Friday, June 29, 2007


Killer Queen

My take on Hillary's big win in the Democrats' debate last night at Howard University.

You didn't know there was a debate? Well, that's what happens when the Dems agree to go on PBS.

A couple of other thoughts (AKA, things I couldn't fit into the column):

1) The debate got off to a rocky start with multiple "welcomers" — Howard University president Patrick Swygert (appropriate) and radio host Tom Joyner and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (we get it -- Democrats have a more diverse party) and moderator Tavis Smiley plus a photo-op with all the candidates. In all, it made for an even more annoying, self-important media moment than the Chris Matthews MSNBC fiasco at the fist GOP debate.

It ended up being ten minutes wasted that would have been better used at the end of the evening, instead of Smiley being forced to cut off candidates after 15 seconds.

2) Delaware Sen. Joe Biden was the only candidate who stepped out of the "more-money-for-more-problems" answers by stressing the need for personal responsibility to help tackle the AIDS crisis. He mentioned the importance of being tested for AIDS. He said, "I've been tested; I know Barack's been tested..."

3) Biden's comment gave Obama the opportunity for his best line of the night: He jumped in, out of turn, and said, "I want to be clear here: I was tested...with my wife...when we were in Kenya public. I don't want to start any rumors."

4) Mike Gravel got a couple of rounds of applause in mentioning the impact that the war on drugs is having on the black community. Of course, he didn't have to mention it three different times. I was surprised also to see his call for eliminating the income tax (in favor of a "national retail sales tax") seem to get some support. Who would think that a call for dumping the income tax would come from the farthest left guy in the Democratic debate?

5) Speaking of personal responsibility, it would have been nice if one candidate -- Obama would have been the one to do this in the least risky way -- could have addressed the issue of family structure, especially when it came to education.

At one point in the debate, the candidates were talking about the need for more resources at the pre-K level and the achievement gap between black and white children. Obama inched close to the main point in saying that the problem of child development has to be addressed even before then -- but then he wandered into the need for "parenting counseling" and the putting more money into programs. Why couldn't he say that one of the major problems in the black community -- and a major reason for the achievement gap -- is the vast majority of children born and raised in one-parent homes? There are ways to make this point without sounding completely judgmental. Indeed, Bill Clinton occasionally said it when speaking to black audiences. It would be nice to hear another Democrat raise this point -- even if that person has to revert back to "We need a program to foster two-parent households." At least, they would concede the centrality of the issue.

6) Finally, given that earlier in the day, Hillary freely admitted that Obama
had likely outraised her in the second quarter, Hillary's strong performance last night was all the more notable. Money or number of financial supporters aside, she demonstrated that she's the one able to clean the clock when it comes down to focused policy and political responses. She's shown that she has the ability to crisply meld the policy response with the partisan barb -- without it necessarily sounding harsh or threatening.

It sounds bizarre to say this at this point, after all these years, but after a while you have to: Don't underestimate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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