Everyone reads the NYT and WaPo, so I thought it might be interesting to see how some other newspapers covered the Democratic debate. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci awards the Las Vegas debate to Hillary Clinton. Clinton had to come back from her poor performance in Philadelphia. So in that sense she won if she performed reasonably well, which she did. Marinucci felt that Obama stumbled on the issue of giving driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens. (He equivocated before finally saying that he was for it.)
(Cole: You have to sympathize with the Democratic candidates. Letting the undocumented get drivers licenses might encourage them to learn how to drive properly so as to pass the test,and reduce a potential hazard on the highways. And, the measure is probably popular with Latino voters, whom the Democrats are trying fairly successfully to woo (1/3 of Latinos had voted Republican in some earlier elections, but they are trending Democrat now; thus, Gov. Bill Richardson’s support for giving them drivers licenses.) But the Lou Dobbses of the world have gone ballistic on this issue. Apparently the American public prefers that its nannies, gardeners, store clerks and other workers, which it freely hires in full knowledge that this cheap labor is here illegally, take the bus to the homes of their white employers instead of putting on airs and driving cars. Problem: Most of the US does not have good public transportation, and it is not safe to have the undocumented sneak around driving illicitly. If the US Right is so exercised about this issue, they should stop hiring undocumented laborers; the Right is the ones with the money anyway. Most Democrats don’t own big companies like Walmart, a major employer of undocumented workers, don’t own big strawberry-farming haciendas in California, and don’t have big mansions peopled with nannies and gardeners.)
David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register agreed that Obama fumbled the drivers license issue, but also slammed him for not having a clear answer on the storage of nuclear waste.
In contrast, he praises Richardson and Dodd for turning in truly thoughtful, presidential performances. (He doesn’t mention Biden for some odd reason).
But Yepsen reserves his severest judgment for John Edwards, who, he says, “should have stayed home,” and who got booed for labeling Clinton a “corporate Democrat.” He writes:
‘ Edwards also had a poor night because for the first time, the differences between his votes as a U.S. senator and his talk now came into clear focus. He voted for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear-waste disposal site. Those votes are at odds with the populist rhetoric he serves up today, and it will undermine the credibility of his message.”
Yepsen games out the upcoming Iowa contest among the Democrats, and, interestingly enough, concludes that it may be bad for Clinton if Edwards plummets in the polls:
‘ Ironically, Edwards’ poor performance may be bad news for Clinton in Iowa.
That’s because Clinton, Edwards and Obama are in a statistical tie for first among caucus-going Democrats here. If either Obama or Edwards should fade in Iowa, his supporters may move to the other candidate, making that man the leading anti-Clinton candidate.
And that could give him enough votes to eke out a plurality win over her on caucus night.’
Of course, there is another possibility that Yepsen does not mention, which is that former Edwards supporters switch to Clinton rather than to Obama. On grounds of how the candidates talk about class issues, of course, Yepsen is probably right that it would be more likely for working class and lower middle class Edwards supporters in Iowa to move to supporting Obama if Edwards falters.
Susan Milligan of the Boston Globe concurs that Sen. Clinton recovered in Las Vegas. She focuses on the issue of taxes. Sen. Obama complains that Social Security taxes are paid only on the first $97,000 or so of earnings, so that persons who earn more than that actually pay less percentage-wise than those who are poorer than they. Clinton maintained that if the cap is simply removed, it would be a trillion dollar tax increase and would harm “the middle class.” Obviously, it would actually be a tax increase for the upper middle class and for the rich. Clinton seemed to be championing their class interests, and Obama pointed out that only 6% of earners in the US make more than $100,000 a year, so they are hardly “middle class.”
On Pakistan, Milligan portrays Obama as a harsh critic of Gen. Pervez Musharraf and of the policy of backing a military dictator rather than promoting democracy. She writes:
‘ Obama insisted the choice between human rights abroad and security at home was a false one. “The concepts are not contradictory…they are complementary,” Obama said. If the United States allows repression in Pakistan to continue, anti-American sentiment there will grow.’
Clinton when pressed said she would not back national security over human rights, but she seemed less willing to condemn Musharraf roundly.
On this issue, Manan Ahmed makes a powerful argument at our Global Affairs joint blog that for the US to back Pakistani dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf at this juncture is self-defeating, and that the Pakistani public dislikes Muslim terrorism and would elect a government that would fight it. (I would add that a representative government would likely be much less tolerant of the neo-Taliban in the north than is the Pakistani military, which has long used such elements for its own purposes.)
This issue did not come up in the debate (naturally, because it can’t be publicly and honestly debated in the US without risking a lot of character assassination), but since I’m mentioning the Global Affairs blog, I should note: Gershon Shafir gives us a long and canny analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an issue in conflicted decolonization, and a contemporary waging of four major conflicts. (It is reprinted from “Conflicts.”). If you want to know why the Annapolis conference is rather unlikely to produce breakthroughs, here is a place to start.