It just looks bad - eight men versus one woman in the MSNBC Debate on Hillary Clinton tonight. It just looks bad. The strange, manic, almost desperate set-up by Tim Russert and Brian Williams. The scripted, agreed-in-advance questions (wink, wink) all about Clinton, little green softballs to the other Democratic candidates. They've all bought into it. The one topic of the evening? Hillary Clinton.
Sure, other front-runners have faced the increased scrutiny as they broke away in the polls. But I can't remember a debate where the front-runner was literally the topic, where there was a silent agreement among eight men to go after one person with such a single-mindedness. The skin-crawl factor was high.
The fix was in, of course. It's very obvious that the Edwards and Obama campaigns colluded with the "newsmen" on how this debate would go down; hell, they did it through the press, on the front page of The New York Times and in the crossfire on Hardball (wait, is that a mixed metaphor for talking heads?).
And then there's the self-respect factor. How can accomplished men like Obama and Edwards buy into the theme, as if their very candidacies are mere marginalities to Clinton's existence - as if they exist only to provide cable TV rebuttal to her inevitability, like extras in some made-for-television war flick, with their issues and positions just prop cudgels. Yuck.
Then there's this: she stood in well, and dominated. The strange and slimy format only made a strong candidate stronger. Still, the Democrats need shower.
UPDATE: Taylor Marsh calls it the pre-planned mugging it was, and suggests Clinton got immigration right (though perhaps clumsily) with regards to Congressional inaction. And she took level aim at colluder-in-chief Tim Russert:
Russert's goal was to provide the headlines the media was salivating to see. He intended to diminish and discredit Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, using her former president husband Bill Clinton to help do the job, which included a document waving drama that was all for show. I'd say Russert has a problem with a woman being president, but that can't be the case. Nah, he was just doing his job.
In a column headlined "Ganging Up," WaPo's Howard Kurtz accused the media and moderator of scripting an attack on Senator Clinton - and chastised Obama and Edwards for getting sucked in:
Barack Obama was getting all kinds of advice from pundits and bloggers heading into last night's Brian Williams/Tim Russert debate, and the gist of it is:
Attack Hillary. Slam her. Beat her. Whack her with a frying pan. Kick her. Whip her. You do want to be president, don't you?
Commentators are geniuses, as we all know, and much smarter than campaign managers. So they must be right about this. Of course, if it backfires, and Obama is seen as abandoning his high-road appeal and becoming just another attack-dog pol, they will be the first to criticize him for that, too.
The Hill's Peter Fenn - no Hillary fan - agrees the mugging only elevated Clinton:
Well, at least the guys didn’t put a “Kick Me” sign on Hillary’s back. In fact, they probably did her a favor. Undoubtedly, many will feel she is being victimized. Again. This time it’s by the yapping from the other members of her pack, who, in the process, have appointed her the Alpha Female.
This is in spite of the fact that her answers to difficult questions are evasive and never off the scripted message, and that some of her Senate votes are highly questionable, along with public and private statements that seem to be inconsistent and expedient.
But when these questions come from opponents from her party who have one main theme — “Get Hillary” — they simply elevate her and lower them.
And from the always-entertaining Daily Howler:
...in fact, the optics were pitiful. It was sad to see that Obama and Edwards would take part in such a Salem witch-dunk; of all the boys who stood on the stage, only Richardson had the decency to announce that he wouldn’t be part of it. (God bless the occasional man who stands up and says he won’t do this.)... At any rate, the “men” did go after Clinton last night—holding hands like blubbering babies, looking like frightened, wet-legged boys. Brian and Tim and Barack and John learned an inspiring lesson last night—if the four hold hands and help each other, they can work up their courage to dunk the vile witch.
From Real Clear Politics blogger Jay Cost, a conservative:
In the first two segments, I counted thirty-three questions. Twenty-two of them were designed to facilitate either another candidate attacking Hillary Clinton, or Clinton responding to attacks (either from another candidate or from Russert). Indeed, all of the major subjects were structured around attacks on Clinton....Afterwards, I could only stomach so much post-debate "analysis." Before I had to walk away from the TV to find the Tums, I watched in amazement as Chris Matthews interviewed Joe Biden and Chris Dodd - and talked about nothing more than Hillary Clinton.
UPDATE II: One more point. When John Cole and Jane Hamsher agree with you (and you've tangled with both of 'em before - and man, they're tough street fighters) you know you've tapped a vein of the good stuff. First Jane:
The hammering she took from her competitors last night in the debate is not available to her as a means of fighting back. The Mighty Wurlitzer would instantly seize the opportunity to cast her as “cold” and “hostile,” it would leap into the main stream media and that would be that. Her opponents took advantage of that fact. As scarecrow noted this morning, it wasn’t a particularly high water mark in the race. And yet, she’s the one who had the courage to try to defend Eliot Spitzer last night (and more forcefully today), despite the fact that he’s politically toxic at the moment and she knew she’d only take shit for it. Her opponents decided to seize the opportunity to attack her rather than defend Spitzer, and now the media is circling and calling her “shrill.”
And now Mr. Cole, a conservative who (we learned) has formally renounced the Republican Party for a Democratic registration (good on him):
I have only been a Democrat for just a few hours, and already I feel the need to defend Hillary. Brace yourselves....I understand the need for the candidates to put pressure on Clinton, and believe me, I am one of the foremost believers that Hillary will say or do anything to get elected. But in this case, the pressure Dodd and Obama are putting on Clinton is not only unfair, it is simplistic and stupid and plays right into the narrative the idiots in the media love to tell (and I can guarantee they will)....the Democrats were too overzealous in their attacks on Hillary. The simple fact of the matter is there is no good answer to the mess of illegal immigration, Spitzer is trying to do something, anything, to gain some order, and Hillary may not like it (I certainly don’t), but recognizes the value in what he is attempting to do. That isn’t double-talk or flip-flopping. It is called dealing with reality. And if you have a better idea to deal with Spitzer’s problem, by all means, spit it up.