Debates


Factcheck.org wrote an intersting article today about yesterday’s Democratic AFL-CIO debate in which it discusses Senator Barack Obama’s backtracking of his statement that he would consider invading Pakisan.

“Sen. Obama rewrote history when he defended his controversial remarks about invading Pakistan if necessary to eliminate al Qaeda.

Obama: I did not say that we would immediately go in unilaterally. What I said was that we have to work with [Pakistan’s President Pervez] Musharraf.

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    Scott Olson/Getty Images

That’s not exactly what he said. Obama is referring to an Aug. 1 policy address, in which he made no direct mention of working with Musharraf. Instead, he said he would “take out” al Qaeda if Musharraf failed to act.

Obama (Aug. 1): I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

That’s the only time Obama mentions Musharraf at all in the speech, as posted on his own campaign Web site.”

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If there’s one issue upon which Rudy Giuliani hasn’t really been accused of flip-flopping or distorting his record, it’s terrorism and national security — though some critics have suggested that Giuliani’s shifts on immigration represent waffling on a national security issue.  Considering that Rudy’s reputation as the tough and decisive ‘America’s Mayor’ following the events of 9/11 is the foundation of his presidential campaign, the Giuliani camp has been more than willing to aggressively play the terrorism card.

In the first Republican debate, for instance, Giuliani tore into fellow candidate Ron Paul (R-Tx) for suggesting the U.S. claim a portion of the ultimate responsibility for 9/11.

Ron Paul: ‘”Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us?  They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years and we’ve been in the Middle East.  I think Reagan was right: we don’t understand the irrationality of middle eastern politics… We need to look at what we do from the perspective from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us.”

Moderator: “Are you suggesting we brought on the 9/11 attacks, sir?”

Ron Paul: “I’m suggesting that we listen to the people that attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we’re over there because Osama Bin Laden has said ‘I am glad you’re over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.’  They’ve already now since that time have killed 3400 of our men and I don’t think it was necessary.”

Giuliani: “Would you allow me to comment on that?  That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived though the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.”

[APPLAUSE]

Giuliani: “And I would ask the Congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”

Moderator: “Congressman?”

Ron Paul: “I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about ‘blowback.’  When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, yes there was blowback.  The reaction to that was the taking of our hostages.  And that persists.  And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk.  If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.  They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free, they attack us because we’re over there.  I mean, what would we think if other countries were doing that to us?”

According to most media pundits, Giuliani won the debate, though Ron Paul’s popularity on the internet and conservative talk radio skyrocketed.  The Giuliani campaign has reiterated its position again recently in response to John Edwards’ characterization of the ‘War on Terror’ as a “bumper sticker” term with no real content.  Like Hillary Clinton, Rudy out of conviction or determination to appear tough has decided to maintain that the ‘War on Terror’ has been at least philosophically successful so far, with problems emerging purely from logistics.  Clinton and Giuliani’s gamble assumes that not very many voters in either party have decided otherwise.

So Giuliani is endorsing a stance of steely offensive resolve and swift and decisive forceful action against terrorists over seeking to understand the enemy and their grievances.  If candidate consistency were only based on their rhetoric, then Rudy would be in the clear.  But is his rhetoric consistent with fact?

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In Tuesday’s Republican debate, Mitt Romney distanced himself from the health plan he helped establish as Governor of Mattachusetts, accusing Democrats of socializing medicine, when, in fact, that is largely what he did. The Web site factcheck.org writes,

“Romney: Every Democrat up there’s talking about a form of socialized medicine, government takeover, massive tax increase…. I’m the guy who actually tackled this issue. We get all of our citizens insured. We get people that were uninsured with private health insurance. We have to stand up and say the market works. Personal responsibility works.  

There are two problems with Romney’s characterization: One, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate to propose a single-payer, wholly government-funded health care plan. And two, Romney’s Massachusetts universal insurance system bears a striking resemblance to the health care proposals of the Democratic front-runners. (more…)

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the importance of authenticity in this year’s presidential race. The Times writes,

“Democrats cast themselves as courageous truth-tellers in their presidential debate Sunday night. Republicans debating Tuesday night might make the same claim. But if recent history is a guide, both fields will be bereft of authentic authenticity…

‘I think we’re living in a post-Bush world where authenticity is going to rule the day,’ said Republican strategist Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. ”Everybody has had it with the whistling, don’t-worry-be-happy song and is looking for some real straight talk and some authenticity. Actions have consequences.”

John McCain learned that lesson. Some of his own advisers say the Arizona senator damaged his straight-talking image by bending over backward to appease conservative interests groups that dominate the GOP nomination fight.”

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Obama took some heat last week when confronted in the Democratic debate about a comment he made in Iowa about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Brian Williams asked him,

“You said recently, ‘No one is suffering more than the Palestinian people.’ Do you stand by that remark?”

Obama responded, saying:

“Well, keep in mind what the remark actually, if you had the whole thing, said. And what I said is nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence, and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region.

Obama has been criticized since for changing his tune on the conflict, becoming more Pro-Israel to court the much-sought-after Jewish vote. However, Obama has actually remained consistent.

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This one didn’t get reported much; I happened upon it while reading the full transcript of the Republican debate.  In contrast to Giuliani’s hugely controversial support for public funding for abortions — visible in these two YouTube videos both from 1989 and from just a month ago on Aprl 4th — he abruptly reversed course in the G.O.P. debate last week.

In this first video, from 1989, Giuliani supports “public funding for abortions for poor women” so that no one is denied resources to make the abortion decision.  Although he seems to speak in a global sense, he does not specify location and, as a New York politician, he could well have been referring only to New York law.

The second statement is much more explicit.  “If it’s a constitutional right, even if you do it on a state by state basis, you have to make sure people are protected.”  He seems to be saying that maybe states might have to pay for it instead of the federal government, but that a national constitutional right must be protected everywhere.

In last week’s debate, however, Giuliani completely flipped and shifted more towards his “states’ rights” position of electing strict constructionists and letting the chips fall as they may.  He evokes the Hyde Amendment, the 1976 law forbidding federal funding for abortions.  From The New York Times:

‘Mr. MATTHEWS: Why do you support the use of public funds for abortion?

MR. GIULIANI: I don’t. I support the Hyde amendment. I hate abortion. I wish people didn’t have abortions.

MR. MATTHEWS: So you’re not for funding at all?

MR. GIULIANI: I believe that the Hyde amendment should remain the law. States should make their decision. Some states decide to do it, most states decide not to do it. And I think that’s the appropriate way to have this decided.

MR. MATTHEWS: Should New York — when you were mayor of New York, should they have been paying for — the state should have been paying for —

MR. GIULIANI: That’s a decision New York made a long time ago, and New York —

MR. MATTHEWS: And where were you on that?

MR. GIULIANI: I supported it in New York. But I think in other places, people can come to a different decision.’

In contrast to April 4th, when he supported protecting the constitutional right to abortion for all women, he now explicitly mandates that funding be available on a state by state basis.

The question for the race is whether shifts like this will undermine Giuliani’s reputation as a strong and independent-minded leader, especially after the new revelations that he gave money to Planned Parenthood in the 1990s.  And will his new rhetoric reframing his moderate record offset the erosion in support that could result from such besmirchment of his image?

At the last Democratic debate, moderator Brian Williams asked the candidates a “Show of hands question: Do you believe there is such a thing as a global war on terror?” Hillary Clinton’s hand shot up, Barack Obama shifted nervously then slowly put his hand up. Noticably absent from the candidates with hands in the air was Senator John Edwards who stood firmly with his hands at his side. Of course Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich’s hands both remained at their side, but the two of them have been against the rhetoric of Global War on Terror for some time, John Edwards is very new to cause.

Edwards is so new to the cause, in fact, that at that time there were still references to the Global War on Terror on his website, including the position that “winning the war on terror requires wisdom and moral strength, as well as military might.” He has also made references to the War on Terror in speeches, including a reference from his campaign blog in September:

To win the war on terror, we must preserve our moral authority to lead the world. If we are to succeed in spreading democracy abroad, we must defend the fundamental principles of democracy at home.

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