This will be a running commentary: Beginning at 7:00 PM CST.
The debate is on with Hillary Clinton making the first opening remarks. Senator Clinton does not have Obama’s speaking style – but she always strikes me as charming and sincere. Senator Clinton put on a face of confidence.
Senator Obama chose to speak second, beginning with honoring Senator Clinton. “We are at a defining moment in our history….” Obama speaks eloquently about the suffering caused by war and economic despair and health care… “Senator Clinton and I have been talking about these issues for the past 13 months… we both recognize that these issues have to be dealt with… The problem we have is that Washington is the place good ideas go to die because of lobbyists and special interests…. Politicians are too interested in scoring political points…. We can be straight with how we can deal with these problems….”
Questions: Opening with some Spanish speaking. To Clinton – will you meet with Cuban leaders: Clinton, “We have a chance for change and I will be ready to reach out and work with a new Cuban Government…. If Cuba moves toward freedom and democracy for their people then I am ready to work with that…”
7:15 PM to Senator Obama: “The starting point for relations with Cuba should begin with their people. We now have an opportunity. I would meet without preconditions but with preparation that might take some time… The United States should not just talk with friends but also with enemies…. I have called for travel restrictions to Cuba to be lifted as a start…. Our policy has been a failure and I support normalization… Cuba has been isolated… ”
Clinton responds, “We should be willing to have diplomatic relations with anyone… We should look for ways to move countries that are adversarial to us…. The difference between us is when a President should move to talk to others… It undermines our capacity to take the measure of the opposition… We should eliminate the policy of the Bush Administration… The era of unilateralism and preemption is over…”
Obama, “…It is important because the Bush Administration has done so much damage that the new President should take a more active role in relations….”
On the Economy – How would Obama be different than Clinton? Obama, “First we don’t have to tell people that the economy is struggling, they know it… This has to be a priority of the next President… We have to restore a sense of fairness and balance… We have to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas… We pay for this by closing tax loopholes… Trade deals must be seen through the eyes of main street as well as Wall Street… We can create a Green Economy with solar and wind and bio-fuels… I think there is a real solid agenda because many of us agree… ”
To Clinton: You are ready on day one, explain, “I would agree with a lot that Senator Obama just said… It is the Democratic Agenda… The tax code will reflect what the middle class need… We will have a different approach to trade… We are going to have a trade time-out and a trade Prosecutor to watch over the agreements… We are going to have much more vigorous enforcement of safety… We need a moratorium on home foreclosures… I would freeze interest rates for five years… Clean Green Jobs as part of a stimulus package… Infrastructure – we need to rebuild America, and end George Bush’s war on Science…”
7:30 PM On Immigration. Clinton, “We need to be more careful with children of immigrants – the poor treatment is against American values… We need comprehensive immigration reform… But let’s do it the right way..”
Obama, “It is critical that we tone down the rhetoric on immigration… We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants… We need immigration reform and that means more secure borders… We have to do this is a way that does not lead to people with Spanish surnames being discriminated against… It is important that we fix the legal immigration system that is backlogged… We have to improve our relationship with Mexico so they can produce jobs on that side of the border… President Bush has dropped the ball…”
7:40 PM – On a Border Fence: Clinton, “This has become absurd under the Bush Administration… There are smart ways and dumb ways… Bush would cut off part of University Campuses and interfere with commerce and families… We should build fences where it is appropriate and makes sense… I would listen to the people who live along the border… There is a lot we have used with technology instead of physical barriers… ”
Obama, “…This is an area where Senator Clinton and I almost entirely agree… The Bush Administration is not listening… It is important for us to deal with this problem in terms of thousands of people coming across the border if we deal with the 12 million people who are already here… But people want order to the process… ”
Clinton, “English should be the common unifying language of our country… I do not think we should discriminate against people who do not speak English… ”
Obama, “It is important that everyone learn English… I think every student should be learning a second language… English speaking children should be learning foreign languages… This is one of the failures of No Child Left Behind – it has pushed out important learning… ”
7:55 PM – Tone of election questions: Clinton, “Our next President needs to be a lot less hat and a lot more cattle. Senator Obama and I are both committed to the best interest of our country… In the effort to draw contrast and comparison we note differences – I do offer solutions, health care, poor, children… Our records and accomplishments are different… It is important that voters get that information…”
Obama, “…Actions do speak louder than words, I have worked for twenty years to change important problems… (He lists several and I can’t keep up)… The difference is in how change comes about… Senator Clinton suggests that my supporters are somehow delusional and are being duped… But I have many supporters who are not fooled… People understand that it is not just a matter of putting forward policy positions – we have to inspire people to go beyond differences to get things done… ”
What about plagiarism? Obama, “…Words matter and the person I am accused of plagiarizing is one of my national co-chairs who gave me the line is silly… I gotta admit that some of my speeches are pretty good… (audience laughs)… I have specific concrete proposals… ”
Clinton, “If you lift whole passages from someone else’s speeches that is not change you can believe in that is change you can Zerox (audience boos).” Then Senator Clinton points out policy differences. “…The world will breath a sigh of relief once Bush is gone but we have to overcome the differences we have… ”
Obama, “…Senator Clinton mentioned two specific areas of difference. 95% of our Health Care Plans are the same… We have philosophical differences – Senator Clinton believes health care should be mandated, I believe we should make health care affordable… ”
8:15 PM. Clinton, “…Our health care differences are significant. Voluntary participation will not work…”
Obama, “Senator Clinton suggests a mandate on people to have insurance, not a mandate on government to provide it… Our goals are the same, the policy is different…”
Commander in Chief question: Clinton, “… I have represented our country for more than 15 years around the world, serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee and on Homeland Security… We have serious problems that pose real issues for Presidential leadership… I believe that I am ready and prepared on day one to be Commander in Chief…”
Obama, “… I would not be running if I did not think I was prepared… My number one job will be to keep the people of America safe… That means proper support of our Military… It means using our military wisely… I opposed the war in Iraq and showed good judgment… There are consequences of bad judgment… ”
8:20 PM. Running against a decorated War Hero, support of surge, the security situation is better, political is better, is it? Clinton,”… You forget an important premise of the surge – it was to give the Iraqi Government time to make decisions… The purpose of the surge has not been fulfilled… I would ask security advisers to give me a plan to begin withdrawing our troops in six months… That is in the best interest of our military…”
Obama, “…We have seen violence reduced in Iraq and we honor the service of the military… But it is a tactical success in a strategic blunder… I look forward to debating Senator McCain about the strategy… We have been diverted from our attention on Afghanistan and Latin America… We have been neglectful… Iran is the single biggest beneficiary of our invading Iraq… We still are not doing right by our veterans… ”
Leadership is most tested at times of crisis. Obama, “…I want to look at the trajectory of my life… there were rocky periods of my youth when I made mistakes… what was most important was learning to take responsibility for my own actions… That cumulative experience is the judgment that I now bring…”
Clinton, “… Everybody here knows that I have lived through some crisis in my life… People often ask me ‘how do you do it?’ With all of the challenges that I have had they are nothing compared to the challenges that I see every day in America….”
Senator Clinton looks at Obama when he is speaking as if she wishes she could vote for him. Barack Obama is at his most eloquent and is well studied on specific issues and solutions… Senator Clinton admirably noted that she is honored to be here with Barack Obama. It was a real classy moment in the whole election process….
This was a strong performance by each of the folks. We have two very competent candidates – there is hope for America….