Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama-Clinton Debate: Advantage Obama

Hillary won the debate on points, but that doesn't cut it.

Hillary needed a big punch last night. She didn’t land one. Instead, she jabbed and jabbed. First a left, then a right and she kept repeating the jabs, with an assist or two from former President Clinton advisor and ABC Debate host George Stephanopoulos and ABC Debate Host Charlie Gibson. Yes, Hillary won on points. But, at this point in the Democratic Primary race, that doesn’t cut it.

Obama can win the nomination with very few additional super-delegates.

Pete Giangreco, a principal at the Strategy Group (doing significant direct mail and message development for the Obama campaign), made the point on an episode of this reporter's weekly TV show, “Public Affairs,” (taped on Sunday for airing next week, and will be posted here for viewing by this Saturday) that Obama will come very close to the requisite votes for the nomination, by the time the primaries conclude on June 3. Giangreco’s analysis assumes (1) Obama keeps the super-delegates he has, as of now, (2) Hillary wins Pennsylvania fairly big and Indiana not so big (or maybe not at all) and Obama wins North Carolina big, (3) the remaining states split as predicted by both sides and (4) Michigan and Florida delegates split equally—Giangreco argues the credentials committee composition at the convention will reflect the slight lead Obama has in delegates—making a 50-50 split of the Michigan and Florida delegations pretty likely. With those numbers, Obama needs much less than one third of the remaining super-delegates to clinch the nomination. To date, he is doing much better than that.

Brooks gives Obama a D+

David Brooks, who once was a conservative, sounded like a Hillary Clinton cheerleader last night, giving Obama a D+ and Hillary a B for last night’s performance. Brooks frets: Why didn’t Obama have better explanations for the bitter/clinging San Francisco remarks. But Obama didn’t need magical answers. His explanation was that he mangled his words but that his core analysis wasn’t so far off. When low-income workers are lied to for a quarter of a century about finding a solution for the loss of their high paying manufacturing jobs, they get bitter and “take refuge,” in their constants- guns and churches.

Obama's explanation of bitter-cling

That is, Obama substituted “refuge for cling,” and dropped “trade and immigration,” from his prior statements and in that sense, Obama gave a fairly honest revision of his comments. In Washington, a gaffe is when you state something that is true. The truer the statement, the worse the gaffe. Although stated in San Francisco, Obama’s “bitter/cling” comments fit the Washington definition of gaffe. If not necessarily a true reflection of reality, his comments reflected Obama’s true views. Indeed, they may even have reflected reality with respect to Republicans turning guns, churches, abortion and gays, successfully, into wedge issues that outweigh economic issues.

Obama: focus on the issues, not the gaffes

Moreover, Obama emphasized that voters want the candidates to focus on issues, not on Obama’s relatively weak association with Pastor Wright or Weatherman Bill Ayers. That may sound like a small point to Brooks but that is Obama’s charm and edge. Why Brooks thinks Obama should have abandoned that argument now he doesn’t explain.

Why Brooks thinks Obama’s answers are so weak is not clear. They may not pass muster at a University of Chicago or Princeton faculty seminar, but his audience was, in large part, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina and super-delegate voters. For them, he did just fine.

Brooks surprised that Hillary and Barack not suicidal

Further, Brooks is very upset that both Hillary and Obama reiterated their pledges to pull most of the troops out of Iraq in 16 months and not to raise taxes on middle class voters (defined as having incomes less than 200 or 250K). Welcome Mr. Brooks to the Democratic Primary voters. It would have been suicidal for either to do otherwise. Hillary and Barack are a lot of things, but politically suicidal is not one of them.

Even more amusing and telling about Mr. Brooks is that he is not upset with Clinton and Obama for the supply side negative impact of them raising taxes significantly on those with incomes higher than 250K. No, what upsets Brooks is the Clinton/Obama unwillingness to raise taxes on those with incomes less than 250K. Brooks frets that Obama and Clinton won’t be able to bring us more Great Society programs because they will have insufficient taxing authority. Was Brooks really once upon a time a real conservative? If so, the New York Times lunchroom seems to have taken care of that.

Obama's past mistakes?

In short, Obama perhaps made a few mistakes in his short-term and long-term past: (1) his recent statement at a San Francisco funder, (2) Obama’s decision not to upset the African-American component of his base in Illinois by cutting away Pastor Wright a long time ago (But, remember, it was not so long ago that liberals wondered if Obama was “black,” enough and Brooks thinks Obama should have upset a bunch of black, influential middle and upper class blacks by disowning Wright) (3) Obama’s willingness to allow Bill Ayers to work on his state senate campaigns and Obama’s decision to socialize, perhaps, with neighbor Ayers. Obama paid for those choices a bit last night when he had to face questions on these issues for the first half of the debate. However, Obama took his medicine and did just fine.

NBC's Todd knocks Obama

NBC’s Chuck Todd also concluded that last night was not good for Obama. Todd thinks Obama will get pummeled by the media, particularly on Ayers. See links cited, herein, on Ayers. However, Obama raised the Bill Clinton pardons of a few of the folks from Ayers’ Weather Underground. Obama asked Hillary if those pardons mean that Hillary could not “pass her own vetting standard.” Hillary had no answer.

The Todd/Brooks mistake

What Todd and Brooks don’t seem to realize is that there is no evidence that any of last night’s activities will prevent Obama from getting the Democratic presidential nomination. The Real Clear Politics Pennsylvania polling average has Obama down by seven points to Hillary. Even if the polls are underestimating Hillary’s lead, as they seem to in the rust belt states by about three, she only wins by ten. As argued above, Obama can live with that. No more unforced errors is what he has to avoid. And that he did last night. Advantage Obama.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search,
can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama and McCain, former Presidential candidate Richardson-- and many other pols at
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs Youtube page include this coming Monday night's show in the Cities of Chicago and Aurora and this week's show in the Chicago North and Northwest Chicago Metro suburbs with Rep. Fritchey, last week's show in the Chicago North and Northwest Chicago metro suburbs with Senator Radogno, our prior shows with Rep. Lang [Watch Lang, Part 2], with Rep. Lang [Watch Lang, Part 1] , with WGN Radio political pundit Paul Green, with Senator and 2010 Illinois Gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady,with former Sen. Rauschenberger, assessing Barack Obama, with Republican U.S. Senate Republican nominee Dr. Steve Sauerberg, discussing his Democratic opponent--Senator Durbin-- and domestic, cultural and foreign policy issues, our prior show with State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston,IL), discussing Barack Obama, as well as various Illinois Budget issues (spending, mass transit, capital budget, education, gaming and taxes) , a discussion with State's Attorney for Cook County Republican and Democrat nominees, respectively Tony Peraica and and Anita Alvarez .