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Hollywood Snooze By: Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard | Friday, February 01, 2008


IS THAT WHAT we were waiting for? A nearly two-hour debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama devoted to issues on which they basically agree. Well, that's what we got. The low point came when Clinton insisted they were having "such a great time" in the debate and Obama said, "Absolutely." If they really were--and I doubt it--the viewers couldn't possibly have been.

What did we learn? We now know without a doubt that Clinton is a blowhard. An all too frequent statement by CNN host Wolf Blitzer was, "Senator . . . senator." He was trying to stop her from blathering on. But he failed. You could tell she's been in the Senate longer than Obama. She's adept at filibustering in mind-numbing fashion.

Following the debate, CNN's Anderson Cooper noted that it was the candidates' "last time to score points one on one." Maybe so, but it's clear from this and earlier debates that Obama isn't particularly interested in scoring points. Sure, he contrasts his early opposition to the war in Iraq with her Senate vote authorizing it, but what matters is that they now agree on getting American troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. Neither has the faintest interest in winning in Iraq.

Clinton doesn't seem bent on winning in Afghanistan either. She said he wants to "end" the war in Iraq, but her goal is to "resolve" the war in Afghanistan. Neither Obama nor the media questioners asked what she meant by that.

Obama's strongest shot consisted of noting that "it took a while" for Clinton to reach a clear position on whether illegal immigrants should get drivers' licenses. Wow! Her response was that he had trouble giving a clear answer on that issue as well.

On the sub-prime mortgage issue, they sound the same, absolving borrowers and blaming the mess on evil lenders. She's for a 5-year moratorium on raising interest rates. He's not. Okay, that might be a real difference if Clinton's moratorium had a chance of becoming law. It doesn't. By the time she might be in the White House, the sub-prime problem will have eased or vanished altogether.

Both Clinton and Obama have the annoying habit of saying "health care" when they mean "health insurance." And there's a significant difference. By law, hospitals are not allowed to turn patients away, so health care is universal. But there's no law requiring anyone to buy health insurance, except in Massachusetts under the law then-governor Mitt Romney and the state legislature passed several years ago. Clinton would make that mandate national.

Though Obama doesn't favor a mandate, he noted correctly that his and Clinton's health insurance plans are 95 percent alike. And the truth is, mandate or not, the same number of people would probably wind up with insurance. After all, we have mandated auto insurance in many states, yet many drivers don't bother to buy it.

Both Obama and Clinton, it turns out, expect to fund their health insurance plans through magic. Obama said his scheme would "conservatively save" $100 billion to $150 billion by emphasizing early medical care, freeing that money to subsidize insurance for those who can't pay. Not likely. Clinton said hers would save $55 billion through "modernization and efficiencies." Also not likely.

Until the very end, neither the glaring flaws of the two candidates nor the serious differences between them were broached. One flaw is Obama's lack of substance or a record in Washington of practicing what he preaches, bringing anyone together and fostering bipartisanship. Another is what Clinton biographer Carl Bernstein calls her longstanding habit of untruthfulness. And I could go on.

And why wasn't Clinton asked about her campaign ad that falsely claimed Obama had spoken approvingly of Ronald Reagan's record as president? At least she was asked if she could control her husband Bill Clinton, the former president, should she become president. She said it wouldn't be a co-presidency.

Clinton did a good job of suppressing her nervous laugh--some think it's a fake laugh--for most of the debate. But she lost control when the subject of Bill came up, followed by a question about whether she might choose Obama as her running mate, or he might choose her. A dream ticket, Blitzer suggested. But neither candidate jumped to embrace it.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.


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