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Sweet Column: Obama says he was a "little nervous" at Dem debate.


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), known for his soaring rhetoric, stumbled during the first Democratic debate Thursday at South Carolina State University.

"Last night I was a little nervous," Obama said at a rally in Charleston on Friday, where he filled the gym at Burke High School.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), known for his soaring rhetoric, stumbled during the first Democratic debate Thursday at South Carolina State University.

"Last night I was a little nervous," Obama said at a rally in Charleston on Friday, where he filled the gym at Burke High School.

Constrained by a 60-second limit for replies that worked against Obama's speaking style -- a very long windup to the pitch -- his tendency to generalize meant he did not directly answer some questions. Even when asked something noncontroversial, what he personally did to improve the environment, he said 3,000 campaign volunteers planted trees on Earth Day. With a prod from moderator Brian Williams, the NBC anchor, Obama added he's "been working" to install energy efficient light bulbs at home. He sounded out of touch.

Some examples:

• Obama failed to cast himself as a forceful commander in chief.

Obama was asked how he would "change the U.S. military stance overseas" if two U.S. cities were attacked by al-Qaida. After a reference to the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, he said "review how we operate in the event of not only a natural disaster, but also a terrorist attack."

Contrast that with the reply from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- her best during the 90-minute debate. "Retaliate," she said. "Focus on those who have attacked us and do everything we can to destroy them."

Obama knew he blew it because a few minutes later he added "enemies" of the U.S. "have to be hunted down."

• • Obama did not use an opening he had to reassure Jewish voters about Israel.

On Tuesday, Obama spoke to the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington. "My commitment to you is unwavering," he told them. Obama heavily courts wealthy Jewish donors and some have questions about his Muslim ties. His campaign produced a 29-page "American-Israeli Relationship Issue Packet" on his views that an Obama staff fund-raiser was handing out at the NJDC conference.

The Rezko connection

Asked at the debate to name America's three most important allies, Obama said the European Union, NATO and Japan. He added Israel at Williams' prodding, a lapse that could hurt him with Jewish voters.
• • Obama's debate claim that the Iraq war could end with "one signature" from President Bush or "16 votes," referring only to the Senate, is wrong.

Bush's expected veto of the Iraq War funding bill -- with timelines for troop withdrawals, can only be overridden by supermajorities in the Senate and the House.

• • Referring to Monday's Sun-Times story, Williams asked Obama about his "questionable ties" to slumlord Tony Rezko. Obama replied that while a state senator, "The first bill I ever passed was campaign finance reform legislation.'' He's wrong. It was not his first bill.

Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney reports that as a chief co-sponsor, Obama played an important role in passing that legislation May 22, 1998. Obama's first bill passed on his own in the state Senate required the state's community colleges to publish a directory of students with vocational and technical skills. That bill passed the Senate unanimously on March 13, 1997, and was signed by former Gov. Jim Edgar on Aug. 22, 1997.

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Obama impressed the South Carolina voters with his debate performance. He won the instant poll of S.C. voters by a wide margin. The political professionals are the ones with problem not Obama.

As I read your articles now and then I get a feeling that you are trying to put down the Senator in every way you can. I have news for you Sweety, that's going to be an immposible task to accomplish so, take my advise for what it is worth, before it drains you up GIVE IT UP sweety.

Here we go again with Lynn Sweet and her incessant pitiful attacks on Obama. I understand journalists need stories to get their paychecks but I really think Lynn Sweet picks the clumsiest and most irrelevant stuff to garner her buck. Obama is the big story now for her and shes' going to squeeze that towel to get tiny drops of a "story". Pretty sad.

The day Ms Sweet writes a positive column on Sen. Obama would be the day the earth starts rotating around the moon. I don't ever recall reading a single positive thing about Sen. Obama from Lynn Seweet. I give up on the Sun-Times.

Isn't the Senator talking about if President Bush SIGNS the bill instead of vetoing it, the war would be over by October? That's what I got out of it, and most other people...

Yes, I support Obama and think he'd make a good President, full disclosure. After reading this post I'm led to believe that he performed horribly throughout the debate, except I watched the debate and didn't come to that conclusion. I felt all the nominees did fairly well, except perhaps Gravel, with a crappy format. I guess I can trust my own eyes and ears, or your blog/paper.

Seems like a lot of nitpicking to me. As for his response to the Terrorism question: He outlined a sensible reaction based on (1) responding to the immediate emergency, and having an effective emergency response so as to not repeat some of the mistakes of Katrina, (2) consult an effective intelligence network to determine and assess other threates, (3) to "potentially" take some action to dismantle them. Now this is where he got in trouble, but think about it. If we know we are at war with Al Qaeda and are actively hunting them down, what more are we supposed to do than deal with the immediate emergency and stay on the offense with a revamped and enlarged military (Obama has outlined a plan to add 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 soldiers to the Marines). As far as calling Hillary's answer her shining moment, it is tempting to blindly say retaliate, but it really offers us no description of what actions she wanted to take or who we would be retaliating against. Obama's answer was much more specific and offered an actual plan rather than the neat soundbite without depth "Retaliate" from Sen. Clinton.

He won both the post-debate polls. The pundits seem to think he lost, but the people seem to think he won.

And Hillary's "retaliate" answer was the worst of the evening. Her answer couldn't have sounded more like a George W. Bush quote if she had broken out her phony southern accent just for the occasion. She is saying that her first, last, and only response to a terrorist attack would be to start looking for some country to attack in "retaliation." That's just a dumb way of looking at the whole horrible possibility. That's "Bushthink."

And this after her husband has been working so hard lately to undefine her as the pro-war candidate. With that answer Hillary Clinton has solidified her position as the pro-war Democratic candidate.

I am an Obama supporter and I think Lynn Sweet raised some very valid points. And as the campaign continues Obama is going to have to hone his skills. Every detail is going to be scrutinize. He was not prepared and it showed. People are taking him serious. Lynn is right to point to his inconsistencies. The people around him have to get it right. He is not going to when the Presidency just because he is a great speakers. I say they stop campaigning for about a month, take the time to come up with a real plan, a health care plan, an economic plan, a plan for Iraq. Details, details.

Barack Obama may make minor mistakes with statistics and certain history, but that doesn't discount his ability to make important strategic decisions when our well being and way of life truly depends upon it. Obama has great vision as a leader as he proved back in 2002 when voted against the Iraq war. He doesn't need to make a grave mistake before seeing the error of an undiscipline decision that could cost lives of the love ones who voted him in as head of an important office. It's time we see that the old way of doing things in government is dead along with bigotry and division. Obama represents a new era in politics. He is the Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong of politicians. After elected president he will make the world stand up and take notice, and all other present leaders and leaders to be will have to change their game to keep up. So get out from in front of the train because it won't be derailed. You are a writer with potential and talent to be special, don't define your career trying to take down an icon, but instead step outside the box and report not the race, sex, color, creed or religion of a person, but the heart and vision of a great leader we so desperately need right now.

Lynn, I think you are much too hard on Obama. I didn't think he was as good as he can be, but I still felt he looked poised and Presidential. I do agree that the format did not suit him.

Some of your comments are absurdly nit-picky. You feel a need to point out that campaign finance reform was the second rather than the first bill he passed. Give us a break. Are you unwilling to allow him any rhetorical liscense? There is a difference between fact checking and nit picking. I believe you are way over into the nit-pick side.

It is interesting to read this review of Obama in the SC Debate, because I researched him and found that most of the things he alleges or claims never came to fruition, and he didn't do much for his own state. If he was responsible in any way for the Rezko money that never helped upgrade those buildings (10 of which were in his district), that's pretty telling. He hasn't gotten anything of any weight through the senate for his state (or anyone for that matter with the exception of the Congo funding) and I think he is still rated 88th of 100 in the Senate. Nerveous or not - forgetful even - lots of doublespeak and excuses. Obama is a mirage at this point. Good article. Thanks.

Obama is big enough and humble enough to admitt that he may have been nervous. I am not much impressed by Hillary's answer of retalliation - see what it's done for us in Iraq. Obama is thoughtful and 2 word responses don't work for him - and neither should they work for our foreign policy. We need well thought-out plans; not retaliation for the sake of retaliation.

The relevant issue for me is that the entire presidential campaign process of dozens of people raising money for themselves is problematic. 20 people raise millions of dollars where consortial administrations like in Switzerland with cantons might be favorable. I do not recall if there is a Swiss president. Parliamentary politics could be more efficient to elect. 10 people collect and those ten vote. I just am concerned about waste of money.

There is also the issue of when local Cook County sheriffs threaten jail for saying something like "the County profits from missile sales or the replacement of missiles and helicopters" that that could be a violation of the Geneva Convention.Similar to the Swiss profiting from the Holocaust, Cook County profits from unworthy things like alcohol associated with 12,000 deaths and tobacco associated with 3,000 deaths and missile sales associated with over 10,000 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some Cook County staff say things like "must submit to all shots necessary" when this concern is expressed. Is that taking a civilian traumatized by the war and humiliating them and treating them as hostage? There is a question whether or not saying one must submit to all shots is in fact a war crime. Is saying that our County profits from soldier's deaths a reason to threaten jail or submit to all necessary shots? Is threatening jail, for being traumatized by the fact that when we replace a fallen helicopter it benefits the County coffers, a war crime or a Geneva Convention violation?

Lynn - I agree with the previous two posters that you seem to be reaching a bit with your criticism of Obama. It would be easy to pick apart minor inconsistencies in the responses of all 8 of the candidates. What you call "stumbling", the majority of debate viewers called a winner. Looks like you're quickly becoming the one who is "out of touch"......

Lynn, I know you are trying to earn your chops as a tough reporter. You were given this incredible assignment of covering the most energizing presidential candidate in decades. I hope it brings you great joy but you have to get on the scale for getting carried away IMHO. "Stumbled?" maybe, "blew it?" I hardly think so and this is becoming a trend for you. The listing of your ship is visible from farther and farther away.

Ms Sweet, Why do you fail to mention that Hillary failed utterly to even TRY to answer the first question of the evening. When asked if she concurred with Senator Reids remark that the war was lost, she never answered the question. What would be the first thing to do after an attack on two major American cities, knowing that Al Quaeda was responsible? Obama was exactly right, we would insure the first response was on course. Being in a perpetual state of war against Al Quaeda we must assume that if we knew where they were we would have attacked them the day before they attacked us. Hillary's answer was shallow, ineffective and just stupid. Why do you find it impossible to at least be impartial towards Obama? Your politics are so thinly veiled as to cost you any shred of credibility you may have.

Hi, I follow your blog but have never commented before. I find your criticisms of Senator Obama tiresome. The answer that Hillary gave when asked how she would respond to an attack by Al Queda was absurd, yet it earned praise from you. I don't get it. If the USA knew where Al Queda was to retaliate against why had we not killed or captured them before they struck? Hillary's respons that she would retaliate showed a total lack of understanding. Senator Obama was spot on correct in his response. You really need to show some objectivity. I don't know why you dislike Obama so much, or perhaps you are blinded by your desire to see a woman president. Whatever it is, you look pretty silly when you praise dumb answers.

I think all of these candidates could stand to improve the entertainment value of message. That's why I'm supporting the Jay Leno for President campaign. It's about time we got someone into office who really knows how to make American voters laugh.

Ms. Sweet:

For those of us who have been paying attention since the start of your "pot shots" at Obama (even before he became a U.S. Senator), your almost daily attacks--in print and on-line--have grown to provoke little more than a laugh and wonderment at when exactly you lost all objectivity as a journalist when it comes to Mr. Obama. However, your column in Sunday's Sun-Times hits an all-time low.

As you're no doubt aware, you elected to only partially quote, completely out of context, Obama's comment that he "was a little nervous" at last week's debate. In an incredibly disingenuous and potentially hurtful low blow, you have attempted to give the casual reader the false impression that Obama was indicating that he was nervous merely being in a presidential debate. How damaging to a presidential candidate! How reckless of you! As you know, Senator Obama merely quipped that he was "nervous" given the particular format that only gave him 60 seconds to answer questions, joking that it takes him 60 seconds to clear his throat.

Further, while you're certainly entitled to your personal opinion about his debate performance, to announce in the Sunday paper that he "stumbles" and "comes across as out of touch" clearly reflects your personal animosity seeping into your "journalism," as it always seems to when it comes to Senator Obama. As I'm also sure you know, in the only known poll of debate watchers taken in South Carolina just after the debate, Obama was declared the clear "winner" of the debate. Too bad the casual readers of his hometown newspaper have no knowledge of these poll results, or at the very least the general perception that he performed well. Instead, you have elected to spread the unbalanced message that he was "nervous, " "stumbled" and "out of touch."

I'm sure you will continue to do your job as you see fit, but it really is sad to see you use our hometown newspaper in an apparent effort to derail Senator Obama's historic candidacy at every turn. Here's hoping you don't succeed.

Most of you commentors are a sad bunch. You obviously have not read Lynn Sweet's columns although you claim to have. All Lynn Sweet used to do was swoon over Obama. Don't you remember how she wished she could have followed him into the locker room...? Or any other number of boot licking statements??- so much so the national media laughed at her? Now she is giving more of a fair outlook on all the liberals instead of just one, and all you Obama feigns are crying foul. I think you all need to take a deep breath and understand Obama, although a nice guy, is not the second coming. Also, take a quick look through Sweet's past columns and you will see her infatuation with him.

Lynn, these people need to understand that your observations are called "vetting" a candidate. If Obama stumbles or is confused, we need to know it. If he doesn't have the background knowledge on an issue, he should admit it and not try to cover it up. After all, he may in fact become the Leader of the free world. We need to know if he has the right stuff to do the job. I don't consider your reporting to be hyper-critical of Obama. I thought it was objective. The bloggers here need to understand that for everyone of them that can't see past the charisma of Obama, there are several others that are looking objectively at the candidates. He doesn't deserve a "pass" on his mistakes nor does any other candidate. By the way, Raymond, Obama wasn't in the U.S. Senate to vote against the Iraq war in 2002. Also, I expect a better answer about responding to a terrorist attack in one of our cities than "We would have to look at our options." This guy doesn't have a clue.

Valid points, R.L.. But I think you probably meant to direct your comment on his not being in the Senate to vote on the war at Chiron, not Raymond. You and Raymond (and me, except for the clueless part) share similar sentiments.

I stand corrected on the reference to Chiron, Bigdawg. Perhaps I was too demeaning when I said clueless. I should have said inexperienced.

I like Obama. He is very intelligent and well suited and qualified for the position as US President. I am not impressed with Hillary Clinton's response to retaliate.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 29, 2007 7:08 AM.

Obama speech to the California Democratic Party convention. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: S.C. visit by Obama, Clinton brings focus on Orangeburg massacre. is the next entry in this blog.

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