Austin Debate

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For those of you Bourbon Room loyalists, you well remember -- or may have been trying to forget -- my near-rhapsodic take on the Los Angeles debate, the first Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama tilt of the campaign.

No need to rhapsodize tonight. Instead of my thoughts, tonight I will pose a series of questions that may help us decide what mattered most and how the debate did or did not change the arc of this fascinating and historic Democratic pursuit of the presidency.

Note: Some questions I will answer for you. Have no fear, the answers will lead to other questions The Bourbon Room promises not to answer.

Here we go.

1. What does camp Clinton consider THE most important moment of the debate?

The lengthy and "passionate" exchange over universal health care?


The debate over whether or not to impose a five-year moratorium on adjustable rate mortgages, as Clinton proposes and Obama opposes?


The debate over how Clinton would restore "fiscal discipline" by ending Bush tax breaks for the wealthy and ending the Iraq war to invest in new infrastructure and start new "clean green jobs"?


The answer came from Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson in the form of an e-mail sent to reporters at 9:57 p.m. EST, mere moments after the debate ended. The full contents of the Wolfson e-mail are reprinted here:

"What we saw in the final moments in that debate is why Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States. Her strength, her experience, her compassion. She's tested and ready. It was the moment she retook the reins of this race and showed women and men why she is the best choice."

Question: Do you agree and do you see anything relevant at all in the near-instantaneous framing of the "moment" by Sen. Clinton's campaign?

Question: Does the following e-mail sent to reporters at 10:15 p.m. EST by Bill Burton, national spokesman for Barack Obama's campaign, carry any weight with you?

"Clinton tonight: You know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that's what this election should be about."

The Burton e-mail then includes this quote from John Edwards: "What's not at stake are any of us. All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election. But what's at stake is whether America is going to be fine." The quote comes from a Democratic candidate debate on Dec. 13, 2007.

UPDATE from the Obama campaign at 11:35 p.m. EST:

Burton sent this e-mail: Yet another line lifted for what was her "best moment."


Clinton tonight: "You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country. And I resolved at a very young age that I'd been blessed and that I was called upon by my faith and by my upbringing to do what I could to give others the same opportunities and blessings that I took for granted. That's what gets me up in the morning. That's what motivates me in this campaign."

President Clinton: "When the history of this campaign is written, they may say, well, Bill Clinton took a lot of hits in this campaign. The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits that people in this state and country are taking every day of their lives under this administration (Aug. 14, 2000).

Question: Does this second Obama e-mail on the Clinton "moment" matter to you or suggest anything to you about the degree of concern camp Obama has about the "moment"?

Which leads to a related question. Did you consider Clinton's line against Obama on the question of lifting lines (or trading them) from/with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick memorable? To jog your memory Clinton said: "That's not change you can believe in, that's change you can Xerox."

Next question. Do you remember Clinton saying more frequently she agreed with Obama or Obama saying more frequently that he agreed with Clinton? Your answer, based on your recollection of the debate is more important than the actual answer (which, to be honest, The Bourbon Room doesn't have).

The related question is this: Generally, considering the current context of the race and Obama's 11 straight victories (Obama won the Democrats Abroad primary today), does Clinton agreement with Obama on issues do more for Obama than his agreement with her on issues?

Question: Does it matter to you that in a 2003 questionnaire, Obama said he favored normalizing relations with Cuba (, but tonight said he would not normalize relations with Cuba unless it pursues human rights and democratic reforms.

Question: Do you think the gap between Clinton and Obama narrowed or expanded on whether the next president should negotiate directly with U.S. enemies such Cuba, Iran and North Korea?

Question: Can you remember a significant difference that emerged in nearly 10 minutes of debate over how to revive the U.S. economy?

Question: Do you understand the difference between Clinton and Obama on the pursuit of universal health care coverage? Does it strike you as an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin difference or a crucial philosophical divide?

Question: Do you agree or disagree with Obama's assertion the Iraq troop surge represents a "tactical victory" that is hopelessly ensnared in major "strategic blunder"?

Question: Do you believe Obama's surge answer, if he's the Democratic nominee, will be viewed as one of strength in the inevitable Iraq debates with Sen. John McCain?

Question: Which is the logical sequence in a republic as politically complex as ours: change then solutions, or solutions then change?

Question: Did Obama look to you more or less presidential than in the previous 18 debates?

Question: Did you think Clinton faced the hardest debate of this campaign in light of her poor post-Super Tuesday performances and, as such, deserves higher marks for pluck, poise and determination?

Question: Did either Obama or Clinton answer the final "crisis" question and does that matter to you?

The answers are yours. The election is yours, especially in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont on March 4 (remember Texans, early voting is occurring NOW).