I watched last night’s candidate forum in Philadelphia with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on ABC. The New York Times has posted a good transcript of the debate. Although the focus was not on policy questions, I thought it was nevertheless a useful and revealing discussion. Most striking to me was Obama’s dour attitude. The man is not a happy warrior.
Obama was unhappiest when questioned by George Stephanopoulos about his friendly association with the terrorist Bill Ayers. He weirdly likened his friendly relationship with Ayers to his relationship with Republilcan Senator Tom Coburn, and therefore a tribute to his own magnanimity. Like Walt Whitman, he is large, he contains multitudes:
George, but this is an example of what I’m talking about [“the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from what should be my job when I’m commander in chief”].
This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who’s a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He’s not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.
And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn’t make much sense, George.
The fact is, is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.
Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn’s statements? Because I certainly don’t agree with those either.
So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow — somehow their ideas could be attributed to me — I think the American people are smarter than that. They’re not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn’t.
Hillary Clinton raised Obma’s association with Ayers on the board of the Woods Foundation and commented that the issue reflected poorly on Obama’s electability. Then Obama responded:
I’m going to have to respond to this just really quickly, but by Senator Clinton’s own vetting standards, I don’t think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground, which I think is a slightly more significant act than me —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Applauds.)
MR. GIBSON: Please.
SENATOR OBAMA: — than me serving on a board with somebody for actions that he did 40 years ago.
Obama was referring to Clinton’s pardons of Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans in January 2001. For reasons of his own, Obama omitted reference to the pardons Clinton also extended to 16 FALN terrorists in 1999.
I can’t put myself in the place of a Democratic primary voter, but I found Obama’s performance last night to be defensive and uninspiring. His response to the question about Ayers is consistent with this evaluation. But to the extent his opponent is Hillary Clinton, Obama landed a solid punch against her in this exchange.
JOHN adds: I didn’t watch the debate, but the consensus appears to be that Obama did poorly, perhaps catastrophically so. Jennifer Rubin has a round-up; Andrew Sullivan, one of Obama’s big fans, described his performance thus:
It was a lifeless, exhausted, drained and dreary Obama we saw tonight. Ive seen it before when he is tired, but this was his worst performance yet on national television. He seemed crushed and unable to react.