Debate appears bogged down on impressionistic themes -- now nearly a half an hour in and the panel is still hashing out vague and largely personality-driven assessments of the candidates. This may be inevitable because of the sense that so much issue terrain has been covered by previous debates. It may also reflect how personal the race has become in the past week.
Clinton appears less-than-comfortable explaining her "false hopes'" line of attack against Obama and leaves it "up for the voters to decide" if Obama and Edwards are capable of being president. Obama also appeared bogged down having to explain his comments to the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper that he wouldn't be a chief operating officer type of president. He explained that he sees the job as largely about setting a tone, setting a course and creating a movement to pursue it.
Clinton immediately warmed up to the topic and scored a hard punch suggesting Obama was describing a hands-off approach to the presidency reminiscent of President Bush's. Clinton said a president needed to set a course of action but also get knee-deep in the details. "I think you have to do both," she declared crisply. Obama, sensing a successful strike from Clinton, denied he would bring a Bushian approach to the office. He promised a more intellectually curious and probing presidency, one that would not go to war in Iraq "without asking the tough questions" and thoroughly examining all the intelligence (pro and con). Thus Obama elevated his judgment argument on Iraq to parry Clinton's jab on his leave-the-paper-pushing-to-someone-else view of the presidency. This exchange may prove among the most interesting to voters watching the debate. But here's a prediction it won't make it into many debate articles or TV summaries.