The Corner

Debate Gaffes

In all the hubbub over Hillary’s meltdown on the licenses for illegals question, here is what strikes me:  How does she go out there without someone having asked her that question in a prep session?  Given her NY-Dem association, the uproar over comprehensive immigration reform, and the controversy stirred by the Spitzer plan, it seems like a pretty obvious question.  How come she wasn’t better prepared for it?

When I first came into the U.S. Attorney’s Office in NY (under Giuliani) among the first things I learned was that prosecutors were expected to argue their own cases on appeal (to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit), and that — a day or two before any such oral argument — the prosecutor had to go through a moot court prep session where he or she was grilled by three colleagues (just like you could expect to be grilled by the three-judge panel).  Your colleagues were expected to have read the briefs and come prepared to ask the tough questions.  And because they themselves were prosecutors who were used to being beaten up on by federal judges, they also readily assumed the demeanor of especially demanding (and sometimes nasty) interrogators.

Almost uniformly, those prep sessions were tougher than the actual court session.  You got asked every conceivable hard question.  Moreover, because it’s a lot tougher to dance away from a hard-driving appeals court judge than from Tim Russert, you were also forced to confront the reality that you just can’t always expect to have it both ways — you have to either be for or against, say, licenses for illegals.  When someone grills you and mocks you for trying that, you realize it’s better to pick a side and defend it as coherently as you can then to bob-and-weave (which has the unfortunate spillover effect of tainting your arguments on other issues). 

I don’t know what Sen. Clinton does to get ready for these debates, but particularly for someone who is not used to being pressed on issues and details, there is no substitute for having people around you who are not afraid to put you through your paces before the bright lights come on.

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