Clinton Shines In Vegas
By John Fout
TheStreet.com Political Correspondent
1/16/2008 7:06 AM EST
After a slow start bogged down by a show of unity that bordered on blather, the Democratic debate in Las Vegas managed to reveal important character traits. We learned that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., NY) wants to be the hands-on CEO, Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) prefers being an inspirational leader, and John Edwards likes the role of the fierce fighter.
When the debate turned to policy, the three Democrats agreed on most issues. But deciding who won the debate came down to critical differences to answers on three big issues: the economy, energy policy and foreign policy. On these issues Clinton asserted her knowledge on policy issues and dominated Edwards and Obama.
Economy: The Devilish Details
Edwards constantly argues he wants to fight special interests on behalf of the middle class and the poor. He certainly came through on this as a litigator when he could earn big money for himself and his client.
But his Senate record shows he voted twice for a precursor of the 2005 bankruptcy bill. He voted for it in 2001, when a version died because of a pocket veto of President Bill Clinton, and again voted in favor of it in 2002 with Bush in office.
Edwards admits: “I made a mistake in voting for the [original] bill.” That’s nice. But the bankruptcy bill favored credit card companies over the interests of Edwards’ constituents — the lower- and middle-class. If Edwards couldn’t stand up in Congress, what would he do as President?
Unlike Edwards, Obama opposed the bankruptcy bill. Obama understands the difficulty it places on middle class Americans he hears from on the campaign trail — real people losing jobs and homes — and knows something must be done. However, Obama faces difficulty trying to relate his remedies.
Indeed, Obama said Wednesday night that he needs to surround himself with excellent staffers and that he tells his staff: “Only hand me paper when I need it or I will lose it.”
Clinton has no problem delving into her policies. Not only does she understand the problems behind the economy, she also feels comfortable explaining her entire solution and providing detail on her plan to stimulate the economy. For example, she argued that her plan to freeze interest rates on subprime loans actually works in concert with the Federal Reserves policy to lower rates. This level of detail stood out.
Inconsistent Nuclear Stances
The Democrats all offer innovative energy plans that favor alternative energies over fossil fuels. Tuesday’s energy discussion stood out because it focused on an issue near and dear to many in Nevada — the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
Clearly, Nevadans need to know where a candidate stands on nuclear power and nuclear waste. The words they heard from both Edwards and Obama can’t have soothed them, which could have an effect on the outcome of Thursday’s caucus, as Clinton’s record seems far more consistent than either of the men.
Edwards voted twice to authorize Yucca Mountain as a nuclear repository while in the Senate. He has changed his tune since, and in his campaign incarnation, he now opposes both nuclear power and any unsafe nuclear storage.
Obama also faces some questions on consistency. He has disavowed lobbyist money in this campaign, but as I chronicled his vote for the 2005 Energy Bill, it showed his role in a legislative effort that capped years of work by lobbyists and Vice President Dick Cheney.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has received significant funds from Exelon (EXC) . Exelon is based in Obama’s home state and has pushed hard for new subsidies for nuclear power plants. They got their wish in the 2005 Energy Bill with 29 new plants planned. Companies like Exelon would require the Yucca Mountain repository to dispose of waste.
Clinton said she has consistently opposed Yucca Mountain in Congress, though she remains open to the possibility of nuclear power in the future. Furthermore, her Senate sub-committee held hearings on Yucca Mountain and presented information on its many dangers.
Foreign Policy Matters
Obama clearly enjoys the high ground on foreign policy. He deserves credit for being the only one of the three candidates who clearly opposed the war in 2002 before it began. It was a great judgment call on Iraq. My concern about him stems from his failure to follow up with leadership and continue his opposition.
Obama’s capable judgment may lead to other good calls, including his interesting views on such topics as meeting with petty dictators in this campaign. The fresh idea has inspired some.
But he and Edwards both lose sight, to a similar degree, at times of something important to the American people. One must be ready to handle crisis and be willing to protect our country from threats. Clinton grasps this importance best amongst Democrats. Lofty ideas on diplomacy have to be seconded by strong measures of preparedness.
A few other moments shined in the debate.
Edwards offered an impassioned speech on veterans, describing their difficult conditions and possible solutions to their problem, such as guaranteed funding for the Veterans Administration. Obama shone when he shared his history of being raised by a single mother and opined on what African American fathers must do to better their families.
But Clinton scored the most memorable quote: “President Bush is over in the Gulf now, begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic! We should have an energy policy right now.”
This combination of forcefulness coupled with her knowledge on issues made for a convincing performance in Vegas.