Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Democrats Debate -- Labor Pains

So that more of the faithful could attend, last night’s Democratic debate was held in the intimate setting of Soldier Field in Chicago. This resulted in a goodly amount of yelling by candidates, as well as yelling by the crowd, many of whom were far enough away to be anonymous. This debate was the Democratic Leadership Council’s worst nightmare, with serious left-wing red meat being tossed to an audience ready to consume it. Still, the DLC’s horse in the race, Hillary Clinton, did what she had to and avoided too much damage, in spite of several episodes of booing from the crowd.
This debate did have the unveiling of the key theme of the anti-Hillary forces (although the bloggers convention over the weekend really started this ball rolling) – she’s the ultimate insider, it’s Washington insiders who write all these lousy trade deals, she takes money from the lobbyists, she isn’t going to change anything. Both Obama and Edwards hammered at this, while the others notably didn’t.
Here are the candidates and my grades for them, in the order of their polling strength (sort of):

Hillary Clinton: B+ -- Not her crowd, nor her environment, as she doesn’t sound or look good when raising her voice. Given that, she managed to come out okay, especially given her general pro-business outlook. Quote of the night: “NAFTA hurt American workers.” Mostly she blames the lack of enforcement of labor regulations by the Bush Administration, yet she did talk about revisiting it. Since NAFTA was a key part of the abysmal Clinton trade policy, it would seem to be a good jumping off point to start attacking them on it. Attacking Bill is dicey, but forcing Hillary to choose sides could be a solid tactic. Of course, Hillary and Bill will probably just lie about what their positions were, are, or will be (as she does on Iraq), so it probably wouldn’t work.

Barack Obama: A- – Home field advantage helps a bit, but he found themes which could be useful. Both he and Edwards attacked “Washington insiders” and the legislation they write. Hillary, of course, has defended lobbyists – what else can she do, her brother is one. This could be a useful, albeit demagogic, fight. It’s not like the AFL-CIO doesn’t have lobbyists. Still, “lobbyist” is a code word for big business influence and Hillary is certainly vulnerable to that charge.
His best moments were in defending his Pakistan positions. Not for what he said, or the position itself, but for the effectiveness in fighting back against Dodd, Clinton, et al. Looking tough and strong is never bad. The issues may be more complex than he makes them, but the American people prefer action to Senatorial hemming and hawing and this is all good for Barack.

Dennis Kucinich: A+ -- I know he’s not next in the pecking order, but a digression here is needed. This was a perfect place for him, as every position he has is exactly that of organized labor. More important, unlike those who might actually be the nominee, he is free to say what he thinks and to answer in absolute terms. Others may want to amend NAFTA, he wants to get out of it. WTO problems? Withdraw from it. China trade imbalances killing us while they do whatever the hell they want around the world? End their permanent MFN status. He’s listed here because he is killing John Edwards. He already makes differentiating positions on Iraq between Edwards, Obama, and Cinton impossible. He makes trade and labor differences trivial as well. It doesn’t make a difference that Edwards would be a lot tougher on trade issues than Hillary when Kucinich is the real tough guy. While some of the others were desperate up there, he was having a ball. Unfortunately for him, his performance is still irrelevant to his chances, but not to the race itself.

John Edwards: B+ -- He was strong, he was tough, he was pro labor, he attacked Hillary with “I’m not going to be on the cover of Fortune magazine” and saying that the way to change things was not to “exchange one group of insiders for another group of insiders”. He also talked about how many picket lines he has walked and said the key is “who will stand with you when it really matters.” All good stuff, but labor still isn’t endorsing him and that could be fatal.

Bill Richardson: C+ -- What’s the point? He had a good line early about lobbyists money, saying he had gotten money from unions in the past and that “I’ll continue taking your financial support” Wants future trade agreements to include labor agreements which lower wage differences – that’ll be a nice trick.

Joe Biden: A- -- The smartest guy in the stadium. Tough, knowledgable, been everywhere, done everything, wrote legislation about that 20 years ago. Pointed out that the debate over taking action in Pakistan based on reliable intelligence was moot, since the law already says to do that. Favorite phrase : “Let’s be honest about this”
On the other hand, made a clear strategic choice to attack John Edwards on the depth of his labor support. Even in the face of poor audience reaction, he wouldn’t let it go, asking how many picket lines Edwards walked in 1998 and 1999, when he wasn’t running for President. Does he think he has to destroy Edwards to get any sort of traction? He has yet to say anything bad about Hillary, so you have to wonder whether he has ulterior motives beyond this campaign.


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