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Sweet column: Myrtle Beach brawl. Democratic debate. Clinton, Edwards pummel Obama on present votes. Clinton raises Sun-Times report on Obama and indicted Rezko's slum holdings.


MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton brawled Monday night during a tension-filled debate here in advance of Saturday's South Carolina primary, where John Edwards joined with Clinton in pummeling Obama about his present votes while a state senator in Illinois.

In the most bitter, personal, finger-wagging clash yet between Obama and Clinton in the nearly yearlong presidential campaign, Obama for the first time slammed Clinton as a one-time "corporate lawyer" who served on Wal-Mart's board while he was working as an organizer on the streets of Chicago.

Obama brought up Clinton's tenure on Wal-Mart - many Democratic activists consider the retail giant anti-labor - in the context of defending comments he made about former President Ronald Reagan being a transformative figure who lured Democrats into the GOP during an interview with a Nevada newspaper.

That opened the door for Clinton to hurl back that while she was "fighting against" Reagan's "ideas," Obama was "practicing law and representing your contributor, [Tony] Rezko in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago."

Clinton's reference was to a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that revealed legal work Obama did for a major political patron, Rezko, currently facing trial on federal fraud charges. Obama took campaign donations from Rezko even as Rezko's low-income housing empire was collapsing, leaving many African-American families in buildings with problems," the Sun-Times reported. Obama replied that he did only about five hours of work for Rezko, and Clinton did not bring it up again.

Clinton first and then, unexpectedly, Edwards, ganged up on Obama over some 130 present votes he took as a state senator. Clinton has been dogging Obama on those votes from Iowa through New Hampshire and Nevada.

"Sen. Obama, it's hard to have a straight-up debate with you because you never take responsibility for any vote," Clinton said, earning boos from the audience. "That's not yes, that's not no, that's maybe," Clinton said.

Turning to Obama, Edwards said it was "important" whether "you are willing to take hard positions . . . what I didn't hear was an explanation.''

"In Illinois, often times you vote present in order to indicate you had problems with a bill that otherwise you might be willing to vote for," Obama said.

The fireworks came in a debate co-sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute on the national holiday celebrating the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a state where race is likely to be a factor and half the primary vote is expected to be African-American.

Obama is heading into the South Carolina primary as a favorite and Clinton, already looking ahead to the Feb. 5 "Super Tuesday" contests, was going to other states after the debate, to return to the Palmetto State on Thursday night.

For a short time in the two-hour encounter between Obama, the first viable African-American contender; Clinton, the first viable female and Edwards the white male, things cooled off when the discussion turned to race.

Noting that former President Bill Clinton is often called the "first black president," Obama was asked if he shared that opinion.

First, said Obama, he would have to investigate Bill Clinton's "dance abilities" to more accurately judge "if he is a brother." Clinton said that could be arranged.


Well the gloves certainly did come off yesterday as you reported and maybe that cleared the air once and for all. However, many questions were raised that were valid. John Edwards did his best to keep all of the candidates on track. You may disagree with both Senators Clinton and Edwards on their records and votes. It is very easy to point fingers at their votes because they actually have recorded yes or no votes. But I have to agree with both of them, Senator Obama's recorded "present votes" and lack of a track record on many issues make it very hard to determine his positions. Additionally, he does become agitated when questioned about his own votes or lack thereof. He can dish out the questions but takes offense when he is taken to task. I don't think that is "picking" on Senator Obama; I think that is holding him responsible and accountable.

Also, he failed to fully answer questions. In fact, at one point, he told Wolf Blitzer to go to Senator Edwards.

I understand Senator Obama's frustration with former President Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton has his record as a former president and is the spouse of a presidential candidate. It is a very awkward and untested situation for all. When Michelle Obama says things about her husband and against the other candidates nobody questions her. But if Bill Clinton says something, people want him reeled in. Michelle Obama a few months ago said that if you can't run your own house you shouldn't be in the White House. Michelle Obama better be careful because you do not know what living in the White House can do to you, your spouse, and your children. You should never speak as an example of something you know nothing about.

Hopefully, the candidates will now be able to move on and discuss what people want to know about them.

"Fighting against Reagans' ideas."

Well, that's catchie.

Notice: Not one will define the Reagan ideas against which they so gallantly fight.

Shadow boxing, anyone.

Obama pointed out the law firm's client was actually a church, and the church was working with Rezko. So, that's one step removed anyway.

As for the 'present' voting, Hillary attacked but Edwards asked for an explanation from Obama (a great opening to explain this is how you send a bill back for corrections, but Obama didn't take full advantage of it). Reaction to Hillary: eeewww. Reaction to Edwards: this is how you disagree without being disagreeable.

Obama and Edwards looked like the responsible adults at the debate. Hillary looked like a leftover from the Karl Rove spin generation. The more I see her in action, the more I understand the visceral dislike some people have for her. I can't imagine anyone being able to work with her unless they just gave up and agreed with her on everything.

The way Sen Obama tried to spin his involvement with Rezko was disgusting. He didn't just do 5 hours of work on his projects he had been friends with him for years, he wrote letters of support on his behalf to city hall, Rezko contributed thousands to his campaign and helped raise millions for him. Sen Obama appointed Rezko to serve on his U.S. Senate campaign finance committee, Rezko helped him buy a house.

How he gets away with such duplicity is beyond me.

I actually enjoyed the debate format more than any other I have seen , and I have seen most - both Democrats and Republican. In the past debates, the candidates seemed to just pontificate their positions without really being challanged if their past actions were consistant with what they were then saying. I realize that, according to the pundents, the bickering was demeening to all the participants but I disagree. First I got to see how the candidates reacted under fire and how they defended their past actions. Nothing gets to the core more quickly than a healthy challange. Second, I think in future debates, the candidates will be much more careful making claims that they can not back up and finally, hopefully Bill and Hillary will not be to eager to do their good guy/bad guy attact/ deny responsibility for misleading to out and out prefabrication routine. Edwards seemed to be the only adult up there but then again, I gather that he is not considered a serious candidate anymore so he might not be deemed worthy of an attact from the other two candidates

I really enjoyed the debates. I know that Obama did an excellent job answering the attacks on his record, and other comments. I think if people listen or better yet go to cnn and print out each persons comments, you will see and read actually what each candidate had to say.

It is hard to answer an accussation when before you can answer the person that ask the question begans to talk over you so as to keep you from answering. HC and JE already know the answer to their questions, they are only throwing out accussations, sound bites, so that it will leave doubt in the minds of people who don't have time to research.

Political candidates should be fined each and every time they intentionally distort an opponent's records and held accountable for this kind of unethical behavior and slander. Example, Hillary's recent statement she made on Meet the Press in which she said: "Sen. Obama's chief strategist accuses me of playing a role in Benazir Bhutto's assassination.'' When in actuality David Axelrod never made such an accusation. He said former Prime Minister Bhutto's death will ''call into issue the judgment'' of ''taking the eye off the ball and making the wrong judgment in going into Iraq.'' That statement of her's is Outrageous and potentially Slanderous! After all, most of us teach our children to play fair -- not to lie, cheat and steal! The leaders we elect to office should be held to a higher standard and should be people of principal, high moral character, honest and forthright.

Second: There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. Unfortunately, Senator Obama had no choice other than to diplomatically confront the Clintons on their lies and misstatements. He cannot and could not allow them to paint a picture of him that is NOT TRUE. The Clintons' tactics are old time party politics and should be a thing of the past as we move towards the 21st Century, towards cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner politics, towards a more holistic way of living. It is a greater duty and in the best interest of the country for Barack Obama to continue to stay positive and hopeful while attempting to clear his record from these misstatements -- as he continues to try to bring this country together and lift it up from fear and a distrust of one another -- and to continue to show the American people and the world there is another way to run for office other than smear and fear and tearing your opponent down with lies and slander -- Swiftboating! That is why Obama and Huckabee are so appealing. They are authentic and each in their own way are trying to lead the Americans away from dirty campaigning, lies and tricks. How can we as a country be blessed and be a beacon of light to others after all that ugly and dirty fighting (lies, distortions and slander) we can't be. There is a positive way -- honorable way to fight with dignity, honesty and truth and a dirty way to fight that is unethical and slanderous and without dignity.

And too, we have to ask ourselves as a people, why do we allow this unethical and negative way of campaigning to be acceptable and then reward this kind of behavior, with one of the highest offices in the land?

Nancy- Unless your last name is Reagan, I don't think you know what your talking about either. So, when you say 'You should never speak as an example of something you know nothing about', how do you know so much about white house living to give advice to Michelle Obama?!?!

Hi Mark,

Please don't mistake me for a Reagan! LOL

I know as much as Michelle Obama, nothing! That is my point! For her to lecture Hillary Clinton about her years in the White House is very unkind. If she wants to expound on her husband's voting record and policies then that is fine. If Michelle Obama's husband is elected President, the most powerful office in the world, the Obama family's environment will totally change. They will constantly be in the spotlight and held to very high standards.

From what I read about Jackie Kennedy, it is very hard to keep a normal life especially with very young children. Betty Ford was another first lady who definitely knew about the shortcomings of living life in the White House, especially with teenagers.

So for Michelle Obama to judge another first lady, when she has not not walked in their shoes, is very ungracious and a cheap shot!

Remember as young people we thought we knew everything and our parents knew nothing. However,the older we get the wiser our parents become. Well, maybe Mrs. Obama should look at the lives of the former first ladies, before she holds herself up as an example and learn from their example and mistakes.

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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 January 22, 2008 6:30 AM.

Sweet: Acrimony in Myrtle Beach. Democrats debate. Complete transcript. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet: Tuesday storylines. Obama-Clinton sniping continues. Obama meets up with woman who inspired "Fired Up! Ready to Go! is the next entry in this blog.

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