Monday, January 21, 2008

The Gloves Are Off

Wow, what a slugfest tonight in South Carolina!

I think that was the most entertaining presidential primary debate I have ever seen. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went at it - often in angry, nasty, personal fashion. And the winner was? John Edwards.

As my friend Brad said, it was a pleasure to watch three smart, passionate people debate earnestly about real issues. But the crackling, contentious back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama overshadowed some of the policy differences. Edwards succeeded in staying above the fray, coming off as the sage, level-headed schoolteacher trying to get the squabbling kids in the back row to settle down. He seemed knowledgeable, sincere and determined. He called the other two on their BS, cutting through the nonsense to get to the heart of key issues, again and again. Edwards rightly nailed Obama's hypocrisy for complaining about Clinton nitpicking over his record, while he does the same thing himself to her.

Obama isn't seasoned enough yet to know how to handle Clinton's sometimes savage attacks. She really seems to enjoy the repartee, the sport of political debating, the parry and thrust...hmm, lots of practice at home with Bill, Senator? Obama seemed overwhelmed at times, unsure of how to counter Clinton's aggressiveness effectively. He came off as angry and defensive at times, while she was like a bulldog who wouldn't let go of her prey.

For those who worship Obama, know that he can disingenuous and even deceptive. He accused Clinton of distorting the truth when she slammed him for representing a Chicago slumlord, saying he had simply spent a few hours working on a housing project for his law firm, and that the client had partnered with the slumlord in question. Innocent enough, right? But the truth is, that slumlord was a key fundraiser for Obama, and they had a long relationship. Obama has since given to charity the donations raised by the indicted businessman.

So Edwards scores the most points, and to me, was the clear winner of this debate. What does that get him at this point? A comeback, upset win in his home state of South Carolina this weekend? That's still unlikely, with Obama well ahead there, thanks to the state's large African American voter population. But Obama faltered tonight, probably raising a little bit of doubt in the minds of some voters, and Edwards may have saved his candidacy, at least for a few more weeks.