The Democratic Debate today in New Hampshire was quite the sight. Barack Obama and John Edwards sat on one side of the table, seemingly tag-teaming in a sustained attack against Hillary Clinton.
Bill Richardson once commented that he had been at hostage negotiations that were more civil than the beginning of the debate.
Clinton Has a History of Change
Clinton was strong from the beginning in claiming that she was an agent of change. She claims that her opponents, Barack and Edwards, are all talk – while she has a long history of putting change into practice. At one point, she claimed 35 years of experience. At another point, she claimed she was change embodied.
Yet throughout the debate, Clinton appeared to be on the defensive. She is coming off a defeat in the Iowa Caucus, and the polls reported during the debate show her neck and neck with Barack Obama in New Hampshire. There is a very real possibility that she will lose again when New Hampshire voters go to the polls for their own primary.
Barack and Edwards Seated Together, Joint Victim of Clinton Attacks
One of the best images of the night was when Barack Obama and Edwards had both finished answering a question and Clinton responded. She requested a reality check, and went on to press her claim that she could offer more substantial change than either Barack or Edwards. The camera panned out, showing Edwards and Barack eagerly scribbling on their pads while Richardson sat in his seat without moving.
For most of the night, Richardson seemed inconsequential. He fielded a number of questions, re-iterating his own resume. He emphasized his experience negotiating with foreign nations and made some broad claims about how to help the foreign policy and energy policy of the country. He did raise one of the only references to education and No Child Left Behind. The other candidates seemed to ignore him, though, focusing their responses at each other.
Barack and Edwards seemed clearly to carry the night. The two of them piggy-backed off each other repeatedly. When Clinton made an attack on both Barack and Edwards, Barack responded first, but said that he wanted to make sure Edwards got a chance to respond as well. Several times throughout the night, one of the two would finish speaking and the other would pick up the same theme.
Message of Change from Barack and Edwards. Difference Is In the Passion
Barack emphasized his new kind of politics, bringing bipartisanship, change, and ethics reform. He repeatedly said that he would bring the American people back into the government, make the government more transparent and change the dialogue in Washington. At one point, he said there were deep problems with Washington’s atmosphere – even before Bush. A lightly veiled attack against Bill Clinton, perhaps.
Edwards hammered home several times his goal of fighting special interests. In a poignant moment, he referenced his father, who worked in a mill for thirty plus years to help support the family. Edwards claimed that his middle class roots are strong, and that he will fight to help the middle class fight against entrenched special interests like health insurance companies, energy companies, and lobbyists. The fight, he said, was deeply personal.
Overall, Edwards and Barack echoed a similar message. Each wants to bring change; each wants to cut the lobbyists out of Washington. Edwards seems a bit more angry, a bit more aggressive in his stance, while Barack is more sustained. Each is hopeful and looking forward.
Clinton and Richardson are still looking back. Clinton repeatedly referenced her history of change, claiming that she had exemplified change for thirty plus years. Richardson said on more than one ocassion that experience was not a bad thing. He claimed that his resume, his experience showed that he could help bring about change. Their experience seemed to be on the defensive, though, no matter what they claimed.
Change on one side, status quo on the other. Interesting that they were seated with Edwards and Barack to the left and Richardson and Clinton to the right. Maybe the debate organizers agree with Edwards, who subtly attacked Clinton as an agent of the status quo.