Appearing Presidential, Obama Shines In Debate

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Later, when the candidates were asked if there is a vote in their record that they would take back, Clinton conceded it was her vote authorizing war against Iraq, the first time the New York senator has unequivocally admitted that the vote was a mistake.

[Elections 2008: Comment]

 

Appearing poised and presidential, Senator Barack Obama scored a clear victory in the debate with Senator Hillary Clinton tonight. Clinton initially was agitated and even accused a moderator Tim Russert of ambushing her by asking her the first question.

The debate was televised on MSNBC. In an informal poll, 70% of the 89,000 viewers who sent a text-message response believed Obama won, while 30% saw it in Clinton's favor. 


The debate was watched with keen interest by viewers and analysts, coming one day after the Clinton campaign was accused of dirty tricks after a picture showing Obama in Islamic attire was released on the high-traffic Drudge Report website. Drudge says the photo, clearly intended to falsely cast Obama as a Muslim and inflame anti-Islamic fears amongst potential voters, was provided by the Clinton campaign.


Obama took the picture when he visited with Somali traditional elders during his 2006 trip to Kenya. Clinton said “so far as” she knew, the photo was not sent by her campaign.


When Obama was asked to respond, he said he accepted Clinton’s explanation, and he quickly moved on with the debate. Obama's deflection seemed to catch Clinton off guard; she had appeared ready for a confrontation over the issue, which while inflammatory, was inconsequential in terms of a substantive debate. Yet, by brushing aside the issue, Obama made a favorable impression to voters, with his calm demeanor, as opposed to Clinton's excitable appearance and aggresive tone.


Obama scored strongly throughout the evening when he again deflected Clinton’s assertion that her experience gave her the upperhand as a potential president. Obama said his judgement had proven superior to Clinton’s in the past, pointing to his opposition to the Iraq war even before it was launched. His argument on the national security front trumped Clinton’s experience claim.


Clinton claimed that while Obama might have opposed the war in a speech, when he came into the senate, he had voted to continue funding the war; she said she and Obama had voted in a similar pattern, to continue paying for the Iraq war. Obama said as a senator, he could not withhold money from American troops engaged in battle. But he called the Iraq war a “strategic blunder” of historical proportions and said Clinton had helped “drive the bus into the ditch” by voting for the war.


Later, when the candidates were asked if there is a vote on their record that they would take back, Clinton conceded it was her vote authorizing war against Iraq, the first time the New York senator has unequivocally admitted that the vote was a mistake. Her concession bolstered Obama's position.


The two candidates also argued over their versions of a national health insurance plan. Clinton, as she’s been insisting for the past few months, said Obama’s plan would leave at least 15 million Americans uninsured.


Obama refuted Clinton’s assertion, and countered by saying both of their plans were intended to cover every American and that the key difference was that his plan was not mandated. He said Clinton’s plan would financially penalize people who failed to sign on to Clinton’s health program.


Russert, the moderator, read past statements by Clinton, to show that she seemed more supportive of the North American Free Trade Agreement before she started running for the White House; NAFTA has been blamed for U.S. job losses, as companies migrated to Mexico. Unemployment is a critical issue in states like Texas and Ohio; both hold their primaries March 4. 


On a few occasions, when Clinton tried to ridicule Obama, he turned the tables around to his advantage. Again trying to portray him as naïve, Clinton said Obama last summer even said he would be willing to “bomb Pakistan” an American ally.


Obama countered by saying he never threatened to bomb Pakistan; he said he had said he would not wait for an approval from Pakistan, before striking at al Qaeda leaders, if as commander in chief he had precise intelligence on their whereabouts in remote parts of Pakistan.


Russert, in the debate, also asked Obama about a recent speech by Louis Farrakhan in which he praised Obama as a candidate who is uniting the country. Obama said he had in the past denounced anti-semitic statements by the Nation of Islam minister.


Senator Clinton, eager to snatch some points, jumped in and insisted that Obama should have instead “rejected” rather than just “denounced” Farrakhan. Here again Obama seized the uppperhand, saying: “If the word ‘reject’ senator Clinton thinks is stronger than denounce, than I’m happy to concede the point--I both reject and denounce.”


Obama closed superbly, praising Clinton as a worthy candidate for the presidency who would be a better president than John McCain, the prospective Republican Party nominee.


Obama said he believes he just happens to be a better candidate for president.


[More Comment To Come]

 

 


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