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.)