Tuesday night's debate was everything that politicos had thought it would be. What Barack Obama may have lacked in aggressiveness towards Clinton, John Edwards and Tim Russert made up for it. Clinton's performance was, without question, her weakest of the campaign. The media seemed to find mistakes both in her cautious hedging on various issues and with her expression and attitude. I'll agree that her response on Social Security lacked detail and that she didn't really make clear whether or not she supported Governor Eliot Spitzer's immigration plan. On the issues of Iraq and Iran, however, I found no problem with her positions. John Edwards succeeded in making it sound as though he and Clinton have different plans for leaving some troops behind in Iraq: they don't. Both Clinton and Edwards favor leaving some residual forces behind in Iraq to train Iraqi troops and to combat elements of al Qaeda that exist there. From Marc Ambinder:
Here's what Edwards said on September 7 – "As president, I will redeploy troops into Quick Reaction Forces outside of Iraq, to perform targeted missions against Al Qaeda cells and to prevent a genocide or regional spillover of a civil war."
From the Edwards campaign website:
After withdrawal, we should retain sufficient forces in Quick Reaction Forces located outside Iraq, in friendly countries like Kuwait, to prevent an Al Qaeda safe haven, a genocide, or regional spillover of a civil war. . . . Edwards believes we should intensify U.S. efforts to train the Iraqi security forces.
But Clinton didn't point this out. In keeping with a strategy she has employed the entire campaign, she didn't really discuss her fellow competitors for the nomination. In every debate, when John Edwards or Barack Obama attacks Clinton for one position or another, she responds to those lines of attack by giving a broad-based description of her position on the issue and then attempts to build consensus by comparing the small differences in the Democrats' proposals with the gaping chasm that separates them from the GOP. It's a strategy that is often employed by front runners and one that had worked up until Tuesday night.
However, I find the strategy of ignoring the other candidates and their proposals especially frustrating given the fact that on a range of issues (especially health care and personal savings accounts) I think that Clinton has the best plan. There is very little disagreement between most of the Democratic candidates on the major issues. Clinton either doesn't know this or, more likely, doesn't want to deign to consider the other candidates as equals by recognizing their policy prescriptions. Either way, I think she'd be well served by being a little more aggressive towards her other competitors when they ruthlessly attack her. It shouldn't fall to Chris Dodd to point out that John Edwards is receiving tons of contributions from trial lawyers -- certainly a special interest -- while maintaining a holier than thou attitude on his campaign's funding. If Senator Clinton wants to say that she "won't get swift-boated" by the GOP in the general election, why doesn't she prove it in the primary.