the msnbc ambush

26Feb08

I never saw a “debate” quite like this one. MSNBC’s moderators hit Mrs. Clinton hard and fast, with audio-visuals, playing every single unflattering moment from this past weekend in the first  50 or so minutes of the debate. They asked her to respond first to 3 questions before asking Obama to respond first to a fourth, then they asked Hillary to respond first to the fifth.

Look, going first CAN be a tougher spot. It doesn’t matter that she’s quick on her feet and has seemed to not mind going first, enjoying the advantages of it. You ask tough pointed gotcha questions and hit her over and over again, and certainly in the aggressive manner that Tim Russert was doing, at the beginning of such an important debate, you COULD take a person out of his or her best mindset, knocking them off their game.

Not only that, but watching someone as eloquent as Hillary go off on NAFTA or health care primes her opponents, stimulates his thoughts, reminds him of key points. It allows him to counter punch OR… as Obama did tonight… simply AGREE.

I’ve never seen a questioner in a presidential debate as aggressive as Tim Russert was with Hillary tonight. I don’t even know what to think or say about it. The candidates are there to debate each other and FIGHT their OWN battles. They shouldn’t have to fight the moderators or have the moderators scoring the biggest HITS against them. This election has been contested through the looking glass. This debate was another surreal moment.

Even Maureen Dowd’s pal Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times was compelled to address all this in her wrap-up of the debate.

Mrs. Clinton wanted the world to understand that the press is tougher on her than on Barack Obama. And she made her case by citing a sketch on last week’s “Saturday Night Live” that showed mock debate moderators grilling her, but fawning over Mr. Obama.

And for the rest of the evening, the MSNBC debate did look a bit like the “S.N.L.” parody.

Mrs. Clinton was under attack, but the toughest blows came not from Mr. Obama but from Mr. Russert, who fiercely questioned her about her past positions on Nafta, Iraq and even a campaign promise from 2000, in her first Senate run.”

Ya think, Alessandra?

What I think is that the system finally ate our candidates. Tonight was grueling. Although substantive debate at times did break out, overall the evening was repetitive and pretty much pointless.

If Clinton had planned on truly confronting Obama regarding his campaign’s tactics, something that I think if done properly could have worked in her favor, she was either too weary or too off-balance to muster that offensive. And that was really the only excuse for this debate to have existed. Obama is treading water while the media is throwing the book at Hillary.

She didn’t have the energy to overcome all that tonight and re-assume her posture or stature as the seasoned best-choice-for-president and she didn’t have the fire and eloquence to tear Obama a new one regarding his campaign tactics.

And that all allows the media to envelope her like water over a sinking ship.

Here’s an example of where she should have had the fire and the fight. When Obama so successfully turned the Farrakhan denounce or reject theme into a moment to flash his charm with a chuckle, dismissing the point as pointless semantics, she should have pounced.

(What follows is NOT a quote from the debate. It is a suggested response.)

Actually, Barack, you’re chuckling, but there’s nothing at all funny about this. You were asked point blank if you reject Minister Farrakhan’s endorsement and support and you demurred, citing your past positions, possibly because you don’t want to reject or offend, along with Minister Farrakhan, his supporters who might yet cast a vote for you. I think you need to answer the question in plain English. Do you REJECT Minister Farrakhan’s endorsement and his support?

POW. He then looks foolish for prematurely and immaturely injecting levity into something that some people take very seriously. She would have exposed, finally, Barack Obama for what he is… a politician who cleverly avoids making emphatic, and thus potentially problematic statements, in effect, pandering and side stepping, just like the Clintons, who have been derided for doing it for almost two decades.

This was a very bad night for the Democratic party. As Rachel Maddow said, John McCain was the winner tonight. We’ve run this primary into the ground. Even Barack Obama looked like he was tired of hearing himself talk. This thing almost looked like a wax museum display where there are actual recorded voices inside the wax figures, debating about things that people have long ceased caring about.

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