Liberal bloggers are in a tizzy over the line of questioning pursued by moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolous in last night’s Democratic debate. Critics of the debate contend that there was too much talk on peripheral issues, not enough policy, and that the questions represent an all out assault by Obama, and Hillary Clinton joined in to imitate a Republican attack dog. If this were the first debate between the two candidates, I can understand the frustration, but given that this is the 21st debate, it’s a different story.
What kind of policy discussion is left to have among two candidates who agree on virtually everything? Do liberals want to sit through another round on health care in which Clinton argues that Obama’s plan leaves 15 million uninsured because it doesn’t mandate coverage, and Obama responds that the problem isn’t that coverage isn’t required, but that it isn’t affordable? Another exchange on Iraq in which Obama says that he was against the war from the start, Clinton shoots back that once Obama got to the Senate their voting records have been virtually the same, and they both then articulate plans to leave Iraq that are some form of “responsible” withdrawal? Another debate over whether Clinton can better bring about change because of her 35 years of experience, or Obama can because he represents a clean break from the typical Washington midnset? I mean, seriously, would we gain anything from such a debate?
Democrats, especially superdelegates, are right now trying to determine who is the best candidate to face John McCain. It makes perfect sense to give Democrats the opportunity to see how each candidate responds to the type of attacks they can expect in a general election. You could even argue that ABC was doing the Democrats a favor, by allowing them to better prepare for the type of questions they’ll be asked.
You can read my longer take on the debate on the main site.