Watch this space. It will be elongated — starting at 8 Eastern Time — with quirky observations and peevish intuitions. I'm very interested to see how those two relate to each other after all these (nasty) weeks apart. Strong acting skills will be required.
Obama will, no doubt, take a stance above the fray. Be cool but — be careful! — you'd better not seem aloof — don't look down on that shorter person next to you! — or we will see that image the Hillarists want to project on you. Hillary has the devious power of nothing to lose. She'll be looking for every opportunity to unsettle him, to provoke an error, to rephrase something he's said and make it sound unsavorily San Franciscan.
8:00. Opening statements are thoroughly bland. Oh, good lord, they're already going to commercial. I'll bet they lose a lot of audience. Here in NYC, the debate show is playing in between "Spongebob" and "Family Guy."
8:08. They're asked to pick each other as their running mate. Awkward! Obama says it's "premature." Hillary follows suit.
8:13. The bitter small-town religion clingers quote is thrown at Obama, who says he can see how it offended some people. So can Hillary. Hillary keeps dropping the names of places in Pennsylvania.
8:18. Hillary is challenged over a statement she made that Obama can't win. After some harrumphing, she concedes that Obama can win. Obama then concedes that Hillary can win.
8:24. Obama is asked why didn't he disassociate himself from Jeremiah Wright sooner. He mainly relies on the assertion that he hadn't heard most of the bad statements. At some point he says "someone I've disowned" and has to correct it to "statements I've disowned." Given her chance, Hillary brings up Wright's connections to Farrakhan and Hamas. "These are questions," she says.
8:35. Hillary does a good job of owning up to her Bosnian sniper fire gaffe.
8:41. Obama is asked about his patriotism. First, the easy part: Why not wear a flag pin? That's a "manufactured issue." He reveres the flag, and he does wear the pin sometimes. Then the hard question: Why is he friendly with William Ayres (once a member of the Weather Underground)? This is another "game" in O's view. The man is an English professor who lives in his neighborhood, and Obama was 5 years old when Ayres participated in the Weather Underground. Given her chance, Hillary recites some of Ayres's bad behavior, including his relatively recent statement that he wishes he'd "done more." Obama comes back with the fact that Bill Clinton pardoned 2 members of the Weather Underground.
8:52. Do they really have a plan to bring troops home from Iraq? If the military commanders told you that pulling the troops out will destabilize Iraq, would you still go through with your plan? Hillary: Yes. But her plan is only to "begin" to withdraw troops within 60 days and to proceed with caution from there. The idea is for Iraqis to get the message that they need to take over. Obama follows suit. "The President sets the mission." He'll listen to the commanders on the ground "with respect to tactics," but he provides the "mission." Mission. Tactics. Mission. Tactics. Get it?
9:01. Israel. Iran. Taxes. It's devolved into the usual policy recitation. The candidates sound fine, but you can read the transcript.
9:22: Obama is talking about a drastic rise in Social Security taxes for people making more than $97,000. We have to do something, and raising the retirement age is unacceptable. Could someone explain why? We live much longer than in the days when Social Security began, and many fewer people were expected to live to collect payments. If we live longer, shouldn't we work to an older age?
9:24. It's the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings. People are saying a prayer. It takes a fraction of a second for Obama to bow his head. Prayer: Bows head. Great reflexes! That's just an intro to a question about gun control. Hillary keeps talking about Mayor Nutter — love the name. Both Hillary and Obama do exactly what you'd expect them to do: Distinguish between the good guys, who deserve respect as they go their traditional ways, and the bad guys, who deserve regulation. We can be sensible. Balanced. Don't give guns to "the mentally deranged," Obama advises. That's all very nice but do you support the D.C. ban, the one that's before the Supreme Court? Hillary waffles about how she doesn't know the facts. She does a federalism riff: What might work in New York is certainly not going to work in Montana.
9:33. Obama is asked whether affirmative action should be changed so that affluent African Americans like his daughters are not given advantages and maybe poor whites are. He recommends looking at all the factors for each individual. Race is one factor. But look at the whole person. (That's exactly in line with the Supreme Court case law.) Hillary thinks we need "affirmative action generally," by which she seems to mean that we need programs that reach very young kids, kindergarten and so forth. She's suddenly speaking very fast and energetically. This is her area of special expertise. It's quite striking how different she sounds on this subject. She dutifully responds to questions about national security, but she comes alive talking about children. Ah, but now she's talking about gas prices and she's still hypercharged. Maybe she's looking at the clock and knows she needs to cram more into the little time that's left. By contrast, Obama's tone and speed remain utterly consistent.
9:39. Obama laughs "heh heh heh heh heh" when Hillary is asked about how she'd use former Presidents, specifically George W. Bush.
9:47. Make your pitch to the superdelegates. Hillary: I'm a fighter. I'm ready. Obama: I will lift you up. I'm new. I'm different.
9:51. Good night, everybody.
7:16 AM. I sum up the general reaction to the debate and express my opinion here.