Friday, November 16, 2007


No matter for debate

I haven't commented on any of the previous Presidential "debates" among the Democrats for the simple reason that I didn't watch them. Last night, however, a bout of insomnia brought on by an ill-considered cup of coffee left me wide-eyed and incredulous.

As you know, unless you've recently returned from Tibet, the previous debate resulted in a lot of head-shaking among the pundit class that Hillary had stumbled badly and had proven the charge that she is a "waffler." Clinton had attempted to come down on both sides of the question of New York Governor Spitzer's plan to issue state driver's licenses to illegal aliens (a plan which he has since abandoned).

But this is a different day. After last night's debate the consensus was that Hillary "won" or "regained her footing," Obama "struggled," Edwards "retreated" and no one else mattered. (For some of the awed reactions to Hillary's performance, see this compilation of reviews at MyDD.)

It's true that several of the candidates spoke as if they'd spent the previous night with me at the Pink Snapper. But, what the hell! The debate was held in Las Vegas, so what did they expect?

And I won't go through the various ways the debate was slanted and skewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer and crew.

But once you got past Dennis Kucinich, the "debate" was so shy of content that no one should be surprised that the final question bore witness to the Ultimate Triumph of the Inane—

SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Maria, would you stand please? Give us your full name.

MARIA PARRA SANDOVAL (ph): Maria Parra Sandoval (ph), and I'm a UNLV student. And my question is for Senator Clinton.

This is a fun question for you. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls? (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Now, I know I'm sometimes accused of not being able to make a choice. I want both.

[All quotes from the debate are reformatted from transcripts provided by CNN and the NY Times.]

Far be it from me to suggest either that someone—the Clinton campaign or CNN, for instance—planted that question or that CNN deliberately saved it until the last to provide a lighter note as we moved into the commercials. That would be just too, too manipulative.

One of the few points of substance came up in regard to "saving" Social Security wherein Hillary Clinton either spun the truth into a lie or is terribly misinformed.

MS. BAGLEY: I'm a booth cashier. And we moved here over 30 years ago. And I have three children, and as of yesterday, eight grandchildren. (Applause.)

MS. MALVEAUX: And what is your question — Congratulations. That's amazing!1 — And what is your question to the candidates?

MS. BAGLEY: ....

Throughout the campaign we've heard the candidates ... committing to support Social Security and Medicare .... but the ideas on reform are often vague. My question is, what do you plan to do to ensure that Social Security and Medicare are truly available to us, our children and grandchildren in light of the current budget conditions?

MS. MALVEAUX: Thank you very much; a very important issue.

Senator Obama.

SEN. OBAMA: .... Look, this is something that we've talked about in our campaign. We've got 78 million baby boomers who are going to be retiring and the first thing we have to do is to put an end to George Bush raiding the Social Security trust fund to pay for a misguided war in Iraq. (Applause.) If we take some of that money back and we start getting control of our budget and have fiscal discipline, that will make some of the difference, but not all of it, because we're going to have more senior citizens, more retirees and fewer workers.

So I've been very specific about saying that we should not privatize; we should protect benefits. I don't think the best way to approach this is to raise the retirement age. But what we can do is adjust the cap on the payroll tax. Right now anybody who's making $97,000 or less, you pay payroll tax on 100 percent of your income. Warren Buffet, who made $46 million last year, pays on a fraction of 1 percent of his income. And if we make that small adjustment, we can potentially close that gap and we can make sure Social Security is there. (Applause.)

[Then he goes on to say something vague about Medicare.]

MR. BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Clinton, you've been criticized by Senator Obama, I think Senator Edwards, among others, for refusing to take a hard and fast position on whether you would raise the tax above those making $97,500 dollars a year to try to secure Social Security in the long term. Are you ready to make a hard and fast statement now on your position on what Senator Obama just said?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I'll tell you what I'm for, and I think Judy raises two really important issues. I am for getting back to fiscal responsibility. I think I counted you said "deficit" three times. Six and a half years ago when George Bush came into office, he inherited a balanced budget and a surplus -- (applause) -- and the Social Security system was on a path to be solvent into 2055.

[Waxes eloquent on "fiscal responsibility."]


SEN. CLINTON: -- and then I think we have to have a bipartisan commission. I do not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle class families and seniors. (Applause.) If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don't think we need to do that.

Clinton then took on Medicare ever so briefly—

But I want to say one final word about Medicare. Number one, Medicare should be able to negotiate for lower drug prices. (Applause.)

MR. BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Senator.

SEN. CLINTON: It was a travesty when the Bush administration did not allow that to happen, and I have a lot of other ideas about how we'll preserve and strengthen Medicare.

Which she did not deign to share.

At that point Obama hopped up, all excited.

MR. BLITZER: All right. So Senator -- so you're not ready to accept that raising of the cap on that, but I know that Senator Obama wants to respond to you.

SEN. OBAMA: I will be very brief on this because, Hillary, I've heard you say this is a trillion dollar tax cut on the middle class by adjusting the cap. Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000 -- (cheers, applause) -- so 6 percent is not the middle class -- it's the upper class.

And you know, this is the kind of thing that I would expect from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani -- (laughter, boos, cheers, applause) -- where we start playing with numbers -- we start playing with numbers in order to try to make a point. (Cheers, applause.) And we can't do that. No, no, no, no, no. This is -- this is -- this is too important. This is too important for us to pretend that we're using numbers like a trillion dollar tax cut instead of responsibly dealing with a problem that Judy asked for, and she said she wants a specific answer. And that's what I provided.

But understand, this is the top 6 percent, and that is not the middle class. (Cheers, applause.)

Whether by intention or overexcitement Obama referred twice to the trillion dollar figure as a "tax cut." That is unfortunate. But he is accurate as to the percent of the population having a personal income above $97,000.2

Hillary then did a "Hillary." She corrected Obama's mischaracterization of the trillion dollar "tax cut" and began to babble. She sounded like Condoleezza Rice explaining foreign policy. As I said, she is either dishonest or uninformed, and I vote for dishonest.

MR. BLITZER: Senator?

SEN. CLINTON: First of all -- first of all, I think that you meant a tax increase, because that's what it would be.3 But secondly, it is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I'm not talking -- I mean, you know, it's different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board, and the numbers are staggering.

This is pandering to Wall Street at its best. It may be that school supervisors and firemen make salaries in excess of $97,000 in the larger cities. But I would really like to know just how many of them there are so that you can help your children plan their futures. One thing is for certain: the numbers aren't staggering.

As for the notion that raising the cap would be "burdensome": If she thinks a bit more of a SSI deduction for those making over $97,000 would be burdensome, what must she think of that deduction for those making less?

Let's get real. The increase beyond the cap at $97,000 would represent only a small increase above the amount those earning slightly above $97,000 already pay. Only those making significantly in excess of $97,000 would see what might be called a "significant" increase. And when you arrive in that class, the increase is still insignificant.

Well, there you have it. I have promised myself never to have another evening cup of coffee—at least on those nights when the Democrats plan to debate.



1I am still in the dark as to what was so amazing about Ms. Bagley's fecundity. Is it rare for Nevadans to breed? [back]

2According to Wikipedia, based on Bureau of the Census figures for 2005, for Americans 25 or older "only 5.63% ... had incomes exceeding $100,000." Note that this figure refers to personal income, not household income. Of the same age group, half earned less than $32,140. [back]

3Clinton should probably have let this one go. But then no one called her out when she said, referring to bargaining for lower drug prices, that "It was a travesty when the Bush administration did not allow that to happen."

She meant, I suppose, that it was a tragedy. The debate itself was a travesty. [back]

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