Friday, November 16, 2007

What Didn't Happen in Vegas

Last night it took a University of Nevada Las Vegas student having a Farai Chideya moment to confirm that those who do remember history are also doomed to repeat it. But rather than ask about boxers or briefs, the question posed by Maria Parra Sandoval to Hillary Clinton had to do more with a preference of diamonds versus pearls. (Seeing a perfect opportunity to straddle, Hillary said she would want both.) Nevertheless, it provided a memorable ending to a debate that was short on such moments. Except for the first 10 minutes, the debate was largely inert, having collapsed of the weight of its own expectations.

But what also collapsed last evening was any perception that Ms. Clinton's rivals would be able to overtake her, or even slow her momentum towards her party's nomination. While Barack Obama and John Edwards were able to land some glancing blows, Clinton's deft use of both the gender card and the party unifier card allowed her to bob and weave until her opponents ran out of steam. This is ultimately bad for the Democrats; on the issues, she remains neither fish nor fowl, although she was less wobbly than on her last outing.

While Hillary's natural evasiveness would seem a blessing during the primary season, as much will prove to be a curse during the general election, in that it continues to reinforce the perception that she is more concerned about falling into "a Republican trap" that selling herself and her plans for America's future. Ms. Clinton has cause to be concerned about revealing the breadth and depth of her schemes. The 2006 mid-term elections aside, there is nothing that would lead a reasonable observer to believe that voters desire either an overtaxed and over-regulated America at home or a timid, insecure America on the world stage.

That is true at least of the American political mainstream. But the audience that swelled Cox Pavilion last evening was hardly the mainstream, with more than a few of them from lunatic fringe that has pushed previous Democratic presidential candidates off a cliff. The debate's first audience question was from a Catherine Jackson, the mother of a Marine who has served three tours of duty in Iraq. For her part, Jackson is an anti-war activist whose exploits have been documented in the May 18, 2007 edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In the Review-Journal's reporting, Jackson was quoted as saying, "Enough is enough. We need to bring our troops home."

Hers is in no wise a minority sentiment, but the fact that she couples her opposition to the Iraq War with a bent against preemption of Iran's nuclear aspirations speaks to the existence of a sensibility within liberalism that is not so much anti-war as it is against the use of U.S. military force. This is somewhat evident from the results of a recent Gallup
; it seems that while 26 percent of Democrats saw Iran as the greatest threat to world stability (versus 50 percent of Republicans) 11 percent of Democrats saw the U.S. as the greatest threat - a larger percentage than the 8 percent of Democrats who chose North Korea.

As much as that poll represents the Democrat's base, it also represents their dilemma. How do they motivate the anti-war, anti-U.S. component of their base without alienating centrist Democrats, moderate Republicans or undecideds. In that they have been unable to get the balance right in the past, there is nothing to suggest that they will get it right in 2008. Last night's debate confirmed that they have no intention of seriously trying.

Four More Years!

Correction: This post incorrectly implied that Farai Chideya asked Bill Clinton the infamous "boxers or briefs" question. In fact, it was Laetitia Thompson
who inquired about undergarment preferences during a 1994 Rock the Vote event on MTV. We regret this error and any inconvenience it may have caused.

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