Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Sweet column: Clinton makes mighty try at Cleveland debate, but unlikely to knock Obama off course.


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, try as she did Tuesday night, could not throw Sen. Barack Obama off the course he is on to win the Democratic nomination.

Health care dominated much of the debate on the campus of Cleveland State University hosted by NBC's Tim Russert and Brian Williams -- almost solidly for the first 16 minutes -- and Clinton is right when she says her plan has a better chance than the proposal offered by Obama of covering more people.

Obama has always had a tougher time defending how he is for mandating insurance for kids and not adults; Clinton has called for enrolling everyone in an insurance plan as the starting point of negotiations with Congress.

And after all this time, Clinton finally found a way to explain why she is calling for a mandate: No one suggests making Social Security or Medicare coverage voluntary, insurance that is covered by payroll deductions every working person in the United States has to make. Both campaigns believe health care is a central issue, and Tuesday Clinton was aggressive in pushing back against an Obama direct mail piece on her plan alleging she was threatening wage garnishments.

But Clinton had a very steep challenge as she faces votes on March 4 in the delegate-rich states of Ohio and Texas, with smaller payloads in Rhode Island and Vermont. She needs not only to win, but needs landslides to catch up with Obama's delegate counts.

She did not help herself with what seemed like another lame joke -- I think it was supposed to be a joke -- and she should banish whoever is giving her these bad lines because it made her look small.

"Well, can I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don't mind. I -- you know, I'll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious, and if anybody saw 'Saturday Night Live,' you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow." That's a mocking reference to the softball press treatment her campaign thinks Obama has been getting -- and with some justification.

But if Obama is headed toward the nomination, he will be facing enormous pushback from Republicans, if not from presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Things will be magnified. Clinton hit him for never calling a substantive hearing on the subcommittee he chairs on Europe. Obama became chairman at the beginning of 2007, and he lamely conceded the point, saying he was busy campaigning this year.

He may not get off so easy in a general campaign; taking year off in a three-year Senate career won't be so easily explained away.


The hard question was never asked. Why does Obama flip/flop on the Iraq war? 1.2002 he voiced against the war. 2. 2004 he gave Kerry and other democrats free pass for voting for the war. 3. When asked by NYT reporter, how he would have voted if given the same info other senators had. He stated, "WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? I DON'T KNOW." Courageous or calculating. Leadership that adjust to how the political wind blows.

Barack Obama has had the kitchen sink thrown at him, throwing out his middle name in a negative way, accompanied by a picture of Obama dressed in Somali garb, at the same time being endorsed by Farrakhan -- it's called "Got-Cha" politics, which is the worst kind of politics which only tends to divide and incite fear, it's called divide and conquer and/or "Swift Boating", which in reality is an assisination of character even though it is false.

However, Obama can be of use to America by addressing the need of some to sow divisions and exploit our differences, instead of building on that which unites us, and "The world can use him too, with his reach to the Muslim nations and his middle name making it impossible for the US to walk away from one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in history. A restructuring of this overall policy is due after the demolition of the World Trade Towers. Some people think it's cool to be cynical. They deride those who show overt respect, admiration, and optimism. Those who still believe they can make a difference. Those who know they have power. This campaign has proven that cruelty is no longer desired as political style in the United States. The people now have a choice. A choice between magnifying the negatives or using the positives. I will say this. Obama has the potential to be one of the greats, but only if the people participate in molding his leadership. That's the task at hand. He, himself, invites others to recognize his faults not letting them interfere with the work. You can see how the people's support has molded him already in his quick evolution from weak debating events to the beautiful, strong, elegant, debate he delivered last night.." From: Blogger, J.M., Raging Universe.

We cannot afford to continue to alienate our allies and friends in the Middle East by insinuating that to have the name Hussein means that you are evil or are to be feared. Do we really want to Convey that? There are many good and decent people with the name Hussein in the Middle East, some of which have been our allies such as King Jordan Hussein. We cannot continue to incite hatred and hostility, with the result of no end of wars in sight. America the world is watching.

Hillary Clinton, a consummate actress, represents the old-time party politics, the politics of distort, smear, tear and division. She likes to Fight while Barack likes to Unite. Through this whole campaign, Camp Clinton has been Denounced for being Karl-Rove Republican like which she now tries to throw off on Camp Obama. We all know who has engaged in a destructive, divisive and negative campaign. After 20 debates, and over 4 years, Tim Russert finally got her to come close to apologizing about her 35-year experience Yes vote for the Iraq war. Mature individuals apologize and take responsibility for their mistakes. Mature individuals after losing a primary, apologizes to their winning opponent. America, it is about the Past (fighting, distortion and division) or the Future (uniting, goodwill and truth), that is our Choice!

Hi Lynn, I greatly appreciate your balance in this race, especially given the overall unfair treatment Hillary has gotten, especially from MSNBC.

I have to take exception, though, with your reference to Hillary's "joke" concerning SNL and the pillow. It was not remotely planned or calculated. She was mad, and rightfully so. I was thinking the EXACT SAME THING right before she said it; after 20 minutes or so of questions fired at her, it seemed like it would be Obama's turn to field a tough question, yet once again it went to her. Even when Obama got a question, it was about SOMETHING CLINTON HAD SAID OR DONE, not about him.

It seemed over the top and a continuation of MSNBC's "pile-on" on Oct. 30. If Obama's the frontrunner, why was she taking all the fire? It just didn't make sense, and one could only conclude that it was purposeful. When she got mad, I said "right on," because I was mad to. In fact, if you go back and watch the debate, you'll see the first hour focused mostly on her and what she did and would do and shouldn't do and couldn't do ....

It wasn't until an hour into the debate that Obama finally got a tough question -- on Farrakhan. Till that point, I thought it would be a 2 hour debate, like CNN's, so, I naively concluded that this would be HIS hour to take incoming from Russert and Williams. But no, there was only a half hour to go, and what did it include? -- a "gotcha" question on Russia aimed not at the foreign policy "newbie," Obama, but at Clinton! The normal construction would be: let's see if we can catch the "what does he know?" guy flat-footed, but instead, it was aimed at the "she thinks she's so smart, we'll show her" girl.

It was so transparently unfair, I don't know how people can't see it.

For an exhaustive litany of offenses aimed at Hillary, and Gore before her, you should check out You'll be shocked and appalled.

Thanks, Lynn, and keep up the great work.

Last night, in the debate, the name of Farrakhan came up. For Hillary to elaborate and show the significance of Farrakhan, would put her in the position of being negative and playing the race card. Farrakhan alone would not be a major issue. However, when Tim Russert brought up the name of Farrakhan, this open the door to a room filled with many undesirable people in Obama's life. Hillary was attempting to keep this door open in hopes that the media will introduce these people and their relationship with Obama. This is why Hillary made such a big issue of the word reject. We need to know more about senator Obama.

This morning after reading about the debate, I went to post a blog. This was not possible as so many people had made comments that the blog was closed.

100% support for Obama! From Canada:
It's a good article showing the steaks for both parties, I read it with interest because I could not hear yesterday's debate. But I've heard all previous debates and follow the media coverage thoroughly. Therefore I have to sincerely disagree with the comment above. It is reinforcing a non-justified support of a very low-class strategy of the H.R. Clinton's campaign. How industrious they can be in producing "dirty gossip" and mud, instead of focusing on their OWN WEAKNESSES! Mud and gossip does not produce strength and substance, and it will NEVER STICK to their cirrent target: Sen. Barack Obama! IT WILL COME BACK AS A BOOMERANG INTO THEIR BACKYARD!It is so transparent. The attempt to blame Clinton's straight 11 LOSSES in a row on a variety of "factors", such as institutions, media and lobbyists outside the actual candidate (Sen. H.R. Clinton) herself is bearing the traits of a marital dispute, not a political debate. actually: my opinion is that the media has been TOO GOOD ON HER, to entertain the kind of TRASH SHE IS PUTTING ON THE TABLE OF DEBATE. The media has been professional, reflecting THE FACTS. She just has to admit her losses. Face it: people do not want you, they prefer the other candidate, do not blame it on the television, on the "bad guys" in the rival camapaign, who by the way are telling the whole truth about you, take it on yourself! TRY TO UNDERSTAND WHY and what is YOUR FAULT! It's not the media who is "guilty" and SHE IS NOT A "VICTIM". This is arogant, inappropriate and distracting public attention from her real proven lack of substance as a delegate. The bully strategy is the evli strategy of the losers which she is!

Sue, it is obvious you are correct in saying that the media is protecting and coddling Obama because they want him to be President. This is the reason why Obama won't do an interview or participate in a debate on the Fox News Channel. He knows that Fox will EQUALLY ask tough questions of both candidates. Also, if you think Obama is getting a free ride from the media now, wait until the general election when he goes against McCain. BTW, I agree that Ms. Sweet is being very fair in her coverage of this election.

as An Obama supporter, I thought it was very unfair for clinton to claim she was getting the first questions. I watched with dismay as most all the first questions went to Obama in the Austin debate, ESPECIALLY the tough ones. it turned out to be 14 Clinton- 11 obama. so why was she complaining? or was she complaining. if you are happy to take the questions first, then take them.

It was clear that she was upset through most of the debate. I wonder if Clinton feels outclassed by Obama. as a viewer, it seems that Obama is a clear winner as, regardless of the tactic, he seems to always come out ahead with Clinton looking like an "honorable mention"

finally, the SNL comment was downright classless and uncalled for. it clearly hurt HRC more than it helped.

I totally agree with Sue, I think the debates first hour was 3 on 1. Hillary came through this exceptionally well! Tim Russert was on such and attack and then when after the break she was suppose to speak to rebut what Obama said. They went right back to Obama. Also butting in on her answers was very rude. I would have thought msnbc would have had a better debate. CNN beat them out.
Thanks, Lynn, I too say keep up the good work!

Leave a comment

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets


Lynn Sweet

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

Stay in touch

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 27, 2008 5:18 AM.

Complete transcript.Democratic presidential debate. Cleveland, Feb. 26, 2008. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet: In general election mode, Obama slams John McCain. "I've been paying attention, John McCain." is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.