Hillary Clinton didn't win Thursday's CNN Democratic presidential debate so much as Barack Obama and John Edwards lost it. When the smoke cleared, it was obvious why Sen. Clinton of New York is leading in the polls.
After the last debate on Oct. 30, Clinton was forced to admit she "wasn't at my best." She gave a convoluted answer after NBC's Tim Russert asked whether she supported allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses. Clinton accused Russert of playing "gotcha." When Russert asked all of the candidates if any of them opposed licenses for illegal immigrants, only Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut raised his hand.
After the Philly debate, Clinton again rejiggered her position on drivers' licenses. She now, like 65 percent of New York voters, is agin' 'em. Which ought to have made Clinton seem more craven and less trustworthy.
Except, what did Clinton's top rivals do in Las Vegas? They out-parsed her. Edwards hit Clinton for saying "two contrary things at the same time." Then he answered "no," when asked if he supported drivers' licenses for illegal aliens -- a switch from last month. He added that he supports licenses for those on the path to citizenship and suggested he would change his position given comprehensive immigration reform.
After criticizing Clinton for not giving "straight answers to tough questions" such as the licenses query, Obama waffled. Asked the same question, Obama said he once voted for licenses for illegal immigrants, but, "I am not proposing that is what we do." Later, Obama answered yes, when asked if he supported drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants.
Edwards and Obama had morphed into the bad Hillary.
I have long suspected that Obama, the senator from Illinois, is the only Democrat who can win the general election in 2008. The other senators in the ring voted for the war in Iraq before they were against it. While that flip-flop may play with Democratic primary voters, it is a loser in a general election. After all, U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians don't get a do-over.
The Obama I saw at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., on Wednesday, unlike the Las Vegas debate Obama, seemed direct and appealing. He hit a chord with the audience when he argued: "Democrats lose when they are not clear about what they stand for. Democrats lose when they are attacked, and -- because they don't know where they stand -- they end up getting defensive instead of going on the offensive." (If you believe that Clinton and Edwards voted for the Iraq war resolution out of ambition, not out of principle, then you understand why some Democrats get defensive.)
I walked out of the Google campaign stop thinking that, unlike Clinton and the smarmy Edwards, Obama is the only top-tier Democrat who says what he means.
Now I'm not so sure that's a good thing. At Google, Obama claimed that, if he is elected, the world instantly will look at America differently. I realize that the American left wants to believe that everything that goes bad in this world is due to the fact that the whole world hates George W. Bush as much as they do, but it so happens that Osama bin Laden planned the Sept. 11 attacks when Bill Clinton was president. No, I am not blaming Clinton -- but I am reminding readers that America was a terrorist target before the Iraq war.
When CNN's John Roberts asked Obama in whose backyard he would store nuclear waste, Obama answered, "We've got to develop the storage capacity based on sound science." When Wolf Blitzer pressed Obama on what he would do until that day, Obama responded, "I'm running for president because I think we can do it." As if his election will create new science. Elect Obama -- wave a magic wand.
When Blitzer asked Obama if human rights are more important than U.S. national security, Obama answered, "The concepts are not contradictory, Wolf." That is a child's answer. It suggests the next president could alienate an ally in the war against terror because it has poor civil rights -- when countries in that territory have less than stellar records in that department. If Obama believes what he said, woe be to the nation.
For her part, Clinton understood that a president's "first obligation" is "to protect and defend" America. Among the top tier of Democratic candidates, she seems to be the only one who understands that outside American borders lurks a hostile world.