8:00 ET: Let's get started!
8:04: So get started already! How long can they stand there at attention in gray — hopefully not empty — suits?
8:05: No rules! But try to keep it short — and have real conversation. We see Obama taking careful notes — left-handed. The little desks in front of them make them look like oversized grammar school kids. Hillary is making her opening statement. She's done a lot and she has so much more to do.
8:08: Obama opens. He says he and Hillary are friends. She smiles a fixed smile at him. How hard this must be for her. He quickly glides from health care to NAFTA to Iraq. "What's lacking right now is not good ideas" — a jab at her emphasis on "solutions." The problem is that good ideas "go to Washington to die." So it's all about "bringing this country together." She's still gazing and smiling.
8:13: Jorge Ramos begins the first question in Spanish and switches to English: Will you meet with the new leader of Cuba? Hillary will be ready to "reach out" to the new government after it demonstrates that it is ready to change. She sounds very relaxed and articulate. Campbell Brown reminds Obama that he's already said he would meet the the leader of Cuba, so he has to say yes to this. He says he will meet without preconditions — but he does want "preparation" with some matters of rights on the agenda. He stresses that it's important for us to meet with our enemies. Clinton gets rebuttal time, and she distinguishes herself from him: She wants preconditions. Obama seems to be making a conscious effort to hold his chin up, which makes him look a tad arrogant as he looks down his nose at her.
8:22: What's the difference between the two of them on the economy? Obama says everyone knows the economy is "in trouble." "People have been struggling." We need to "restore balance" to the economy. He's against lead paint in toys. Hillary seems to plug in a prepared speech: "We need a President who works for you." She too comes out firmly against lead paint in toys. She wants a moratorium on foreclosures — and I can't even understand how someone would think that's a good idea. I wish Obama would say she's woefully misguided. Hillary seems a little manic with eyebrows grouchoing up and down as she exclaims about "innovation!"
8:31: Immigration: Hillary is passionately, desperately in favor of it. (They're in Texas.) Obama tells us "we're a nation of laws" and mentions border security and "cracking down" on employers (but in a way that doesn't burden workers with Spanish surnames). Illegal immigrants need to get to "the back of the line." I think I see Hillary glowing. Clearly, she came across as the more generous one.
8:36: About that fence. Hillary speaks clearly, elaborately, and incomprehensibly about the fence. The message is: I'm a sophisticated policy geek.
8:43: Is there any problem with the U.S. becoming bilingual? English must be our "common, unifying language," says Hillary. Obama too thinks everyone needs to learn English — to "bind us together." And let the English-speaking kids learn a foreign language. He segues into criticizing No Child Left Behind: It pushes out the study of foreign language.
8:50: Hillary is asked if she's saying that Obama is "all hat and no cattle." It's little awkward to invite her to call him a nothing while sitting right next to him. She refers to that famous video clip of the state senator who couldn't name any of Obama's accomplishments. That gets almost no response from the big University of Texas audience. Maybe people aren't watching YouTube that much. By contrast, Obama gets a huge cheer when he says every major newspaper in Texas has endorsed him. Score 1 for mainstream media. His point is: She has to be saying that everyone who supports him must be delusional.
8:57: About that "plagiarism." Obama defends his use of a couple lines given him by his associate Duval Patrick. "This is where we start getting into the silly season in politics." People want to hear about the real issues. "What I've been talking about in these speeches, and I've gotta admit: Some of 'em are pretty good..." Ha ha. We should be lifting the country up, he says, not tearing each other down. Now, it's Hillary's turn, and it gets a little ugly. "Well, I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That's a very simple, uh, proposition. And you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox." Cute, but obviously prepared. "And I just don't think..." Obama: "No, that's not..." Hillary: "No, but Barack, it is, because if you look..." [boos from the audience] "if you look at the YouTube of these videos, it does raise questions." It's fine to want to unite the country, but, she says we need to "unite it for a purpose around very specific goals." That sound silly at first, but it actually defines an important difference between them, though I think she's wrong. The presidential candidate doesn't need to be all that specific.
9:03: Obama's emphasizing discussing issues and he's parsing their competing health insurance plans.
9:10: Is Hillary saying that Obama is not ready to be Commander in Chief? Her answer is that she's going to let the voters decide and she's going back to the subject of health insurance. What's that old Woody Allen movie where he's in a prison camp and the torture is being locked in a sweatbox with an insurance salesman? They're finally at the point where both of them are admitting they are going to force you to buy insurance. The difference is that Hillary is promising she will force everyone to buy insurance.
9:15: The Commander in Chief question is re-asked. Hillary falls back on asserting that she's ready to be Commander in Chief. She declines to attack him here. Obama's turn. Of course, he's ready too. He points to his opposition to the Iraq war.
9:21: Unless this campaign takes a "wacky, unpredictable turn," John King says, one of you is going to face John McCain. That's a none too subtle reference to today's NYT story. How are they going to look standing next to a war hero? Hillary tells a story of a mother grabbing her arm for the second time tonight. Both ramble on about war policy, and I don't think either of them talked about John McCain.
9:31: Ugh. I'm bored with this. I see Stephen Green is drunkblogging. I'm blogging on Get Some ZZZ's tea. ("Brew a pot of our caffeine-free herbal blend and breathe a sigh of sweet relief as the bouquet of organic rooibos, soothing chamomile, passionflower and the mellowing properties of valerian gently lulls you toward blissful effects.") Now there's some talk of the superdelegates, and Hillary says well, you know there are these rules, but she's confident that there will be a united party in the end. Barack smirks.
9:38: At what "moment" in life were you most "tested"? Obama plugs in his life story — born to a teenaged mother, etc. He doesn't come up with a specific moment, and that annoys me, and you know one charge against him is that he lacks specificity. Hillary says that we all know she's had some challenging moments, and that gets a big audience response. "But... people often ask me... how do you do it... how do you keep going?" What the hell! She's reliving the crying moment in New Hampshire!
9:42: "No matter what happens in this contest — and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama, I am absolutely honored," Hillary says, and I think we hear a tinge of farewell. Obama reaches over and shakes her hand and pats her on the shoulder. She takes a deep breath as she shakes her head and then says: "Whatever happens, we're gonna be fine." Big cheers. It's over. Obama stands up quickly, and he must feel confident. No slips. No shakeups. He pulls out Hillary's chair, which is an odd gesture when a person is sitting down. It seems like he is rushing her to get up. He strides over to the moderators' table, and Hillary wanders off in the other direction. She's off screen. I guess the camera people expected a thanking of the moderators ritual. Another camera catches her. She's with Chelsea. Hillary's eyes are cast down and Chelsea has an impenetrable smile. The two of them walk downstage in front of the desks, over toward the moderator, and Chelsea is holding her mother's hand and gripping her arm. Are we supposed to feel a stirring of emotion? Was this mother-daughter encounter planned? Hillary repeatedly referred to mothers throughout the night and at least twice told a story of a mother grabbing her arm, and now here is Chelsea grabbing her arm. Bill isn't there. Nor is Michelle. It's just a Chelsea moment.
10:16: So, to recap. Not much happened, therefore Obama won. Hillary did fine sitting there, saying rational-sounding things most of the time. The closest she came to making something happen was on the plagiarism question: "I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words.... Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox." But that's just a wisecrack, and when we're sitting here listening to Obama spout policy all night, the premise of the wisecrack — that his candidacy is "about words" — just doesn't fit. By the end, Hillary seemed to let it show that she knew her dream was over and that the important thing now was to glide to a graceful defeat. Or is that what they carefully planned to make us think, so we'd reengage emotionally with her? You know, Obama can be a rather cool character. Midway through the debate, I found myself practicing an impersonation of him. Not his speech, but his clasped hands on the table, his head turned sideways, chin up, lips pursed in a grin, his eyes looking down onto the hapless soul who imagines she could unsettle him in the slightest degree.