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An Elegy, a Controversy, and the New Russian Leader

By Alec MacGillis
CLEVELAND -- Last week, many viewers detected a valedictory tone in Hillary Clinton's gracious final remarks in her debate with Barack Obama in Texas. Tonight, it was not hard to detect a different sort of summarizing in the closing comments of Obama, who appeared to sense that he had, in surviving his 20th encounter with a fearsome debater, taken one step closer to his party's nomination.

VIDEO | Candidates Field Tough Questions

"One thing I am absolutely clear about is that Senator Clinton has campaigned magnificently and is an outstanding public servant," Obama said of the person who just a few days ago had declared "shame" upon him for sending some critical campaign mailers.

Should tonight's debate in fact turn out to be the final one of the 2008 Democratic primaries, it was perhaps fitting that the MSNBC forum also featured some of Clinton's strongest comments in lamenting her 2002 vote for authorizing the use of force in Iraq, the vote that she has never entirely been able to shake. Clinton cited that vote as her one action in public service that she would most like to have back. "Although my vote was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again," she said. "I regret deeply that the president waged preemptive war in Iraq."

The second half of the debate also included an unusual exchange about an issue that is sure to continue to dog Obama in the general election, should he be the nominee: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's recent announcement of his support for Obama. Obama said that he has consistently denounced Farrakhan's anti-Semitic stands but, challenged by debate moderator Tim Russert, said there was nothing more that he could do beyond that to spurn Farrakhan's words of support. Clinton jumped in and said she had faced a similar situation when she ran for Senate in New York in 2000 and received backing from the third-party Independent Party, whose leaders had also made anti-Semitic remarks. She said that she risked a loss of support at the polls by rejecting that party's support. "I was willing to take that stand," she said. (Missing in this retelling was that Clinton likely gained far more votes in New York by decrying anti-Semitism than she would have gained from a small third-party.) Russert pressed her on whether she was suggesting that Obama was falling short in his own handling of Farrakhan. "There is a difference between denouncing and rejecting. We've got to be even stronger," she said.

Obama said he did not see the difference between Clinton's "rejection" of the third-party and his "denouncing" of Farrakhan. But, he said with a smile, "If the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point and I would reject and denounce" Farrakhan.

Russert pressed both on another point as well: what they knew of Russian President Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev. Their answers suggested that neither had had as much time on the trail as they might like for Kremlinology, as neither had much to say about Medvedev other than that he was hand-picked by Putin (Clinton, to her credit, mustered an attempt at pronouncing Medvedev's name.)

At the debate's close, both were asked to give a question that voters in Ohio should be asking themselves about the other's fitness for president. Obama, in his front-runner's pose, demurred, saying that Clinton "would be worthy as a nominee, there's no doubt about that," but that he believed he would be better.

Clinton took a somewhat tougher line, declining to state as explicitly that she believed that Obama would be qualified, and that her "experience over 35 years gives me an understanding, an insight, into how best to make change." But it was still a softer tone than she had used in the first half of the debate. After Obama's comeback on her Farrakhan challenge, and the laugh it got from the audience, she stepped back slightly as the clock ran down.

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 26, 2008; 11:27 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton , The Debates  
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Posted by: lyzovta mlwiox | April 16, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

In last night's debate Obama, the spin master, made the following comment: "I am not interested in talk. I am not interested in speeches.
Good grief Charlie Brown, this is exactly what Obama has been doing. All that is missing in his campaign speeches is a "gypsy violin" playing in the back ground!
The height of hypocrisy has been reached by the talking head known as Obama!

Posted by: vjg75235 | February 27, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I've followed the boards here for the past month getting more and more depressed with each passing day.

There is so much hatred coming from the Obama camp/supporters that I find repulsive. The thought of voting for Barack now makes me feel dirty. How can someone who attracts such a following deserve my vote?

Barack's camp has been spectacularly successful at manipulating critics painting them as racists. Now his supporters claim he's bullet proof. I see this as a fatal weakness that will be exploited by the Republicans and our nations enemies if he is elected.

I'm anxious about voting for McCain as to me he represents fear, war and hate mongering. None of which is in our nation's interests.

Hillary seems to be falling behind and is likely not to be able to get the party nod.

So each day Nader looks more and more attractive.

Posted by: PhilTR | February 27, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I am a proud DEMOCRAT, but I will never VOTE for Barry HUSSIEN Obama. (مدرسة)

Hillary 08
Or
Nadar 08

Posted by: ermias.kifle | February 27, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I am a DEMOCRAT, but I will never VOTE for Barry HUSSIEN MADRASA Obama. (مدرسة )

Hillary 08
Nadar 08

Posted by: ermias.kifle | February 27, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

What was it that Hillary blamed Al Gore for?

She voted the way she voted because she was sure Al was going to win the election?
My goodness! What does Al say to this?

Posted by: ritarodriguez212 | February 27, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Choosing Obama over Hillary would be like choosing Bush over Gore.

Posted by: svreader | February 27, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

If Mr MacGillis continues to offer opinion columns in lieu of actual journalism, I do wish the paper would label them appropriately.

Guessing ulterior motivations and discerning "tones" are not the province of professional journalists.
Is it so much to ask you people just do your jobs?

Posted by: zukermand | February 27, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

blarsen1 complained: Obama has taken the high road for most of this campaign. Hillary mocking him wasn't funny, it was desperate.

Even Barack thought it was funny. Lamer.

Posted by: PhilTR | February 27, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

kevinlarmee said: WHY ISN'T CHELSEA IN IRAQ?

Better yet, why arn't you fighting in Iraq?

Posted by: PhilTR | February 27, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

"The second half of the debate also included an unusual exchange about an issue that is sure to continue to dog Obama in the general election, should he be the nominee: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's recent announcement of his support for Obama."

Not to fear acolytes. No less of a luminary than Michelle Bernard, Pres. of the "Independent Women's Forum" pronounced Barack "bullet proof".

There is no way anyone will be able to attack Barack if the criticism can somehow be construed as racism. The attacker will be carefully manipulated into being a racist. That is just too shrewd.

Posted by: PhilTR | February 27, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

bmcclo6978,

Who did Sen. Clinton run against to win her Senate seat? Rep. Lazio in 2000 and some GOP stand-in candidate in 2006 who didn't have a chance. Remember, Lazio wasn't the GOP's first choice. Giuliani was, but he dropped out due to "health problems" -- really a cover for his messy divorce from his 2nd wife. It's not like Sen. Clinton ran against any GOP heavyweights either in her two campaigns.

Call this one a draw.

Posted by: ericp331 | February 27, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

The most telling thing about the exchange over denounce versus reject is that denounce is actually the more appropriate word to decribe action taken against another's words. Apparently, Obama was the only great thinker at the table who understood that, and rest assured, there were at least two others there who fancy themselves as great thinkers. Yet, knowing he was right, he conceded the point with style and grace, because he understood that it really made no difference. Had the shoe been on the other foot, Hillary would have argued until the next commercial break, because "she is a fighter". Problem is, she picks too many wrong fights with the wrong people while conceding to others when she should not. That exchange was a perfect micro view of how these two candidates operate and explains much about the position in which they find themselves at this stage of the nomination process.

Posted by: liberalboxxi | February 27, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I sat there last night watching the debate in Ohio with my girlfriend. Her (Hillary)and me (Barack), and I realized why I could never vote for Hillary. I could even feel the memory of my long since passed Irish Mother calling to me. I could hear Hillary's call for the "Sea change" that will rush forth when the first Woman is elected President of the United States of America, but she (Hillary) is not the one.

When Hillary cast her vote as a United States Senator to give President George W. Bush the authorization to invade Iraq, she did it for political reasons, not because she didn't know something as she now claims. She did it to gain future political advantage. We all had the same information and if I, me, knew the Bush administration was full of it, so should have Hillary, because she was a Senator of the United States from NYC with a husband who was once President of the United States.

Posted by: pfondiller | February 27, 2008 4:52 AM | Report abuse

Hey bmcclo6978. I have news for you...you're not a democrat. If you agree with Rush and Ann Coulter then go to the dark side. In reality, you're a bitter conservative who doesn't have a candidate and all your left with is sour grapes.

Posted by: blarsen1 | February 27, 2008 2:22 AM | Report abuse

Hey Sunrise--Get that Malkin filth out of here. Let her try being an African American sometime and see if she's ready to trade races.

Posted by: blarsen1 | February 27, 2008 2:03 AM | Report abuse

Obama has taken the high road for most of this campaign. Hillary mocking him wasn't funny, it was desperate. Obama is the guy I want negotiating with the badasses of the world. He's cool and calm and in control. Hillary is strung a bit too tight and has a short fuse which she demonstrates briefly tonight. She calls herself a fighter, but I don't want a fighter in the Whitehouse. I want a realist, who can start rebuilding the soul of the United States.

Posted by: blarsen1 | February 27, 2008 1:58 AM | Report abuse

Michelle Obama's America -- And Mine
By Michelle Malkin
February 20, 2008
Like Michelle Obama, I am a "woman of color." Like Michelle Obama, I am a working mother of two young children. Like Michelle Obama, I am a member of the 13th generation of Americans born since the founding of our great nation.
Unlike Michelle Obama, I can't keep track of the number of times I've been proud -- really proud -- of my country since I was born and privileged to live in it.
At a speech in Milwaukee this week on behalf of her husband's Democratic presidential campaign, Mrs. Obama remarked, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change."
Mrs. Obama's statement was met with warm applause from other Barack supporters who have apparently also been devoid of pride in their country for their adult Or maybe it was just a Pavlovian response to the word "change." What a sad, empty, narcissistic, ungrateful, unthinking lot.
I'm just seven years younger than Mrs. Obama. We've grown up and lived in the same era. And yet, her self-absorbed attitude is completely foreign to me. What planet is she living on? Since when was now the only time the American people have ever been "hungry for change"? Michelle, ma belle, Barack is not the center of the universe. Newsflash: The Obamas did not invent "change" any more than Hillary invented "leadership" or John McCain invented "straight talk."
We were both adults when the Berlin Wall fell, Michelle. That was earth-shattering change.
We've lived through two decades' worth of peaceful, if contentious election cycles under the rule of law, which have brought about "change" and upheaval, both good and bad.
We were adults through several launches of the space shuttle, in case you were snoozing. And as adults, we've witnessed and benefited from dizzyingly rapid advances in technology, communications, science and medicine pioneered by American entrepreneurs who yearned to change the world and succeeded. You want "change"? Go ask the patients whose lives have been improved and extended by American pharmaceutical companies that have flourished under the best economic system in the world.
If American ingenuity, a robust constitutional republic and the fall of communism don't do it for you, hon, then how about American heroism and sacrifice?
How about every Memorial Day? Every Veterans Day? Every Independence Day? Every Medal of Honor ceremony? Has she never attended a welcome home ceremony for the troops?
For me, there's the thrill of the Blue Angels roaring over cloudless skies. And the somber awe felt amid the hallowed waters that surround the sunken U.S.S. Arizona at the Pearl Harbor memorial.
Every naturalization ceremony I've attended, where hundreds of new Americans raised their hands to swear an oath of allegiance to this land of liberty, has been a moment of pride for me. So have the awesome displays of American compassion at home and around the world. When millions of Americans rallied to help victims of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia -- including members of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group that sped from Hong Kong to assist survivors -- my heart filled with pride. It did again when the citizens of Houston opened their arms to Hurricane Katrina victims and folks across the country rushed to their churches, and Salvation Army and Red Cross offices to volunteer.

Posted by: sunrise41510 | February 27, 2008 1:48 AM | Report abuse

Before she complained about Obama not willing to debate, and now she is complaining about the debates. Can't she stop complaining and just present her qualities?

Posted by: shamisattar | February 27, 2008 1:17 AM | Report abuse

It is even clearer now. Obama is looking stronger than ever:
http://newsusa.myfeedportal.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=53

Posted by: davidmwe | February 27, 2008 1:11 AM | Report abuse

WHY ISN'T CHELSEA IN IRAQ?

Um, because it's an all-volunteer Army and she's an adult who can make up her own mind about whether she wants to join it? Your point is very, very silly.

But not as silly as this post:

As a life long Illinois Democrat, I cannot believe that we are going to run a person for President who's only state wide race pitted him against ALAN KEYES for Senator - who was not even from Illinois.

I presume you support Hillary Clinton, who defeated the fearsome duo of Rick Lazio and John Spencer in her Senate races in New York, which is not her home state.

Posted by: RyanMcC1 | February 27, 2008 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Is Obama going to denounce his pastor too, a big fan of Farrakan, and his church newspaper, with a big spread on how fabulous Farrakhan i?. What about his pastor's visit with Farrakhan to see Khaddafy? Would Obama sell out his grandmother to win too? He's already disowned part of his father's name.

Posted by: Chicago1 | February 27, 2008 12:33 AM | Report abuse

The truly bitter people on these posts are for Obama. They can not stand the fact that someone would stand in the way of Obi-Wan - he should be President now. As a life long Illinois Democrat, I cannot believe that we are going to run a person for President who's only state wide race pitted him against ALAN KEYES for Senator - who was not even from Illinois. The 527's will eat his lunch and we will out of the White House again. The 527's know that they do not get 10% of the black vote in the best of times - what do you think they will do to Obama if they would destroy one of their own - Mc Cain - in 2000. MSNBC has become FOX News with it's cheerleading for Obama - I will not be watching it anymore after 6 years of thinking that Chris Mathews and Keith Oberman were fair minded. Rush and Ann Coulter are right about the MSM - we are manipulated by the news - what a sad state for my Democratic party to have fallen to.-

Posted by: bmcclo6978 | February 27, 2008 12:31 AM | Report abuse

The truly bitter people on these posts are for Obama. They can not stand the fact that someone would stand in the way of Obi-Wan - he should be President now. As a life long Illinois Democrat, I cannot believe that we are going to run a person for President who's only state wide race pitted him against ALAN KEYES for Senator - who was not even from Illinois. The 527's will eat his lunch and we will out of the White House again. The 527's know that they do not get 10% of the black vote in the best of times - what do you think they will do to Obama if they would destroy one of their own - Mc Cain - in 2000. MSNBC has become FOX News with it's cheerleading for Obama - I will not be watching it anymore after 6 years of thinking that Chris Mathews and Keith Oberman were fair minded. Rush and Ann Coulter are right about the MSM - we are manipulated by the news - what a sad state for my Democratic party to have fallen to.-

Posted by: bmcclo6978 | February 27, 2008 12:31 AM | Report abuse

The Farrakhan question was just disgusting- actually the way Russert pursued it was disgusting and Hilary's attempt to drag it on was sad. Obama's response was dignified and spot on.

For Russert to suggest that somehow Obama has control over some nut case, who he has no connection with and who's statements he has condemned repeatedly, is sick. Thanks Tim, for acting like a shill for the crazy wing-nut brigade. Maybe you should ask McCain about that illegitimate "black baby" he is supposed to have during the next debate!

Posted by: marSF | February 27, 2008 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Question for Hillary:


Why isn't Chelsea fighting in Iraq?

Clinton voted for the war. Chelsea goes to Hawaii, and Texas, and Ohio to campaign for her mother.

If Chelsea supports her mother,

why isn't Chelsea fighting in Iraq?

People like the Clintons thinks it OK to vote for wars, as long as other parents' children die in them.

WHY ISN'T CHELSEA IN IRAQ?

Posted by: kevinlarmee | February 27, 2008 12:25 AM | Report abuse

"Although my vote was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again," she said. "I regret deeply that the president waged preemptive war in Iraq."

There. Was that really so hard?

It's not an actual apology but it's probably as close as we'll ever get to hearing one. Shame it had to be effectively beaten out of her with 10 successive primary defeats.

Posted by: kevrobb | February 27, 2008 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Obama was graceful and dignified as a President should be. He did sum it up - for us the citizens, not him the candidate. Hillary's arguments, jabs and cuts, displayed her diminishing candidacy.

Posted by: ram | February 27, 2008 12:10 AM | Report abuse

We shouldn't be "russian" to judgment; a little history of Hillary's vaunted experience in foriegn affairs is in order.

Just two years ago, Hillary--the purported "expert" on international relations--said there should be "lawful authority" for torture in some cases.

(See, for example, www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0907/Hillary_and_torture_audio_version.html)

Her stand on this transcendent moral issue was opposite to that taken by every other major Democratic presidential candidate in 2007-2008.

The heat she took for it caused her to make one of her famous "flip flops."

Posted by: Martinedwinandersen | February 27, 2008 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Obama didn't deliver a closing statement.

It was a coup de grace.

Adios Hillary.

Posted by: Martinedwinandersen | February 26, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Obama didn't deliver a closing statement.

It was a coup de grace.

Adios Hillary.

Posted by: Martinedwinandersen | February 26, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

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