Clinton’s commander in chief ploy

01 May 2007 |permalink | email article

While the first Democratic presidential debate last week failed to reshape the 2008 race it produced a nasty little post-debate skirmish between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over who’s tougher in fighting terrorism which foreshadows her camp’s concern about his aggressive challenge.

Clinton’s campaign, sensing Obama blew a question about how he would respond if two American cities were attacked by terrorists, went for the jugular with a tough overnight press release to reporters.

Titled “Campaign Memo: Commander in Chief,” the Clinton release, without mentioning Obama, was designed to demonstrate that she knew how to lead if the nation was attacked. Her responses, and those by other candidates, prompted a clarification from Obama who later in the debate returned more aggressively to the terrorism issue.

But, as Dan Baltz wrote in The Washington Post, “The Clinton camp conflated her full answer on Thursday without indicating that it had been shortened, making her sound even tough than when she delivered it.”

John Dickerson of Slate saw the same press release and offered a similar analysis of the edited quote, which makes the Democratic frontrunner seem very tough.

But, noticing how her campaign is trying to reframe the terrorism debate, Dickerson suggested that instead of talking about Clinton’s actual judgement when it came to vote on the Iraq war, “they want to discuss her ability to decisively answer hypothetical questions in a debate.”

The question of retaliation should not be a key indicator of Clinton’s ability to be commander-in-chief, Dickerson wrote. “The harder questions for candidates concern the use of force when America hasn’t been attacked” - threats which require military or diplomatic solutions every day for the next president.

“The problem for Clinton is that focusing on what to do when we haven’t been attacked returns the conversation back to her Iraq vote.”

Citing his debate quote using the same no-ellipses editing technique of the Clinton team, Dickerson opined that “Obama definitely sounds better when it comes to these harder questions.”

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