is at CNN.
OBAMA: And it is absolutely true that NAFTA was a mistake. I know that Hillary on occasion has said -- just last year said this was a boon to the economy. I think it has been devastating, because our trade agreements did not have labor standards and environmental standards that would assure that workers in the U.S. were getting a square deal.
Score one for Obama against those who say he isn't progressive enough. On trade, he is clearly to the left of Billary who supported NAFTA. In fact, Bill Clinton signed NAFTA as we all recall.
Obama then responds to Hillary's accusation that he doesn't pay for $50 billion in spending that he proposes:
OBAMA: What she said wasn't true. We account for every single dollar that we propose. Now, this, I think, is one of the things that's happened during the course of this campaign, that there's a set of assertions made by Senator Clinton, as well as her husband, that are not factually accurate. And I think that part of what the people are looking for right now is somebody who's going to solve problems and not resort to the same typical politics that we've seen in Washington.
With these remarks, Obama calls Billary a liar in a very nice way. He finally responded the way Obama supporters have been hoping he would. He couldn't simply afford to roll over in the face of the Clintonian attack machine that has been coming after him. He stood up for himself, looked her in the face and called them (Bill & Hil) liars. And then, he reminds people about what politics in Washington was like during the Clinton years. Most of us remember those times and they weren't pretty.
Obama continues to fight back, but sums up by getting back on message:
OBAMA: That is something that I hear all across the country. So when Senator Clinton says -- or President Clinton says that I wasn't opposed to the war from the start or says it's a fairytale that I opposed the war, that is simply not true.
When Senator Clinton or President Clinton asserts that I said that the Republicans had had better economic policies since 1980, that is not the case.
Now, the viewers aren't concerned with this kind of back-and- forth. What they're concerned about is who's actually going to help the get health care, how are they going to get their kids...... going to college, and that's the kind of campaign I've tried to run. I think that's the kind of campaign we should all try to run.
Then, Hillary lies again:
CLINTON: The facts are that he has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years, and we can give you the exact quote.
Here is the exact quote:
OBAMA: I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.
Where in the quote does it say that Obama "liked" Republican ideas? A bald-faced lie and Obama called her out on it later.
Hillary then tries to turn the Iraq War against Obama:
CLINTON: It was after having given that speech, by the next year the speech was off your Web site. By the next year, you were telling reporters that you agreed with President Bush in his conduct of the war. And by the next year, when you were in the Senate, you were voting to fund the war time after time after time.
Hillary forgot to mention, of course, that she voted IN FAVOR of the resolution to go to war.
More fencing over Obama's Reagan quotes ensued. Obama didn't allow Hillary to cut him off and he did it without anger or rudeness (not easy when dealing with Hillary). Then, came the exchange where he made sure the whole country knew he was running against not just Hillary but Bill Clinton as well.
CLINTON: Now, I just -- I just want to be clear about this. In an editorial board with the Reno newspaper, you said two different things, because I have read the transcript. You talked about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader. I did not mention his name.
OBAMA: Your husband did.
CLINTON: Well, I'm here. He's not. And...
OBAMA: OK. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.
Later, Hillary attacks Obama's voting record in Illinois he responds, and again gets back on his message:
OBAMA: But when you comb my 4,000 votes in Illinois, choose one...
... try to present it in the worst possible light, that does have to be answered. That does have to be answered.
OBAMA: And as I said before, the reason this makes a difference -- and I understand that most viewers want to know, how am I going to get helped in terms of paying my health care? How am I going to get help being able to go to college?
Hillary then attacks Obama on his voting record in Illinois, in particular over his "present" votes. John Edwards then does Obama a huge favor in my opinion, by picking up this line of attack and piling on Obama. This was key to avoiding the media narrative that the "boys" were ganging up on the "girl" again. Obama should thanks Edwards for this.
The debate calmed down after that. In summary, I think Obama did what he absolutely had to do: fight back against the Clinton attack machine. He's still a longshot in this race and he will need Billary to stumble in the coming days. This thing is a long way from over.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!