Politics & Policy

Sunday Night in New Hampshire

The Dems debate.

National Review Online asked a group of commentators who sacrificed their Sunday night to CNN and the Democratic presidential lineup to comment on the debate.

Debra Burlingame

Hillary Clinton’s difficult predicament on the war in Iraq was painfully evident. Now we learn that prior to her vote to authorize the war she was “thoroughly briefed” by the DOD, the CIA, outside experts, and “members of the previous administration.” It was a sincere vote, she said, based on her belief that the president would send the weapons inspectors back in to determine “once and for all” whether Saddam had WMDs. Bush misled her and everyone else, she said, because he had no intention of allowing the inspectors to “finish their job.” If he had, said Sen. Clinton, “we would have known that Saddam did not have WMD and we would not have invaded Iraq.”

Presumably, one of those who thoroughly briefed Mrs. Clinton was her own husband, who on December 16, 1998, went on national television to announce the launch of a massive military attack on Iraq after the breakdown of the inspections process, declaring that, “even if the inspectors could stay in Iraq, their work would be a sham.” Certainly Mrs. Clinton remembers that her husband called the inspections failure “a clear and present danger” to the stability of the Middle East and the safety of the world. “[I]f Saddam can cripple the weapons inspection system and get away with it,” said President Clinton, “he would conclude that the international community — led by the United States — has simply lost its will.” The attack had to be launched immediately because a delay of even a few days would allow Saddam to hide, destroy or move his stockpiles.

Whether or not her strained explanation for her Iraq vote gets her safely through primary season, pointing to the previous administration for authority on national-security issues could ultimately be a big mistake.

– Debra Burlingame is sister of Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11/01. She founded www.911familiesforamerica.org.

John Hood

Most Americans want the Iraq war to be over. Who doesn’t? They are depressed by the loss of life and frustrated at all the mixed signals, false starts, and strategic blunders. But politicians and commentators who project their own hard-Left sentiments into the survey data are making a blunder of their own, and if most American voters had been watching the Democratic debate Sunday night, I think they would have been shocked at the extent to which most of the candidates seem desperate to win the chance to lead an ignominious retreat. That won’t be any more popular than Bush’s war strategy is. Only Joe Biden sounded like a grown-up, a role previously filled by Hillary Clinton — but no longer, thanks to her continued weakness among the Democratic base.

Of course, most American voters weren’t watching Sunday night. Virtually no undecideds were. This was really a media event for Democratic donors and online activists, and my guess would be that the aggressive John Edwards fed their hunger best and gained the most. Barack Obama is actually their first love, for the sheer concept of Mr. Obama, but again seemed clumsy and unsure of himself at times. He’s just not ready for this. As for Bill Richardson, I think he was replaced by a slightly tipsy doppelganger. Chris Dodd impressed. Dennis Kucinich made me giggle. The Flintstones character on the end, Clark Gravel or some such, provided me with helpful breaks from the action to chase down mischievous Hood children.

The good news for Democrats is that only hard-line Democrats and junkies were watching.

– John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

Terence P. Jeffrey

The cable networks could do America a great favor by airing Democratic presidential debates every week.

Better yet, Dennis Kucinich should persuade the Democratic Congress to deny funding to any federal program in fiscal 2008 (other than, say, the Peace Corps, Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, midnight basketball, universal pre-school, and a new socialized-medicine program, etc., etc., etc.) unless President Bush signs an executive order commanding Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales to personally water-board at Guantanamo Bay every American who Barack Obama determines has an annual income of less than $250,000 and who fails to listen religiously to each and every word of the weekly Democratic debate.

CNN’s debate demonstrated there is at least one place where big government could have a salutary impact: Make people actually listen to these Democrats.

If not for the Iraq war, none of them would have any chance in 2008.

Terry Jeffrey is editor-at-large of Human Events.

Yuval Levin

You know you’re in trouble when Joe Biden starts to sound good. And in Sunday night’s debate, the Democrats showed they are indeed in trouble. Building up to an election that should offer them a truly exceptional opportunity for victory, they have put up a very weak lineup, filled with senators and therefore with hot air.

Americans almost never elect their presidents out of the Senate. Just about every modern presidential election has seen sitting senators vie for the White House, but only two of our presidents — Kennedy and Harding — have managed to be elected directly from the Senate. We often say the public seeks executive experience. But more likely what voters really look for is something of an executive temperament: a simplicity and clarity of purpose, and some sense of how to manage action. The Senate trains its members in almost precisely the opposite set of skills, and it shows.

Given all this, Bill Richardson should be the strongest candidate on a Democratic debate stage: governor, former U.N. representative, former Cabinet members, former member of Congress. But Richardson may well have been the least impressive debater last night.

The second strongest candidate should be Hillary Clinton. She has no executive experience, but she should have a good sense of what a president sounds like. Last night was not a strong performance for her, but she made no significant errors, and for the front-runner, that’s a successful debate.

The other two top-tier candidates — Edwards and Obama — are both empty suits that seem to grow emptier and emptier. They showed an appalling lack of seriousness regarding the country’s security. Quite apart from having no solutions to offer, they offered no evidence that they understand we are at war with a determined enemy.

Senator Biden — while he did nothing to endanger his title as the king of hot air — showed now and then that he did understand the situation we are in, and that George W. Bush did not cause it. Biden won the debate, and Hillary was not far behind. She will be a formidable candidate next year, and no Republican candidate should imagine otherwise.

But at least so far in this early campaign season, the Republican debates have shown a much more serious, responsible, and seasoned cast of front-runners than the Democrats. That will offer Republicans a real advantage when the public starts paying attention next year. And they’ll need it.

Yuval Levin is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Angela McGlowan

Domestic issues such as the economy, health care, energy, education, and immigration are of concern to voters. All of these issues were discussed during the CNN Democrat debate, but the war in Iraq and foreign diplomacy clearly dominated the forum. Each candidate worked diligently to distinguish themselves from one another but all were in concert in blaming the president for the war. Blame the president for the problems, but no candidate had clear solutions.

Americans are anxious for a leader that will end the partisan infighting in Washington. They are in search of a steady leader that will provide solutions in uncertain times and not just more of the same rhetoric. Americans are concerned about national security, but no candidate addressed how they as president would make Americans feel more secure within our borders.

As one candidate stated, “the differences among us are minor.” I agree. There was no true winner. This debate will have little impact on poll numbers. As for the race to the White House, Americans saw carnival bumper cars not the Daytona 500 with an obvious winner at the finish line.

– Angela McGlowan, author of the new book Bamboozled, is founder and president of Political Strategies and Insights and a Fox News analyst.

John J. Pitney Jr.

Television viewers take cues from the reactions of studio audiences. That’s why situation comedies have laugh tracks. Last night’s debate would have left a less favorable impression if different people had filled the hall.

Take Senator Edwards’s assertion that the war on terror is just “a bumper sticker.” Senator Clinton politely disagreed, but her response fell short of a defining moment. Imagine the groans that Edwards would have gotten from veterans of the Afghanistan conflict.

Had the debate taken place near the southern border, other comments would have drawn laughs.

Senator Biden, who was coherent for much of the night, said that he voted for a border fence because it would stop drugs, not people. (I’m still trying to figure out what such a fence would look like.)

In defending his opposition to English as an official language, Senator Obama said that everybody living in America would learn the language anyway. Rubbish. The 2000 census found 4.4 million households where no one spoke English very well. That came to nearly 12 million people, and there is little doubt that the number has gone way up.

Catcalls are rude, but last night, they might have been revealing.

– John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College

NR SymposiumNational Review symposia are discussions featuring contributors to and friends of the magazine.


The Latest