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And Still Champeen

Jeff Jarvis

In the last few weeks, pundits have been egging on Barack Obama and John Edwards to get tougher on Hillary Clinton, and they did. But it's a fine line and shifting between the good earth and the mud puddle and the danger of stepping into it is always that you get some on yourself -- and say something about yourself. Did the boys go too far? That's the way Bill Clinton presented them lately, defending his wife. And that's the way Hillary Clinton painted them last night at the CNN Democratic debate when she came out attacking the attack.

It was a well-staged sound bite: "I don't mind taking hits on my record, on the issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook."

Note the body language on this clip. At the very beginning, Joe Biden is shaking his head and smirking like the boy on the edge of the dance floor who can't get a dance but is acting like he doesn't care. After Clinton slaps back, look at John Edwards' narrowed eyes; you can see his wheels spinning, wondering how to get out of this: how to attack the attack on the attack. Right there in that few seconds, you see the vicious cycle of negative campaigning. And the way out of it is always taking the high ground:

Sound Bite: "But for him to be throwing this mud and making these charges, I think really detract from what we're trying to do here tonight. We need to put forth a positive agenda for America."

Cue cheer from a pro-Hillary crowd in the auditorium. Give Clinton the point in this mud-wrestling match.

And here's Clinton going after Obama's attacks on health care, "setting the record straight." In the debate, it was quite a little boxing match but on YouTube, Clinton gets to put up just her sound bite scolding him. Give YouTube a point in the candidates' books.

And finally, here's Clinton answering the charge that she's playing the gender card coming back with a rousing run on the high ground about the diversity of the Democratic field:

Sound Bite: "I understand very well that people are not attacking me because I'm a woman. People are attacking me because I'm ahead. As Harry Truman famously said, 'if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen.' And I feel very comfortable in the kitchen."

Meanwhile, over in Edwards' corner of YouTube, he picks a clip that has him sweating a bit as he has to spend time defending his attack with phrases like "that's not what I'm saying." He's not so much taking the high ground as retreating.

Sound Bite: "You know, before I came over here tonight, I was thinking, we're going to have this debate and when we finish all of you are going to be on television saying, oh who scored points, who won the debate. All of us are going to be fine. The question is, will America be fine? ... There's nothing personal about this. This is about what America needs to be.""

And now here's Obama retreating from his attack mode when he's asked why he said he didn't believe Clinton was able to unite the country:

Sound Bite: "That's not what I said, what I said was I thought I could do it better, that's why I'm running for President. If I didn't think I could do it better, then I wouldn't be running for President."

There's a classic in circular rhetoric.

By Ed O'Keefe |  November 16, 2007; 11:57 AM ET Debates
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Posted by: K.HAIDAR | November 16, 2007 1:19 PM

It isn't dynasty and is the not the first time we have seen a relative being elected. The Adams father son being the first.

But the reality is that Hillary Clinton stands out as the best candidate of either party. The best to handle any Republican in a debate. The only one ready to serve from her first day. And the only one who will have Bill Clinton by her side, not because she needs him but as an extra added bonus, to add to what she can accomplish for the nation.

Our country will be making a strong statement to the world when we elect our first woman as President. She is a tough, brilliant, creative and passionate woman with 35 years of experience behind her. The attacks on her in the past 15 years have given her the understanding of how to respond and make people understand what she really is about.

We have seen that in her two victories in NY and yesterday in her handling of Obama and Edwards. They were clearly flummoxed by a Hillary Clinton that didn't stand there and take it but hit back. She knows how to do it and do it well.

Rudy, Mitt, Fred or Mike- whoever the Republicans nominate- will surely find out how tough she is.

Go Hillary!!!

Posted by: peter dc | November 16, 2007 2:06 PM

Silly, Winning debates mean nothing! Ask Al Gore and John Kerry where it got them. If you are looking at debates to get a sense on who is the best debater you are missing the point. Who has a vision that you would like to see made reality? For Visionaries I look to Senator Obama & Mr. Edwards. Senator Clinton shows me that she knows how to play the great game called politics. Well guess what people!! So did Bush, Cheney & Rove. Really good at playing politics, but in the 7 years they have been around what do we have to show for it... Look for the vision and the strength of character and conviction to bring it about!!! We need responsible adults to take charge. No more kids in spitball matches (Bush & Clinton). Ignore what the media says and do the right thing. Do not let distract you from the right choice! ~Graviel

Posted by: Graviel | November 16, 2007 2:31 PM

Graviel i agree with your views on Obama and Edwards but i believe that you are being just a little sexist. just because Hillary Clinton is female does not mean that she is a bad leader. there have been many great women leaders in the world take Cleopatra for example. oh and its not our fault that bush is a bloodthristy loser and that Cheney was only trying to counter act bush but did a terrible job with it.~Alinston

Posted by: Alinston | November 16, 2007 3:52 PM

What we witnessed last night was a classy women taking another step forward leaving the other candidates behind. America will be better for it.

Posted by: Andy | November 16, 2007 4:09 PM

peter from dc - just so you know, hillary ran practically unopposed in ny both times, that hardly shows her electability nor make her the person for the democratic party to base their hopes on. as a new yorker, i not only thought she had no business representing a state that she never lived in, i found that she didn't deliver on her promises to the state besides make a spectacle of herself as a media hound. in my view, you can not call her the winner of the debate because she deflected the attacks and fought back. nor because she registered high on the applause meter.

her answers to the real questions posed were not the best, there is no rhyme or reason to her answers on iraq on iran and on the much talked about issue of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. she should not be nominated because she can not win the general election and has no principles. two men of principle that were on the stage were obama and biden, 2 excellent performances with sharp answers. at a time in history when the popularity and passion of democrats is unparralelled in the media, it would be a shame if we nominated the one candidate that will have no prayer in the general election once the republicans start facing off against her and bring her true record to our attention.

i actually disagree with both biden and obama on several policy issues, but i admire that they are men of principle. from what i've seen principles are something that hillary has none of and i fear for the future of our country if slick hilly is nominated to be the democratic candidate. unlike all the candidates on the stage last night, as an independent voter who tends to vote liberal and wants change, there is one candidate i will not support if she wins the democratic nomination, you all know who she is.

Posted by: ian abraham nyc | November 17, 2007 12:31 AM

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