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Nothing to Lose By: Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard | Thursday, April 17, 2008


YOU ONLY HAD TO watch last night's Democratic presidential debate to understand why Hillary Clinton stays in the race. She's losing the nomination fight to Barack Obama in both the delegate count and the popular vote. But if bad things happen to her in a debate or while campaigning, she'll be no worse off. She'll still be losing. Her prospects of winning may be slightly more remote, but they aren't exactly bright now.

But if bad things happen to Obama, that's another story. In a debate, he's bound to be asked questions about matters he'd rather not be front and center in this campaign. And indeed those matters were dwelled on last night: his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his week-old putdown of small town voters, the American flag pin he no longer wears. No good can come to Obama when these issues dominate a nationally televised debate, as they did last night.

Sure, Clinton had a tough time dealing with her lie about having been under sniper fire in Bosnia in 1995. But so what? She's already suffered whatever hurt that episode may have caused her. For now, all Clinton has to do is stay in the race and hope Obama makes more rookie mistakes. No Clinton candidacy, no TV debates, far less pressure on Obama.

He made a few mistakes last night under questioning by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos--but not egregious ones. He compared his association with a former left-wing bomber to his friendship with a Republican senator. He said he hadn't signed a questionnaire in which he advocated a ban on guns, though it's been widely reported that his signature was on the document. He said he might raise the capital gains tax even though a higher rate might reduce the revenue it takes in.

Obama insisted repeatedly that the debate--indeed, the entire presidential campaign--had gotten off the track whenever he was asked about unfriendly issues. These were a distraction from the real issues confronting America, he insisted, though once again he and Clinton essentially agreed on almost every single one of those supposedly more important issues when they did come up.

Clinton, given her desperate position, was free to say just about anything. She cited her record of "35 years of producing results," though what these results might be remains a mystery. She claimed to be "ready to be commander-in-chief," but her only evidence was that some retired generals have endorsed her.

Obama doesn't have to provide Clinton a national audience for these dubious claims. All he has to do is refuse any further debates, including one in North Carolina before the state's May 6 primary that CBS wants to stage. Clinton has already accepted.

This won't keep Obama entirely out of trouble. He made the disastrous comment about working class people clinging to guns and religion at a private gathering in the San Francisco mansion of the Gettys, classic limousine liberals. But declining further debates will reduce the risks he faces as the frontrunner.

He was lucky in San Francisco. His remarks were tape recorded, but there was no video. Imagine if there had been. His condescending remarks about the denizens of rural Pennsylvania would still be playing everywhere, not just on cable news.

Clinton wasn't as lucky. Her peaceful arrival in Bosnia with no snipers around was videotaped for all to see. And no doubt anyone likely to vote this year did.


Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.


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