With mere days left before Super Tuesday and down to just two candidates, Thursday’s Democratic debate in Los Angeles gave voters a crucial eleventh-hour look at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who kept things friendly enough while staking out their differences on several key issues—health care, the economy and, most importantly, the Iraq war.
Clinton handled one questioner’s intimation that a Clinton dynasty, even staggered as it would be with its Bush family counterpart, might be politically problematic for the country by quipping that it took a Clinton to sort America out after Bush I’s White House tenure, and thus her work would also be cut out for her, drawing a lengthy round of applause from the audience at L.A.‘s Kodak Auditorium. (Aside: What was with all those cutaways to celebrities? Was the world really waiting to see Fisher Stevens’ reaction to Obama’s position on America’s international misadventures?)
Clinton also drew clear distinctions between her position on health care reform and Obama’s, insisting that “we must have universal health care,” and calling it a national moral imperative. Though Clinton and Obama have similar plans, hers would require everyone to purchase coverage, while his mandates coverage only for children. In another moment of comparison, both candidates took on the subprime mortgage crisis and laid out what they would each do to tackle the pressing problem (Clinton says she’d freeze interest rates for five years; Obama would create a shared fund instead).
But when it came to the key issue of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama held the trump card. Clinton argued that she cast her vote before the U.S. invaded Iraq not to enable an unwarranted war, but to assist in a process she thought would proceed differently. Obama retorted by taking a line from Clinton’s stump speech and pointedly noting that “It’s important to be right on day one.” That crucial round definitely went to the Illinois senator, who clinched it with a notion that sounds mighty good from here, if it can indeed be accomplished by anyone who runs the political gamut all the way to the Oval Office: “I don’t want to just end the war,” Obama said, “but I want to end the mind-set that got us into the war in the first place.”