Obama’s ham-handed defense of his San Francisco remarks last night – in which he flagrantly violated the First Rule of Holes – was just one of the nuggets from last night’s Democratic slugfest in Philadelphia worth revisiting. Let’s go to the transcript to hand out a few awards.
Most Impartial Moderator
So, along with Charlie Gibson, the debate was moderated by…former Clinton staffer George Stephanopoulos. What, Harold Ickes wasn’t available?
Most Glaring Historical Ignorance
Gibson gets the award for this question:
Just to quote from the Constitution again, “In every case” — Article II, Section 1 — “after the choice of the president, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the vice president.”
If it was good enough in colonial times, why not in these times?
Yes, Gibson managed to pick the very first provision of the Constitution to get scrapped because it proved in practice to be a disaster, and what’s more, a disaster in some ways reminiscent of what the Democrats face today. This provision was bad enough when it saddled President John Adams with a Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, who was a vocal critic and leader of the opposition, but then it gave us the fiasco of the 1800 election, including the 18th century version of “Operation Chaos”:
The election exposed one of the flaws in the original Constitution. Members of the Electoral College could only vote for President; each elector could vote for two candidates, and the Vice President was the person who received the second largest number of votes during the election. The Democratic-Republicans had planned for one of the electors to abstain from casting his second vote for Aaron Burr, leading to Jefferson receiving one vote more than Burr. The plan, however, was bungled, resulting in a tied electoral vote between Jefferson and Burr. The election was then put into the hands of the outgoing Federalist Party controlled House of Representatives. Most Federalists voted for Burr in order to block Jefferson from the Presidency, and the result was a week of deadlock. Federalist Alexander Hamilton, who detested both but preferred Jefferson to Burr, intervened on Jefferson’s behalf, which allowed Jefferson to ascend to the Presidency. Hamilton’s actions were one cause of his duel with Burr, which resulted in Hamilton’s death in 1804.
Jefferson’s victory ended one of America’s most acrimonious Presidential campaigns to date….The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, was added to the United States Constitution. The Twelfth Amendment stipulates that electors make a distinct choice between their selections for President and Vice President.
To Obama, for this:
[T]he problem that we have in our politics, which is fairly typical, is that you take one person’s statement, if it’s not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death. And that’s what Senator Clinton’s been doing over the last four days.
And I understand that. That’s politics. And I expect to have to go through this process.
But I do think it’s important to recognize that it’s not helping that person who’s sitting at the kitchen table who is trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month.
And Senator Clinton’s right: She has gone through this. You know, I recall when, back in 1992, when she made a statement about how, what do you expect, should I be at home baking cookies?
This is a twofer. First, Obama complains about beating a phrase to death despite his own endless and misleading reworking of McCain’s “100 years” remark, and then he manages to remind people (albeit with all sorts of caveats) about Hillary’s notorious “baking cookies” crack. What’s the word I’m looking for here? Slick.
The Judge A Man By His Friends Award, Part 1
Hillary tore into Obama over the Rev. Wright stuff:
I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been just intolerable for me. And, therefore, I would have not been able to stay in the church.
And maybe it’s, you know, just, again, a personal reflection that, regardless of whatever good is going on, and I have no reason to doubt that a lot of good things were happening in that church.
You get to choose your pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you get to choose your pastor. And when asked a direct question, I said I would not have stayed in the church.
And she kept on hammering Obama with more things that your typical NY Times-reading Democratic voter might not have heard about:
It is clear that, as leaders, we have a choice who we associate with and who we apparently give some kind of seal of approval to. And I think that it wasn’t only the specific remarks but some of the relationships with Reverend Farrakhan, with giving the church bulletin over to the leader of Hamas, to put a message in.
The Hot Seat Award
Stephanopoulos threw Obama a hand grenade with this question: “[D]do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” And followed up again: “But you do believe he’s as patriotic as you are?”
(Gibson did a fine job running the debate, but Stephanopoulos got in a few too many of these rabbit punches).
What, You Believed Me? I’m a Clinton!
Hillary on Bosnia – yeah, that was not so true.
I may be a lot of things. But I’m not dumb. And I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it all out there. And you’re right. On a couple of occasions in the last weeks, I just said some things that weren’t in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book.
And, you know, I’m embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I’ve said it was a mistake. And it is, I hope, something that you can look over because, clearly, I am proud that I went to Bosnia. It was a war zone. General Wesley Clark is here in the audience with me, as one of my major supporters. He and I were talking about it before I came out.
You know, our soldiers were there to try to police and keep the peace in a very dangerous area. They were totally in battle gear. There were concerns about potential dangers. The former president of Bosnia has said he was worried about the safety of the situation.
So, I know that it is something that some people have said wait a minute. What happened here? But I have talked about this and written about it. And then, unfortunately, in a few occasions, I was not as accurate as I have been in the past.
But I know, too, that being able to rely on my experience of having gone to Bosnia, gone to more than 80 countries, having represented the United States in so many different settings, gives me a tremendous advantage going into this campaign, particularly against Senator McCain.
So, I will either try to get more sleep, Tom or, you know, have somebody that, you know, is there, as a reminder to me. You know, you can go back for the past 15 months. We both have said things that, you know, turned out not to be accurate. You know, that happens when you’re talking as much as we have talked. But, you know, I’m very sorry that I said it. And I have said that, you know, it just didn’t jive with what I had written about and knew to be the truth.
That Must Have Been That Other Barack Obama Guy
Obama: “I have never said that I don’t wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins.”
The Judge A Man By His Friends Award, Part 2
Hillary took the baton from Stephanopoulos on Obama’s associations with Bill Ayers, formerly of the terrorist group the Weather Underground:
I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position.
And, if I’m not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York and, I would hope, to every American, because they were published on 9/11, and he said that he was just sorry they hadn’t done more.
And what they did was set bombs.
In fairness, the comments at issue were in a NY Times profile published the morning of September 11, i.e., they were made before the attacks of that day. But hey, an unrepentant radical terrorist is an unrepentant radical terrorist; he didn’t need those attacks to tell which way the wind was blowing.
Great Moments in Moral Equivalence
Obama’s response on Ayers?
The fact is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who, during his campaign, once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.
Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn’s statements? Because I certainly don’t agree with those, either.
Yeah, Obama will win a lot of friends by equating pro-lifers with terrorists. As Adam notes, “Sen. Coburn ran for office and is trying to change the law without making any violent actions. William Ayers tried to kill innocent people to make a political point.”
Now, This Means War
Obama didn’t forget that he’s not the only one with a soft spot for leftist radicals:
[B]y Senator Clinton’s own vetting standards, I don’t think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground, which I think is a slightly more significant act… than me serving on a board with somebody for actions that he did 40 years ago.
That was just a great comeback, in all seriousness. Of course, it won’t be of much use against McCain.
I’m All Outta Wiggle Room
Hillary’s been trying out straddles on Iraq for a long time, despite having never backed off her original support for the war, but she’s going all-in for the Democratic nomination now:
[U]pon taking office I will ask the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and my security advisers to immediately put together for me a plan so that I can begin to withdraw within 60 days. …I have been convinced and very clear that I will begin to withdraw troops within 60 days.
Where will this lead? “We don’t know what will happen as we withdraw.”
Best One-Liner By Someone Not At The Debate
McCain, on video:
All these tax increases are under the fine print of the slogan hope. They’re going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars a year and they have the audacity to hope you don’t mind.
Jim Geraghty noted Hillary laughing at this line.
Read My Lips Award
After Hillary promised to jack up the top income tax rates:
I am absolutely committed to not raising a single tax on middle- class Americans, people making less than $250,000 a year. ….
STEPHANOPOULOS: An absolute commitment, no middle-class tax increases of any kind?
CLINTON: No. That’s right. That is my commitment.
GIBSON: Senator Obama?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you take the same pledge?
OBAMA: Well, I not only have pledged not to raise their taxes, I’ve been the first candidate in this race to specifically say I would cut their taxes.
The latter isn’t even remotely consistent with Obama’s many tax hike schemes and big-spending plans, but we can certainly hold him to the pledge.
Taxes Aren’t For Revenue, After All
I loved this exchange in which Obama basically admitted that he was looking to raise the capital gains tax for punitive purposes even if it didn’t produce more revenue:
GIBSON: All right. You have, however, said you would favor an increase in the capital gains tax. As a matter of fact, you said on CNBC, and I quote, “I certainly would not go above what existed under Bill Clinton,” which was 28 percent. It’s now 15 percent. That’s almost a doubling, if you went to 28 percent.
But actually, Bill Clinton, in 1997, signed legislation that dropped the capital gains tax to 20 percent.
GIBSON: And George Bush has taken it down to 15 percent.
GIBSON: And in each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased; the government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down.
So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?
OBAMA: Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.
We saw an article today which showed that the top 50 hedge fund managers made $29 billion last year — $29 billion for 50 individuals. And part of what has happened is that those who are able to work the stock market and amass huge fortunes on capital gains are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That’s not fair.
And what I want is not oppressive taxation. I want businesses to thrive, and I want people to be rewarded for their success. But what I also want to make sure is that our tax system is fair and that we are able to finance health care for Americans who currently don’t have it and that we’re able to invest in our infrastructure and invest in our schools.
And you can’t do that for free. ….
[Y]ou don’t propose tax cuts, unless you are closing other tax breaks for individuals. And you don’t increase spending, unless you’re eliminating some spending or you’re finding some new revenue….
GIBSON: But history shows that when you drop the capital gains tax, the revenues go up.
OBAMA: Well, that might happen, or it might not. It depends on what’s happening on Wall Street and how business is going.
Hillary, to her credit, was at least willing to put some limits on how much she would raise the capital gains tax:
GIBSON: …I want to be clear, the question was about capital gains tax. Would you say, no, I’m not going to raise capital gains taxes?
CLINTON: I wouldn’t raise it above the 20 percent, if I raised it at all. I would not raise it above what it was during the Clinton administration.
GIBSON: If I raised it at all. Would you propose an increase in the capital gains tax?
CLINTON: You know, Charlie, I’m going to have to look and see what the revenue situation is.
Of course, you pay capital gains taxes regardless of your income (many retirees have more capital gains than income), so we are already disregarding the stuff they were just saying about not raising taxes on people at various income levels. Ah, it was fun while it lasted. Kinda like Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign promise of a middle class tax cut, which he then threw overboard (although as noted he did finally cut the capital gains tax five years into his tenure).
Money…That’s What I Want
Oh, and tax hikes? We weren’t done with tax hikes:
CLINTON: …I’m certainly against one of Senator Obama’s ideas, which is to lift the cap on the payroll tax, because that would impose additional taxes on people who are educators here in the Philadelphia area, or in the suburbs, police officers, firefighters and the like.
So I think we have to be very careful about how we navigate this. So the $250,000 mark is where I’m sure we’re going. But beyond that, we are going to have to look and see where we are….
OBAMA: Well, Charlie, I just have to respond real quickly to Senator Clinton’s last comment. What I have proposed is that we raise the cap on the payroll tax because millionaires and billionaires don’t have to pay beyond $97,000 a year. That is where it is capped. Now, most firefighters, most teachers, you know, they’re not making over $100,000 a year. [Ed. – Unless they are two-career families where both make, say, $60K a year] In fact, only 6 percent of the population does.
And I’ve also said that I’d be willing to look at exempting people who are making slightly above that. ….
GIBSON: But, Senator, but that’s a tax. That’s a tax…
OBAMA: Well, no, no, look…
GIBSON: … on people under $250,000.
OBAMA: …this is an option that I would strongly consider, because the alternatives, like raising the retirement age or cutting benefits or raising the payroll tax on everybody, including people who make less than $97,000 a year…
GIBSON: There’s a heck of a lot of people between $97,000 and $200,000 and $250,000. If you raise the payroll taxes…
OBAMA: And that’s…
GIBSON: … that’s going to raise taxes on them.
OBAMA: And that’s why I’ve said, Charlie, that I would look at potentially exempting those who are in between.
Unexpected Love For Dick Cheney Award
I’m probably more likely to ask advice of the current president’s father than the president himself, because I think that when you look back at George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy, it was a wise foreign policy.
In how we executed the Gulf War, how we managed the transition out of the Cold War, I think is an example of how we can get bipartisan agreement.