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Mystery Debate Theater 2008

Due to distractions caused by the impact of a severe recession at Beachwood HQ and emergency efforts to stave off a Great Depression, the Mystery Debate Theater team was unable to meet to watch the Democratic debate in South Carolina, but once again that didn't prevent Steve Rhodes and Tim Willette from exchanging witty e-mails during the proceedings. As always, this transcript has been edited for clarity, space and sanity.


JOE JOHNS, CNN: How much money would your stimulus plan put in the pockets of the average South Carolinian?

STEVE: More than North Carolinians will get!

STEVE: Alternate answer: Is that a stimulus plan in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I have a package of $110 billion; $70 billion of that would go towards dealing with the mortgage crisis, which, unfortunately, I don't think that President Bush has really taken seriously enough.

I would have a moratorium on home foreclosures for 90 days to try to help families work it out so that they don't lose their homes. I want to have an interest rate freeze for five years, because these adjustable-rate mortgages, if they keep going up, the problem will just get compounded.

Then, I think we need to give people about $650, if they qualify - which will be millions of people - to help pay their energy bills this winter. You know, there are so many people on fixed incomes and working people who are not going to be able to afford the spike in energy costs.

And then we will have money for rebates, but let's make them the right rebates. Everything we know about President Bush's plans would leave 50 million to 70 million Americans out, because a lot of our seniors on fixed incomes don't pay income taxes. But that doesn't mean they're immune from the energy costs and the health care costs and everything else that's going up around them.

And we have a huge number of working people who thankfully don't pay income tax. They pay payroll tax. They pay a lot of other taxes. President Bush's plan would do nothing to help them.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Senator Obama, do you agree with her, $650 is a good number for a tax rebate?

STEVE: $651!

OBAMA: What I do is I say, for a typical family, $500 for a tax rebate per family.

STEVE: And then they can just hope for the rest. He went lower?

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, Senator Edwards. Your plan does not call for a tax rebate, does it?

FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: That's exactly right. Can I start by saying how proud I am to be here tonight, a debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus on Dr. King's holiday?

STEVE: Oh God, please don't.

BLITZER: But what about the stimulus package?

EDWARDS: If we're actually going to deal with the legacy of Dr. King, if we're going to deal with this issue of poverty - and I have a comprehensive plan to do that, it is the cause of my life, to end poverty in this country - we also have to include all Americans in this stimulus plan.

STEVE: I thought the cause of his life was suing medical device companies.

EDWARDS: There is one other issue that was mentioned in passing by the two of them, which is the issue of jobs. And there is a difference between myself and my colleagues on this issue of jobs, because they both supported the Peru trade deal.

BLITZER: But I just want to be precise. What you're proposing are really long-term objectives. In terms of a short-term stimulus package, you disagree with them on an immediate tax rebate.

EDWARDS: What I'm saying is if we do what we should do to green the economy, if we change our unemployment insurance laws, modernize them to make them available to more people, to more Americans, if we in fact give help to the states, which gets money straight into the economy and we deal with the mortgage crisis in a serious way with a home rescue fund to provide transitional financing for those people who are about to lose their homes, all those things will stimulate the economy.

STEVE: In about 20 years.


OBAMA: The only thing I want to differ with on John is this whole notion of Peru.

STEVE: Please don't.

OBAMA: The Peru trade deal had labor and environmental agreements in it. Peru is an economy the size of New Hampshire. Over 90 percent of the goods coming from Peru already come in under various free trade agreements.

And, John, you voted for permanent trade relations with China, which I think anybody who looks at how we structure trade in this country would tell you has been the biggest beneficiary and the biggest problem that we have with respect to trade, particularly because they're still manipulating the currency.

BLITZER: I'll let you respond, but, Senator Clinton, I want to get back to the issue of an immediate stimulus for the economy.

CLINTON: Well, I want to just clarify a couple of points. My original plan was $70 billion in spending with a $40 billion contingency that was part of the original plan, in order to have that money available for tax rebates.

I hoped that we could do it through spending, and here's why: I don't want to necessarily open up the tax code while we've got Republicans in the Senate who are going to try to come back and open up making Bush's tax cuts permanent.

I understand that that's a real risk. So I was hoping to be able to do it through spending, but the crisis has gotten too deep, and what happened in the markets globally today is a huge wakeup call.

The president should convene the working group on financial markets . . .

STEVE: Obama and Edwards are thinking, there's a working group on financial markets? How does she know this stuff?

CLINTON: . . . he should ask the secretary of treasury to do this immediately. I know that there's been talking going on, but the president's proposed stimulus package is not adequate. It is too little too late and it doesn't give enough money to the people who are hardest hit by the increased costs in energy and everything else.

As a further point, I do believe that the green-collar job piece of this is important. That's why I have $5 billion to do it. There are programs already. Oakland, California, Mayor Dellums is working to have a green-collar job program. We could put hundreds and hundreds of young people to work right now, putting solar panels in, insulating homes.

That would give them jobs and it would move us more quickly to a green economy. And I think that if you look at this from a jobs and justice, a stimulation and long-term planning effort, we need to lay down the markers now. And that's why the Congress, under the leadership of a lot of the people who are chairs of committees and subcommittees who are here today are going to play a major role in this. And we've got to hold the line against President Bush with his ill-advised approach to stimulating the economy.

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, what I have proposed for green-collar jobs will create jobs within 30 or so days.

STEVE: Thirty days? You won't even be able to get the jobs advertised within 30 days.

EDWARDS: And the problem with Peru, Barack, is you are leaving the enforcement of environmental and labor regulations in the hands of George Bush. I wouldn't trust George Bush to enforce anything, certainly not trade obligations.

STEVE: You trusted him to wage a war, though.

OBAMA: Well, the only point I would make is that in a year's time, it'll be me who's enforcing them.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: I'd like to follow-up with Senator Obama. It was just a few days ago that Senator Clinton asserted that she was the strongest candidate when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

She says that the new programs that she proposes she essentially can pay for. She says that you have failed in that regard in the tune of some $50 billion worth of new programs that you cannot account for.

OBAMA: What she said wasn't true. We account for every single dollar that we propose.

STEVE: It's called Cook County accounting. We use a double-entry bookkeeping.

OBAMA: Now, this, I think, is one of the things that's happened during the course of this campaign, that there's a set of assertions made by Senator Clinton, as well as her husband, that are not factually accurate.

When Senator Clinton or President Clinton asserts that I said that the Republicans had had better economic policies since 1980, that is not the case.

CLINTON: When it comes to a lot of the issues that are important in this race, it is sometimes difficult to understand what Senator Obama has said, because as soon as he is confronted on it, he says that's not what he meant.

The facts are that he has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years, and we can give you the exact quote.

STEVE: That's alright. I'll do it.

I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.

STEVE: He also said this.

Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path, because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the sixties and the seventies and, you know, government had grown and grown, but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating, and I think he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

CLINTON: Now, I personally think they had ideas, but they were bad ideas. They were bad ideas for America. They were ideas like privatizing Social Security, like moving back from a balanced budget and a surplus to deficit and debt.

STEVE: Those are hardly new ideas, either.

CLINTON: And with respect to putting forth how one would pay for all of the programs that we're proposing in this campaign, I will be more than happy, Barack, to get the information, because we have searched for it.

You have a lot of money that you want to put into foreign aid, a very worthy program. There is no evidence from your Web site, from your speeches, as to how you would pay for it.

STEVE: And we've searched and searched!

CLINTON: Now, why is this important? It's important because I think elections are about the future. But how do you determine what will happen in the future? Well, you have to look to the record, you have to look to what we say in campaigns, and what we have done during our careers.

And I want to be just very explicit about this. We are not, neither my campaign nor anyone associated with it, are in any way saying you did not oppose the war in Iraq.

You did. You gave a great speech in 2002 opposing the war in Iraq. That was not what the point of our criticism was.

It was after having given that speech, by the next year the speech was off your Web site.

STEVE: I can only find one source on this.

CLINTON: By the next year, you were telling reporters that you agreed with President Bush in his conduct of the war. And by the next year, when you were in the Senate, you were voting to fund the war time after time after time.

So it was more about the distinction between words and action. And I think that is a fair assessment for voters to make.

OBAMA: Hillary, I will be happy to provide you with the information about all the spending that we do. Now, let's talk about Ronald Reagan. What you just repeated here today is . . .

CLINTON: Barack . . .

OBAMA: Wait. No. Hillary, you just spoke.

CLINTON: I did not say anything about Ronald Reagan.

OBAMA: You just spoke for two minutes.

CLINTON: You said two things.

OBAMA: You just . . .

CLINTON: You talked about admiring Ronald Reagan and you talked about the ideas . . .

OBAMA: Hillary, I'm sorry. You just . . .

CLINTON: I didn't talk about Reagan.

STEVE: She's right, she didn't.

OBAMA: Hillary, we just had the tape. You just said that I complimented the Republican ideas. That is not true.

What I said - and I will provide you with a quote - what I said was is that Ronald Reagan was a transformative political figure because he was able to get Democrats to vote against their economic interests to form a majority to push through their agenda, an agenda that I objected to.

STEVE: I'm not sure Obama said anything of the sort, according to portions of the transcript his own campaign is giving reporters.

OBAMA: Because while I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.

STEVE: And Michelle Obama was on the board of a huge and nasty Wal-Mart supplier.

OBAMA: I spent a lifetime fighting against Ronald Reagan's policies.

STEVE: Except when I appear before conservative editorial boards.

OBAMA: The irony of this is that you provided much more fulsome praise of Ronald Reagan in a book by Tom Brokaw that's being published right now, as did Bill Clinton in the past. So these are the kinds of political games that we are accustomed to.

CLINTON: Now, wait a minute. Wolf, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Just a minute.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, let them wrap up. Then I'm going to come to you.

CLINTON: I just want - I just to clarify - I want to clarify the record. Wait a minute.

EDWARDS: There's a third person in this debate.

BLITZER: Wait a minute, Senator Edwards. Hold on.

CLINTON: I just want to be sure . . .

OBAMA: Go ahead and address what you said about . . .

BLITZER: We have got a long time to. You'll have a good opportunity.

CLINTON: We're just getting warmed up.


CLINTON: Now, I just - I just want to be clear about this. In an editorial board with the Reno newspaper, you said two different things, because I have read the transcript. You talked about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader. I did not mention his name.

OBAMA: Your husband did.

CLINTON: Well, I'm here. He's not. And . . .

OBAMA: OK. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.

CLINTON: Well, you know, I think we both have very passionate and committed spouses who stand up for us. And I'm proud of that.

But you also talked about the Republicans having ideas over the last 10 to 15 years.

OBAMA: I didn't say they were good ones.

STEVE: Oh please!

CLINTON: It certainly came across in the way that it was presented, as though the Republicans had been standing up against the conventional wisdom with their ideas. I'm just reacting to the fact, yes, they did have ideas, and they were bad ideas.

OBAMA: I agree.

CLINTON: Bad for America, and I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

STEVE: Whoa! It's on!

OBAMA: No, no, no.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Hold on.

EDWARDS: What I want to say first is, are there three people in this debate, not two?

STEVE: Nobody wants to hear John Edwards right now, for Godsakes!

EDWARDS: I also want to know on behalf of voters here in South Carolina, this kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this? How many kids are going to be able to go to college because of this?

STEVE: None if you think the Republicans had all the great ideas in the last 15 years,

EDWARDS: This is the cause of my life.

STEVE: We get it! You were born in a mill! What a buzzkill.


BLITZER: Senator Clinton, Alan Greenspan suggested that we simply have to let this housing crisis exhaust itself. Trying to prevent the housing markets from going down merely prolongs the agony.

CLINTON: I think it helps to mitigate the agony. I mean, what I hear as I go in and out of people's homes and talk to so many who have already lost their homes, they're in foreclosure, they see these interest rates that are about to go up and they know they can't pay them, is that we take action now.

I've been calling for action since last March. When I first started calling for it, a lot of the same economists who now say don't do anything about it said, well, it won't be that bad. We'll be able to weather the crisis.

Well, the fact is, the mortgage crisis is not only destroying the dreams of Americans for home ownership, it is having a ripple effect across the world. So my moratorium for 90 days is a work-out. It's not a bailout. I want people to be able to see whether they can stay in their homes paying a rate that is affordable for them.

And the interest rate freeze is I think merited, because look at what's happening - if you're a big bank that helped get us into this mess, you go borrow money from Abu Dhabi or somewhere. If you're a homeowner who has been at the bottom of this incredible scheme that was established, you're left holding the bag and you don't have the house anymore.

So I just disagree with those who say don't try to do anything to help the people who need the help right now.

OBAMA: I think it is important to make sure that we're not helping out the speculators, but instead are helping out the homeowners who are actually living in their homes, who have the capacity to make the payments if they're not seeing a huge increase in their mortgage payments.

Two years ago I introduced a provision that would eliminate predatory lending, something that I had already helped to get passed at the state level.

And this is an area where I've got a policy disagreement with Senator Clinton. When we talked a while back, just in the last debate, we talked about the bankruptcy bill, which had been pushed by the banks and the financial institutions, that said, basically, it will be harder for folks who have been lured into these teaser rates and then see their credit cards go up to 30 percent, that they would have a tougher time getting out of bankruptcy.

In the last debate, Senator Clinton said she voted for it but hoped that it wouldn't pass. Now, I don't understand that approach to legislation.

STEVE: Yeah, why didn't she just vote present?

BLITZER: I just want to give you a chance, Senator Obama, if you want to respond. Senator Clinton made a serious allegation that you worked for a slumlord.

OBAMA: Here's what happened: I was an associate at a law firm that represented a church group that had partnered with this individual to do a project and I did about five hours worth of work on this joint project. That's what she's referring to.

STEVE: A church group!

OBAMA: Truthfulness during campaigns makes a difference.

STEVE: Amen!


CLINTON: Now, let me start with the claim about the bankruptcy bill. I said very clearly I regretted voting for it and I was happy that it didn't get into law.

By 2005, there was another run at a bankruptcy reform, motivated by the credit card companies and the other big lenders. I opposed that bill. I said very forcefully I opposed that bill.

There was a particular amendment that I think is very telling. It was an amendment to prohibit credit card companies from charging more than 30 percent interest.

Senator Obama voted for it. I voted against it. It was one of the biggest lobbyist victories on that very bad bill that the bankruptcy bill represented.

And I think it's important. You know, if you look at the recent article about Senator Obama's work on health care reform in the Illinois legislature, it's a very interesting piece about how he basically did the bidding of the insurance companies during that effort.

Now, I'm just saying that if we're going to be hurling these charges against one another, I'm used to taking the incoming fire. I've taken it for 16 years. But when you get into this arena you can't expect to have a hands-off attitude about your record. And it is perfectly fair to have comparisons and contrasts. I voted against a 30 - I voted for limiting to 30 percent what credit card companies could charge.

Senator Obama did not. That's a fact.

OBAMA: Absolutely. It is a fact, because I thought 30 percent potentially was too high of a ceiling. So we had had no hearings on that bill. It had not gone through the Banking Committee. I don't know about a lot of folks here, most folks here, if they've got a credit card, are paying 29 percent. So under this provision, that would've been fine.

EDWARDS: You voted against it because the limit was too high, is that what you just said?

OBAMA: That is exactly what I just said, John, because . . .

EDWARDS: So there's no limit at all.

OBAMA: Hold on, John. Hold on. Listen to this. There had been no discussion about how we were going to structure this and this was something that had not gone through the committee and we hadn't talked about. It didn't make sense for us to cap interest rates...

CLINTON: So you voted with the credit card companies.


CLINTON: That's the bottom line.

OBAMA: Hillary, I opposed that bill and you know I did.

STEVE: Let's engage in some more truth-telling.

"To some liberals, the proposal was a no-brainer: a ceiling of 30 percent on interest rates for credit cards and other consumer debt. And as he left his office to vote on it, Obama planned to support the measure, which was being considered as an amendment to a major overhaul of the nation's bankruptcy laws," the Chicago Tribune reported in "Carefully Crafting The Obama Brand."

"But when the amendment came up for a vote, Obama was standing next to Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the banking committee and the leader of those opposing the landmark bill, which would make it harder for Americans to get rid of debt. "You know, this is probably not a smart amendment for us to vote for," Obama recalled Sarbanes telling him. 'Thirty percent is sort of a random number.'

"Obama joined Sarbanes in voting against the amendment, but they lost the larger battle when the new bankruptcy law passed by a lopsided 74-25. There remains no federal ceiling on credit card interest rates."

OBAMA: But here's the point. What we have to do is we've got to have consistency in how we vote. You can't say one thing during the campaign trail and then apologize afterward and say it was a mistake, and that has repeatedly happened during the course of this campaign and I think that tells you the kind of president that folks are going to be.

CLINTON: Well, you know, Senator Obama, it is very difficult having a straight-up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern.

In the Illinois state senate, Senator Obama voted 130 times present. That's not yes, that's not no. That's maybe. And on issue after issue that really were hard to explain or understand, you know, voted present on keeping sex shops away from schools, voted present on limiting the rights of victims of sexual abuse, voted present time and time again.

And anytime anyone raises that, there's always some kind of explanation like you just heard about the 30 percent. It's just very difficult to get a straight answer, and that's what we are probing for.

OBAMA: The bill with respect to privacy for victims of sexual abuse is a bill I had actually sponsored, Hillary. I actually sponsored the bill. It got through the senate.

STEVE: So you voted "present" on your own bill?

OBAMA: What happened on that particular provision was that after I had sponsored it and helped to get it passed, it turned out that there was a legal provision in it that was problematic and needed to be fixed so that it wouldn't be struck down.

But when you comb my 4,000 votes in Illinois, choose one and try to present it in the worst possible light, that does have to be answered.

CLINTON: Well, that law is still on the books. It was never struck down.

EDWARDS: I do think it's important whether you are willing to take hard positions. I mean, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are sitting in front of me right know they have to go to the floor of the House every day and vote on hard issues. And they have to vote up or down or not show up to vote - one of those three choices. What I didn't hear was an explanation for why over 100 times you voted present instead of yes or no when you had a choice to vote up or down.

OBAMA: Because in Illinois oftentimes you vote present in order to indicate that you had problems with a bill that otherwise you might be willing to vote for. And oftentimes you would have a strategy that would help move the thing forward.

STEVE: Plus, that's what Emil Jones told me to do.

EDWARDS: The question is, why would you over 100 times vote present? I mean, every one of us - every one - you've criticized Hillary. You've criticized me for our votes.

OBAMA: Right.

EDWARDS: We've cast hundreds and hundreds of votes. What you're criticizing her for, by the way, you've done to us, which is you pick this vote and that vote out of the hundreds that we've cast.


EDWARDS: And what - all I'm saying is, what's fair is fair. You have every right to defend any vote. You do.

OBAMA: Right.

EDWARDS: And I respect your right to do that on any - on any substantive issue. It does not make sense to me - and what if I had just not shown up . . .

OBAMA: John, John, Illinois . . .

EDWARDS: Wait, wait, wait. Wait, let me finish.

OBAMA: Hold on a second.

EDWARDS: What if I had just not shown up to vote on things that really mattered to this country? It would have been safe for me politically. It would have been the careful and cautious thing to do, but I have a responsibility to take a position . . .

OBAMA: John, you . . .

EDWARDS: . . . even when it has political consequences for me.

OBAMA: Most of these were technical problems with a piece of legislation that ended up getting modified.

But let's talk about taking on tough votes. I mean, I am somebody who led on reforming a death penalty system that was broken in Illinois, that nobody thought was good politics, but was the right thing to do.

STEVE: What is he talking about? By the time Emil Jones put Obama in front of that legislation to help him craft a record for a U.S. Senate campaign, it was terrific politics.


JOE JOHNS: Senator Obama, we all know what universal health care is, as Senator Clinton just said, sort of the idea that everybody deserves health care. And I have not been able to sort of zero in on your position on this one question: Does your plan cover the estimated 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the country?

OBAMA: It does not.

JOHNS: Why not?

OBAMA: Well, because I think we've got limited resources. And it is important for us that, when we've got millions of U.S. citizens that aren't yet covered, it's important for us to make sure that they are provided coverage.

I do think that we have an obligation to make sure that children are covered. And we want to make sure that they are not sick in the emergency room.

But the critical issue on these various plans is, how are we going to actually get it done?

Because, you know, I respect the fact that Senator Clinton and President Clinton attempted in '93 to get health care reform passed. But I do think that they did it in the wrong way, because it was behind closed doors, and we did not enlist the American people in the process.

STEVE: How do you enlist the American people in the process, put all of us on task forces?

EDWARDS: The truth is that there are three health care plans represented on this stage. Two are universal; one is not. His is not. Senator Clinton's is, and mine is.

In order for the plan to be universal, it has to mandate coverage for everybody. And when we talk about getting it done - and Barack just spoke, as he does often, eloquently, about taking on the drug companies, the insurance companies, I also think it's important to recognize that Senator Obama has taken more money from the drug companies than anybody. Senator Clinton has taken more money from the insurance companies than anybody.

I have not. And I am ready to take these people on.

OBAMA: With respect to universal coverage, understand what this debate is about. They have decided that we should mandate coverage for all adults. I believe that the problem - and understand what that means. A mandate means that, in some fashion, everybody will be forced to buy health insurance.

Now, John has been honest that that may mean taking money out of people's paychecks in order to make sure that they're covered. Senator Clinton has not been clear about how that mandate would be enforced.

But I believe the problem is not that folks are trying to avoid getting health care; the problem is they can't afford it.

STEVE: This is a Republican talking point, as usual. People wouldn't be mandated to buy health insurance under current conditions - those plans include subsidies and exemptions and a lot of other moving parts to drive costs down.

OBAMA: And that's why my plan emphasizes lowering costs, not only setting up a government plan so that people who don't have health insurance can buy into it and will get subsidized, but also making sure that those who have health insurance - because, keep in mind, we've got millions of Americans all across the country who have health insurance, but are struggling with rising co-payments, deductibles, premiums.

Under George Bush, families are paying 78 percent more on health care than they were previously - let me just finish, because this is an important policy point. We put in a catastrophic re-insurance plan that will help reduce those premiums for families by an average of about $2,500 per year.

But the last point that I think is worth making, every expert that's looked at this has said there is not a single person out there who's going to want health care who will not get it under my plan.

STEVE: Hardly!

OBAMA: And so I don't believe that there are a whole bunch of folks out there that will not get coverage.

STEVE: He's a hope-mongerer.

OBAMA: And, John, both you and Hillary have a hardship exemption, where, if people can't afford to buy health care, you exempt them, so that you sort of don't count them.

EDWARDS: But we would cover them. We cover them, Barack.

OBAMA: But you don't cover them.

EDWARDS: Yes, we do.

CLINTON: Yes, we do.

EDWARDS: Yes, we do. It's not true, Barack.

STEVE: And that's exactly the point! There are hardship exemptions, so Obama just contradicted his own argument.

CLINTON: If you don't start out trying to get universal health care, we know - and our members of Congress know - you'll never get there.

If a Democrat doesn't stand for universal health care that includes every single American, you can see the consequences of what that will mean. I think it is imperative that we have plans, as both John and I do, that from the very beginning say, "You know what? Everybody has got to be covered."

There's only three ways of doing it. You can have a single-payer system, you can require employers, or you can have individual responsibility. My plan combines employers and individual responsibility, while maintaining Medicare and Medicaid.

I think that the whole idea of universal health care is such a core Democratic principle that I am willing to go to the mat for it. I've been there before. I will be there again. I am not giving in; I am not giving up; and I'm not going to start out leaving 15 million Americans out of health care.

Secondly, we have seen once again a kind of evolution here. When Senator Obama ran for the Senate, he was for single-payer and said he was for single-payer if we could get a Democratic president and Democratic Congress.

As time went on, the last four or so years, he said he was for single payer in principle, then he was for universal health care. And then his policy is not, it is not universal. And this is kind of like the present vote thing, because the Chicago Tribune, his hometown paper, said that all of those present votes was taking a pass. It was for political reasons.

Well, when you come up with a universal health care plan and you don't have any wiggle room left, you know that you're going to draw a lot of political heat. I am not running for president to put Band- Aids on our problems. I want to get to universal health care for every single American.

OBAMA: Here's the policy question: if, in fact, we are not making it affordable enough, which is what's happening right now, and you mandate on families to buy health insurance that they can't afford and if they don't buy it you fine them or in some other way take money for them - this is what's happening . . .

EDWARDS: But, Barack, you're ignoring that we subsidize . . .

OBAMA: John, I haven't finished. John, let me finish.

EDWARDS: OK, all right, go ahead.

OBAMA: I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single payer. What I said was that if I were starting from scratch, if we didn't have a system in which employers had typically provided health care, I would probably go with a single-payer system.

What's evolved, Hillary, is your presentation of my positions, which is what's happened frequently during the course of this campaign.

STEVE: The media is evolving too.


EDWARDS: I would be interested in knowing whether they will commit to having all combat troops out and ending combat missions in the first year.

OBAMA: John, what I have said, and I've said repeatedly, is I want to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, but I want to make sure that we get all our combat troops out as quickly as we can safely.

STEVE: So . . . he's going to talk us out of Iraq with clever slogans?

CLINTON: What I have said is that I will move as quickly as possible. I hope to have nearly all out within a year.

We don't know what we're going to inherent from President Bush, but there is a big problem looming on the horizon that we had better pay attention to, and that is President Bush is intent upon negotiating a long-term agreement with Iraq which would have permanent bases, permanent troop presence. And he claims he does not need to come to the United States Congress to get permission, he only needs to go to the Iraqi parliament.

That is his stated public position. He was recently in the region, and it is clear that he intends to push forward on this to try to bind the United States government and his successor to his failed policy.

I have been strongly opposed to that. We should not be planning permanent bases and long-term troop commitments.

Obviously, we've got to rein in President Bush. And I've proposed legislation and I know that members of the Congressional Black Caucus are looking at this, as well. We need legislation in a hurry which says, "No, Mr. Bush, you are the president of the United States of America. You cannot bind our country without coming to the United States Congress." This is a treaty that would have to be presented and approved, and it will not be.


CLINTON: Well, I respect John's commitment to ending poverty. That's why, 35 years ago, when I graduated from law school, I didn't go to work for a law firm. I went to work for Marian Wright Edelman at the Children's Defense Fund, because ending poverty - particularly ending poverty for children, has been the central core cause of everything that I've been doing for 35 years.

I care deeply about what for me is a mission and it does infuse everything that I do and why I'm in public office and why before I was in public service, chairing the Legal Services Corporation so that people got free legal aid when they would otherwise be put out of the courthouse, standing up time and time again for health care and education for abused and neglected kids and kids in the foster care system.

STEVE: So she has more lawyering experience than Obama has too. After all, he just worked a few hours on the Rezko deal.


JOHNS: The Nobel Prize-winning African-American author, Toni Morrison, famously observed about Bill Clinton, "This is our first black president, blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime."

Do you think Bill Clinton was our first black president?

OBAMA: I have to say that, you know, I would have to, you know, investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities.

STEVE: OH MY GOD! Did he really just say that?

OBAMA: You know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother.

STEVE: OH MY GOD! Did he really just say that?


OBAMA: You know, I am a proud Christian.

STEVE: And that's why I don't believe in gay marriage, once telling the Tribune that "I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman."


EDWARDS: I've committed not to have any corporate lobbyists working in my White House on the first day that I'm president.

Will you make the same commitment?

CLINTON: Well, you know, John, I will make the commitment to have people in the White House who are honest and trustworthy and put the interests of the United States first. But I think . . .

EDWARDS: Is that a no?

CLINTON: You know what? I don't know.

I don't know, because I'm not in favor of corporate lobbyists, but you keep drawing these artificial distinctions. You take money from people who employ lobbyists, who are married to lobbyists, who are the children of lobbyists.

And, you know, at some point this gets really hard to take, because if you are someone like I am, who has withstood the full force of corporate lobbyists, starting with the health insurance companies, and the drug companies, and the oil companies, and everybody that I've taken on for all of these years, you know, I think I'm independent and tough enough to be able to deal with anybody. And that's what I intend to do.


EDWARDS: Here's the problem, Hillary. Everybody is listening. They can make their own judgment about this. They don't have to depend on us. When somebody gives you millions and millions of dollars, I think they expect something. I don't think they're doing it for nothing.

CLINTON: Well, John, trial lawyers have given you millions and millions of dollars. So . . .

EDWARDS: And what they expect from me is they expect me to stand up for democracy, for the right to jury trial, for the right for little people to be heard in the courtroom. And that is exactly what I stand up for.

That is not the same thing. That is not the same thing as corporate lobbyists who are in there every single day lobbying against the interests of middle-class Americans.

CLINTON: Where I stand is for public financing. I'm going to do everything I can to get public financing, to get the money out of American politics.

But, you know, Barack has a lot of lobbyists who are leading his campaign here in South Carolina. John has had lobbyists who've been working hard for him all of these years.

The point is that you've got to say no. You've got to say no.

OBAMA: Let me interject.

CLINTON: And, yes, I think that we will say no consistently in order to have a positive agenda that is actually going to make a difference. Do you have to stand up to the lobbyists? Yes. But the lobbyists represent the interests that are paying the lobbyists. So to go and focus on the lobbyists, you know, kind of misses the point.

BLITZER: We have time for one final question. Senator Edwards, let me start with you. If Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today, why do you think he would or why should he endorse you?

STEVE: Because this is the cause of my life?

STEVE: Because I was born in a mill?

EDWARDS: We need is a president of the United States who actually believes to their core in equality, who's willing to fight for that equality, who's willing to do things that may not be politically popular. And fighting to end poverty in America may not get you any votes, but it is the right thing to do.

BLITZER: Senator [Obama]?

STEVE: Because I've got a guy who can help him buy a house?

OBAMA: Well, I don't think Dr. King would endorse any of us.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton?

STEVE: Because some of my best friends are black. Take my husband . . .

CLINTON: Dr. King campaigned for political leaders. He lobbied them. He pushed them. He cajoled. He did everything he could to get them over the line so that they would be part of the movement that he gave his life for.

TIM: Final question for all the candidates: Do you believe Tennessee Ernie Ford would have endorsed you?


Beachwood Analysis
Hillary won this debate. Her attacks were a little rugged at times, but became effective when Edwards joined in and validated her on health insurance, the bankruptcy bill, and Barack's present votes in the Illinois legislature. Hillary was, as she has been the whole campaign, masterful on policy where Obama was, as he has been, full of stump speech rhetoric. But this was the first time he's ever faced an aggressive attack and he crumbled.

Meanwhile, Edwards had the best night I've seen him have because he broke away from his stump speech at times and spoke like a real person. He really helped himself tonight. But like Obama, he's still a work-in-progress.


Posted on January 22, 2008

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