The ‘Nail Hillary’ debate

Democrats Barack Obama and John Edwards sharply challenged Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candor, consistency and judgment Tuesday in a televised debate that underscored her front-runner status two months before the first presidential primary votes.

Obama, the Illinois senator, began immediately, saying Clinton has changed her positions on the North American Free Trade Agreement, torture policies and the Iraq war. Leadership, he said, does not mean “changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient.”

Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, was even sharper at times, saying Clinton “defends a broken system that’s corrupt in Washington, D.C.” He stood by his earlier claim that she has engaged in “doubletalk.”

Clinton, standing between the two men, largely shrugged off the remarks and defended her positions. She has been the focus of Republican candidates’ “conversations and consternation,” she said, because she is leading in the polls.

She said she has specific plans on Social Security, diplomacy and health care. “I have been standing against the Republicans, George Bush and Dick Cheney,” she said, “and I will continue to do so, and I think Democrats know that.”

But she avoided direct answers to several questions. The New York senator wouldn’t say how she would address the fiscal crisis threatening Social Security, she declined to pledge whether she would stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or say whether she supports giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Rather, she tried to turn every issue into an argument against President Bush.

It was the Democrats’ first debate in a month, and during that time Clinton has solidified her front-runner position, gaining in polls, taking the lead in fundraising and dominating the agenda. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 3, and the New Hampshire primary could be even earlier.

Clinton defended her Senate vote in favor of designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. Obama, Edwards and others have said Bush could interpret the measure as congressional approval for a military attack.

Edwards caustically challenged Clinton’s claim that she stands up to the Bush administration. “So the way to do that is to vote yes on a resolution that looks like it was written literally by the neocons?” he said.

“In my view, rushing to war — we should not be doing that — but we shouldn’t be doing nothing,” Clinton said. “And that means we should not let them acquire nuclear weapons, and the best way to prevent that is a full court press on the diplomatic front.”

Clinton also was the main focus during a discussion of the Iraq war. Again, Edwards leveled the toughest charges against the New York senator.

“If you believe that combat missions should be continued in Iraq” without a timetable for withdrawal, Edwards said, “then Senator Clinton is your candidate.” Edwards vowed to have all combat troops out of Iraq “in my first year in office.”

Clinton replied forcefully, saying “I stand for ending the war in Iraq, bringing our troops home.” She added, however, that “it is going to take time,” and some troops must remain to fight al-Qaida in Iraq.

“I don’t know how you pursue al-Qaida without engaging them in combat,” she said.

Edwards, drawing a link between Iraq and Iran, pressed on. “What I worry about is, if Bush invades Iran six months from now, I mean, are we going to hear: ‘If only I had known then what I know now?'” He was alluding to comments Clinton has made about her 2002 vote to authorize military action against Saddam Hussein.

Some candidates expressed frustration that most of the questions were directed to Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Seventeen minutes into the debate, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich had yet to get a question and blurted out, “Is this a debate here?” Minutes later, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson threw up his hands in protest that he hadn’t been called on either and exchanged a frustrated glance with Kucinich.

Obama, alluding to the partisanship that bedeviled Bill Clinton’s presidency, told the former first lady: “Part of the reason that Republicans, I think, are obsessed with you, Hillary, is because that’s a fight they’re very comfortable having. It is the fight that we’ve been through since the ’90s.”

Richardson criticized his rivals for challenging Clinton so sharply, rebuking their “holier-than-thou attitude.”

But Edwards and Dodd cited Clinton’s relatively high unfavorability ratings.

“Fifty percent of the American public say they’re not going to vote for her,” Dodd said.

On Social Security, moderator Tim Russert of NBC News asked Clinton why she told an Iowa voter, in an offstage comment overheard by an Associated Press reporter, that she was open to raising the cap on payroll taxes when the proposal is not part of her platform.

Clinton said she did not have a “private position” on Social Security. She would convene a bipartisan commission to recommend ways to strengthen the program, she said, and all the well-known suggestions “would be considered.”

Only briefly did the candidates aim their remarks at Republicans. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani “is genuinely not qualified to be president.”

Giuliani’s entire message is “a noun, a verb and 9/11,” Biden said, but that he had “done nothing” to implement anti-terrorism recommendations by the 9/11 Commission.

Edwards, meanwhile, felt at least one jab. Kucinich, alluding to Edwards’ past financial dealings, said: “When people get money from New York hedge funds and then they attack another person for getting money from Washington interest groups, you know what? They’re both right.”

Clinton said a New York state proposal to give drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants “makes a lot of sense,” but she stopped short of a wholehearted endorsement. Only Dodd said he flatly opposed the idea.

In the debate’s lightest moment, Kucinich confirmed seeing an unidentified flying object at the Washington state home of actress Shirley MacLaine. He said, with a smile, he would open a campaign office in Roswell, N.M., home to many alleged UFO sightings.

Obama said he would accompany his daughters in trick-or-treating on Halloween while wearing a Mitt Romney mask, which has “two sides to it, it goes in both directions.”

The debate, held at Drexel University, was aired by MSNBC. Organizers excluded former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel on grounds that he did not meet fundraising and polling thresholds.


  1. JudyB

    I completely understand Hillary being attacked by fellow candidates because, she is leading of all of them. What I cannot understand, is how Tim Russert thought his questions to Hillary were in anyway fair, when he never asked the same or equally biased questions of the other candidates. I heartly agree with the post(above)by Dianne H Smithers when she said that it was beneath him and poorly done. As for Chris Matthews, he has been overtly against Hillary since BEFORE she threw her hat in the ring and pro Obama since he gave the Keynote speech during the 2004 Democtatic convention. Despite what has been termed “The Nail Hillary Debate” and regardless of anyones elses opinion, myself and many of my friends felt Hillary held her own that night and most likey will continue her lead in the Democrats race for
    the Presidency.

  2. Pablo

    I’m starting to think most Unitedstatesians actually like the war, and that the press got their figures reversed. It looks like only 30% of the public are really against the war, as shown for the alleged huge support for Hillary, who voted for this war and whose only criticism against the war until she hit the campaign trail was that we didn’t send enough troops. She now has no firm plan for getting us out of the quagmire; it is obvious she will do what is expected of her from her corporate sponsors and maximize profits for the military-industrial complex.

    She has also made it quite clear she supports the hard-line against Iran, who is legally pursuing nuclear energy, and against whom there is no evidence that they are pursuing the bomb. (And who are they going to used the bomb against? Israel? Come on! And kill all the Palistinians as well?!? Think people!). Deja vu. We’re witnessing the exact same thing from the Dush administration that we did with Iraq, lying and/or exagerating threats, and intimidating another country with our entire arsenal. Once again, Hillary is performing her corporate role to a tee, and the Unitedstatesian people, who obviously don’t learn very fast (or just like blood, violence and turmoil), go “Baaaahhhh”! Hillary, like Dush, has said she won’t take anything off the table in stopping Iran from legally pursuing nuclear energy. Couldn’t one consider threatening another country with nuclear strikes terrorism in it’s most terrifying form? Way to go Hillary! Way to go people who support Hillary!

    Hillary is the worst of all the Democratic candidates, the least likely to push for the end of this war. It’s amazing that supposedly 70% fo the public want the war to end but want to put somebody into office who supports and has supported this war, and wants to take the aggressive stance toward a country for which there is no evidence of threat. Our future, like Hillary, is very frightening.

  3. Gerald Sutliff

    There is much I admire about Senator Clinton but she lost any change she had for my vote when she voted for the “non-binding” Iran resolution. As it’s said, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on you.” She has shamed herself.

    Big Jer
    Bakersfield, CA

  4. Dianne H Smithers

    I wasn’t intending to vote for Hillary nor were many of my females friends but after last nights debate, if that is what you choose to lablel it, and the ongoing recent media spins—-we are begining to rethink it. It is appearing to look like the men in the media are so threatened by a woman president that they are reduced to creating an unlevel playing field. Last night’s debate, was no more than a poorly attempt to ambush Hillary. I was expecting Edwards and Obama to go after her because for weeks, the Media has, in the “spin” from their political ?experts? stated that they must do so in order to take the lead and so as media puppets, they did so with Dodd trying to join the club. They looked foolish. What I wasn’t expecting Tim Russert to once again use a line of questions to not only attack her but to try to lead the other candidates to attack her. It was beneath him and poorly done. Then additional disappointment came in the follow up of Chris (speak before you think) Matthews and his ‘so called’ panel of political experts, who instead of asking the other candidates questions about their performance, they tried through their questions to force the other candidates to join in the ambush. Poorly done and very disappointing and disrespectful to those candidates who had little attention paid to them during the debates. Good for Biden, Richardson and Kucinich who protested this media scheme.

    Bluegrass Woman

  5. DejaVuAllOver

    Bluegrass Women,

    Did it occur to you that maybe the other candidates are attacking Hillary because of her pandering, doubletalk and right-wing positions, especially on the IMPORTANT issues like Iraq and her support for WWIII with Iran? (Lieberman / Kyl, Iraq war Resolution, etc.)

    Her profoundly bad judgement or just plain immorality is starting to make Bush /Cheney look better all the time. At least you know where they stand…… Hillary’s in their corner but won’t come clean. She’s even slipperier than her husband, who had a knack for doubletalk himself, as I recall…… And she seems to share her husband’s contempt for working people, as well. I won’t vote for her under ANY circumstances, although I initially liked her for many reasons.

    I just hope the Democrats have the sense to nominate a decent person, man OR woman. (i.e. NOT Hillary) And BTW, I haven’t voted for a Republican for ANY office since 1980. That Hillary is leading the polls merely proves what an idiotic bunch of losers the Dems (my party) are. This is heartbreaking. But hey, the Dems dropped the Bomb, started Korea, started Vietnam voted for Iraq as much as the GOP…. the drum beats on. Maybe I’m expecting WAY too much.

  6. SEAL

    They attacked her because they are threatened by a woman is the worst load of horsehockey one could come up with and so Atypical of american voters – viewing conditions with “feelings” rather than objectivity.

    If the situation had been reversed with Hillary attacking a man you would not hear one man make such a ridiculous claim as “she was attacking because she was threatened by a man.” And, before you get the wrong idea, I’m one of those who thinks the time is right for this nation to have a woman president because of the female’s different view of priorities.

    Hillary Clinton is not the woman to lead this nation. She has clearly demonstrated that through her actions and her lack of actions. Of course, she is being attacked because she is the front runner. That’s normal. But she is, also, being attacked on some very key issues.

    At the top of the list is her lack of a commitment to end the war and her support of the agressive war inducing policy of the current band of criminals in charge. It is obvious she has no intention of altering the present course. If that doesn’t scare you, then you are basing your decisions on the wrong principles. The fact that she is female has no bearing on this.

    I, for one, wholeheartedly support attacking anyone who is not committed to ending our criminal occupation of Iraq and/or who favors continuing to antagonize the Iranians and the rest of the intelligent world with threats of armed conflict when there is absolutely no proof the Iranians are pursuing nuclear weapons.

    Hillary has attempted to divert attention away from her war stance with health care and children. But when you take a proper look at her health care package it becomes a big pharma/big insurco package designed to make them even wealthier than the already are.

    Choosing a president must not be an emotional decision about gender.

  7. SEAL

    If we can survive and escape one more year of the crime family of Don Georgie Two Tounges and his chief capo Big Dickie Nukem, I think our best bet would be go with Obama. The corporates are so entrenched, now, that it will take someone with the natuaral ability to get people to arbitrate that Obama has proved to possess to begin the “peaceful transition back to Constitutional government.

  8. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    The Corparate MediaCrapper panel chose to largely ignore
    any candidate but the top three. By and large a MediaCrapper Pony show. We need a break from the Clinton Dynasty, but Obama dosen’t ring my guitar chords when he says he wants to investigate privatizing social security. Edwards appears to be the least corparate of the DemoKrappers but I don’t trust him either since he backed the war originally, albeit he did apologise for being for the war while Pillary didn’t. Kucinich unfortunately is not being backed by the Tammany Hall Democrtic Leadership Council so even though I’m voting for him, the Corparate Democrappers have an overwhelming advantage with CorparateCrapper war chest funds.

    The Corparate Democrappers have laid a toxic Stinking Steamer on the road and the American public is being hoodwinked into thinking we gotta eat the Corparate Democrapper Road Apples.

  9. SEAL

    There is no way anyone is going to seriously consider privatizing SS. “Investigating” it is simply a political placade. Only G.W.Dumbo would have ever dreamed of doing such a thing. Anyone else knows the public would never stand still for it.

    I am disappointed that Obama, or anyone, would give in to that form of political BS, however. All he had to say was all the options had to be looked into. John Kennedy was the only politition I ever saw that never seemed to make mistakes and say something stupid under pressure.

  10. Sandra Price

    SEAL, there was serious discussions in 1964 about why Social Security will fail unless it is removed from the federal spending and put in a section all of its own allowing it to be added to by employees who paid into it in their paychecks. There was a famous speech made by Reagan after Goldwater’s loss that same year. About every 10 years or so presidential candidates would mention this plan of putting the money in a lockbox and leaving it alone (Gore was the last one to do this). The Congress will never allow this amount of money to be removed from their planning expenses!

    Social Security has been used by politicians for years to get votes for themselves and the system is still broke. The Libertarians came up with the plan of privatizing the money and getting it out of the hands of the rotten Congress but that too fell apart. Bush 43 came up with a plan to allow the government to use the money only putting it in the names of the individuals but under government control. We would also be limited in the amount of profit we would make from this investment.

    There is no plan for the survival of Social Security! I have been told that the seniors now receiving this money that they have put into the system is secure. I have no idea if this is true but I do know that I have paid a lot of money into the system and would have been delighted to receive it back in one lump sum but was told there is no money with my name on it. 57 years of payments on my end of the deal with no guarantee is not a good investment for anyone. How we get out of it must start with the new workers refusing to pay into the system. I have no idea if this will mean a prison sentence like those who refuse to pay their income taxes.

    The government owns us and we arranged it by not paying attention.