"Well, can I just point out that, in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don't mind," was Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's response to a question about her position on NAFTA during Tuesday night's MSNBC debate in Ohio.
That answer demonstrates why Clinton is trailing in the polls. She can't give a straight answer -- for her life. If Clinton didn't mind getting the first question, then why did she bring it up? Clinton continued, "You know, I'll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious, and if anybody saw 'Saturday Night Live,' you know, maybe we should ask Barack (Obama) if he's comfortable and needs another pillow. I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all these issues. But I'm happy to answer it."
Funny. Clinton didn't seem happy. In those few lines, Clinton instead came across as the passive-aggressive candidate. And she complained about the opportunity to answer first and set the tone of debates.
Later, when MSNBC's Brian Williams asked Clinton about a stump speech in which she took on Barack Obama as a grand-talking candidate, Clinton demurred. "Well, I was having a little fun," Clinton responded. "You know, it's hard to find time to have fun on the campaign trail, but occasionally you can sneak that in."
Just having fun? Come on. If you want voters to think Obama is all-talk, no-delivery, you have to be willing to say as much yourself. Be a man. Or the female equivalent.
Williams also asked Clinton if she thought Obama was "qualified to be commander in chief," and Clinton would not say Obama was not qualified. She would only say that she was qualified.
Four years ago, Democrats argued that a presidential candidate should have military experience. They argued that Vietnam combat veteran John Kerry would make a better commander in chief because Bush only served in the Air National Guard. Now the Democrats are about to nominate a candidate with absolutely no military experience -- and it doesn't matter.
One thing the debate did not do was clarify what either Democrat will do about Iraq. Both say that they immediately would begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, but you have to listen carefully to understand that neither is talking about a complete withdrawal, which many Democrats want.
Obama's plan for "immediate" withdrawal of U.S. troops calls for keeping a "residual force" in Iraq to protect diplomatic and military personnel in Iraq and "continue striking at al-Qaida in Iraq." How many troops does that mean? He doesn't say.
Clinton has said, "If this president does not get us out of Iraq, when I am president, I will." But like Obama, she would leave troops in Iraq.
MSNBC's Tim Russert asked Obama and Clinton what they would do if the Iraq government, angry at the limited troop withdrawal, told Washington to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq. Russert should have asked what the Dems would do if insurgents decimated residual forces that had trouble defending themselves because they lacked the numbers to fight back. And isn't limited engagement the Rumsfeld strategy that Democrats attacked before the 2006 election?
Answers to those questions might get the attention of those who think that a vote for Obama -- who opposed the war when Clinton voted for it in 2002 -- is a vote to end the war. When it isn't. In that, Barack Obama has something in common with Hillary Clinton.