Monday, November 26, 2007

Democratic doublespeak dominates desert debates

(Originally published 11/17/07)

Democratic presidential candidates rolled the dice in their latest debate, this week with voters in Nevada.

After U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton fumbled a question about her support for driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants two weeks ago, pundits widely expected other candidates – namely, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards – to gamble and attack her early and often.

But Hillary came to Vegas, as they say, ready to rumble. She beat back their early shots and turned the attacks back against Obama and Edwards, looking as much the presumptive nominee as she had appeared as a deer in the headlights.

"Clinton sparkles," raved British newspaper The Guardian.

Obama and Edwards scaled things back after it became clear that Hillary had regained her frontrunner footing. One pundit described it as "a Roman candle of a debate – started with flash, very quickly burned hot, and then descended quickly." Obama made little noise – or impression – throughout the rest of the debate, while Edwards fell back on his old "Blame-Bush-and/or-Corporate-America" saw.

That left an hour and 45 minutes of banter that appealed only to seriously addicted political junkies (OK, me). But there were curious moments for watching wonks:

  • On merit pay for teachers, CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer noted that teachers’ unions "make it difficult" to "terminate bad employees." Candidates mostly agreed that they would support merit-based pay if "merit" meant teaching in "poor rural or poor urban areas." And although Clinton said that "the teachers who are not doing a good job" should be weeded out, she gave no indication about how that could be done, considering tenure and other job-protection assurances negotiated by teachers’ unions for their members. Apparently, capitalism – competition – is good for the economy, but not education.
  • Asked about potential appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, candidates generally scorned litmus tests for prospective nominees but went on to say they would not consider anyone who did not believe in a right to privacy or support Roe v. Wade. Here’s a new bumper sticker for their campaign buses: "Litmus tests: Only good when they’re mine."
  • Asked whether she is "exploiting gender as a political issue," Clinton unleashed a trio of sound bytes quite obviously crafted after her complaints about the "boys’ club of presidential politics" backfired two weeks ago. She lauded "this great movement of progress" and called the presidency "the highest, hardest glass ceiling." For good measure, she mentioned fathers who "drive hours to bring their daughters to my events" and meeting "women in their 90s" who "say something like, ‘I’m 95 years old; I was born before women could vote, and I want to live long enough to see a woman in the White House." Hillary? Exploiting gender? Are they saying that because she’s a woman?
  • In light of mass recalls of toys made in China, candidates lamented job losses attributed to NAFTA and other free-trade agreements and blamed President Bush for not enforcing existing agreements that they say could have ensured the safety of products entering the United States. (Coincidentally, many of these candidates also support prescription drug importation from Canada.) The U.S. Constitution specifically delegates to Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, but no one expressed an interest in reversing the 20th century trend that saw Congress cede its deal-making authority first to the president, then to unaccountable international organizations.
Want the truth about the insidious and quiet cancer infecting politics in this country? Think K Street – and check out the cover story of the Feb. 7, 2000 issue of Time magazine.

It should be required reading for every American.

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