I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that’s their own fault.
We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It’s legitimate to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic issues.
The middle section of the debate, meanwhile, was stupendous. Those could be the most important 30 minutes of this entire campaign, for reasons I will explain in point two:
Second, Obama and Clinton were completely irresponsible. As the first President Bush discovered, it is simply irresponsible statesmanship (and stupid politics) to make blanket pledges to win votes. Both candidates did that on vital issues.
Brooks is right on that. When Clinton and Obama did discuss substance, they didn’t help themselves. For one, Barack Obama admitted A) that capital gains tax cuts raise revenue to the government but B) he’d raise taxes on capital gains anyway. So the point of the tax system is no not to generate revenue, but to punish people for being successful? That’s exactly the sort of message that Democrats don’t want the American public to hear. It undercuts their own major policy arguments that the real purpose why the Democrats have an undying love affair with taxes is because government is chronically underfunded. Obama just admitted in front of everyone that he doesn’t care if a tax increase would reduce revenue, he’d still be for it. That’s a message that we’ll be hearing in GOP attack ads this summer.
Clinton doesn’t exactly have much to crow about either:
Both promised to not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 or $250,000 a year. They both just emasculated their domestic programs. Returning the rich to their Clinton-era tax rates will yield, at best, $40 billion a year in revenue. It’s impossible to fund a health care plan, let alone anything else, with that kind of money. The consequences are clear: if elected they will have to break their pledge, and thus destroy their credibility, or run a minimalist administration.
The chances of either Democrat running a minimalist administration are roughly the same as Mira Sorvino showing up at my door holding a winning lottery ticket and plane tickets to Tahiti for two. It just isn’t going to happen. So how are the Democrats going to fund universal health care, more funding for virtually everything (except the military) and not raise taxes on more than just the “rich?” The good money is on “they won’t.” The only way to fund all these billions of dollars in goodies is by reaching into all of our pockets to do so.
Brooks sees electability as a problem for the Democrats, but he’s still bullish on Obama. To win the nomination, for sure it’s virtually sure to be Obama. But if Sen. Obama keeps floundering like this when being asked tough questions, all the sycophantic media coverage in the world won’t save him. It’s understandable why the Democrats are flocking to Obama—but at the same time perhaps they should be less quick to shoot the messenger and start taking a hard look at who Barack Obama really is.