Obama immediately says "I would," not really noticing the detail to the question. He'd meet "without preconditions"? He goes on to plug in some material, which he will use in the after-debate period about how wrong Bush has been to think that "not talking to countries is punishment to them."
Clinton gets a lucky break when the questioner, who's in the audience, is given a chance at a follow up and throws the question to Clinton. I think Clinton had seen her opportunity the instant Obama said "I would," and here, with the chance to speak next, she deftly takes full advantage:
Well...A disarming "well," as if this isn't going to be word-for-word perfect...
I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.Live-blogging, I say "this is the precise point in the debate where I conclude... that Clinton is the superior candidate." But as impressive as this is, her campaign also deserves credit for forefronting this interchange the day after the debate, and Obama must take a second downgrade for the way he handled the after-debate.
I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.
And I will pursue very vigorous diplomacy.
And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.
Listen to him struggle through this interview with Iowa's Quad-City Times. Now, let's look at the coverage in today's newspapers.
The Boston Globe:
Yesterday, Obama's campaign tried to clarify his remarks by saying that he wouldn't agree to meet with such leaders before lower-level diplomatic work was done. But Clinton's campaign seized on their divergent answers, arguing that it exposes both her command of world affairs and Obama's greenness. "Senator Clinton is committed to vigorous diplomacy but understands that it is a mistake to commit the power and prestige of America's presidency years ahead of time by making such a blanket commitment," her campaign wrote in a memo.So Obama falls back on his mantra "change," showing his dreadful tendency to rely on abstractions and generic hope messages. He's gotten on a long way with such material, when speaking to admiring crowds of people who are just getting to know him. But it's horribly inadequate to fight off a formidable opponent on a specific issue.
Obama's campaign put out its own memo yesterday saying his is the approach that would keep America safe.
"Obama's tough but smart approach to America's diplomacy is exactly the kind of change and new thinking that excites voters about an Obama presidency," the memo said. His campaign also pointed to a remark Clinton made this spring in which she said, "I think it is a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people."
Clinton's campaign yesterday also employed former secretary of state Madeleine Albright to speak to reporters about Clinton's knowledge of diplomacy and the appropriate use of American power. "When all is said and done she knows that being president is about protecting the country and advancing national security interests," Albright said, adding that Clinton shows "a very sophisticated understanding of the whole process."
And his attempt to catch Clinton in a contradiction could only work if we lacked the most basic powers of discernment. So Clinton said it's "a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people"? It can be wrong both to say "I won't talk" and to say "I will talk." The position Clinton took at the debate was that talks had to be planned and developed through a diplomatic process. She's rejecting both hardcore positions: promises to talk "without preconditions" and intransigent refusals to talk.
The Daily News:
Political observers said they expected Clinton to waste no time using Obama's comment to shore up her standing among key voter blocs, such as Cuban-Americans in bellwether Florida and Jewish voters who may find the idea of a sitdown with the Holocaust-denying president of Iran disturbing.So, Lake pretends Obama said what he should have said -- that is, what Clinton said.
Team Clinton plans "to use these issues in outreach in the states [and nationally] with Jewish leadership and Jewish grass-roots voters," a Democratic operative familiar with the Clinton campaign told the Daily News.
Obama's camp said that approach wouldn't impress anybody. "There is a smallness to such misleading attacks that voters reject," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton....
In a race where Obama has presented himself as the fresher face, the exchange handed Clinton the perfect opening to "prove she's more experienced and would provide a steadier hand at the helm of the ship of state," said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
To push that message, the Clinton campaign swiftly arranged a morning press call with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who didn't attack Obama directly but called the New York senator "a person who understands how the American presidency works."
The Obama campaign quickly trotted out its own stable of surrogates, including former Clinton administration national security adviser Anthony Lake, who argued, "A great nation and its President should never fear negotiating with anyone and Sen. Obama rightly said he would be willing to do so."
Lynn Sweet in the Chicago-Sun Times:
During the day Tuesday, the Clinton and Obama campaigns issued dueling critical memos while advisers sparred over who appeared more presidential. The candidates each gave interviews to the Quad City Times in Iowa, the state with the crucial lead-off presidential vote, where they escalated the rhetoric.Yes, she's not just demonstrating that she's right on the issue, she's demonstrating how to be a strong candidate, which is actually more important as the Democrats decide who they want to be the candidate.
"I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive," Clinton told the paper. Obama, she said, gave an answer "I think he is regretting today."
Obama told the paper that Clinton's camp was trying to score "political points."
He stood by his response and that Clinton's position was not that different from the Bush administration policy, so she "can't claim the mantle of change.""The mantle of change." I wonder what people picture when they hear the word "mantle." Really, think about it for a while: The Mantle of Change, The Mantle of Change, The Mantle of Change. Doesn't it sound like something you win at a stage of a video game?
The Obama rhetoric is getting stale and repetitious -- just as Hillary is trouncing him in the after-debate!
Obama's campaign was trying to regain its footing after walking into a potential political minefield. The debate story in the Miami Herald, another early primary state where Cuban Americans make up a voting bloc, said Obama and Edwards "suggested Monday that they would meet with two leaders who top South Florida's most-hated list: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez."That coffee line tries to brush off the controversy as lightweight and meaningless, but it is his biggest showdown with Clinton thus far.
If he met with Chavez, Obama told the Iowa paper, it would be to tell him "what I don't like" while finding areas to "potentially work together."
"I didn't say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon," Obama said.
He barely shows up for the showdown.
UPDATE: What about the second day after the debate?
"The notion that I was somehow going to be inviting them over for tea next week without having initial envoys meet is ridiculous," he said...So from "coffee some afternoon" to "tea next week"...