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Mystery Debate Theater 2008

Once again, the Beachwood Mystery Debate Theater team gathered at Beachwood HQ to deride and bemoan debating candidates for president. Instead, we enjoyed a real treat of a debate. But that doesn't mean we didn't find a lot of things to pick on.

Andrew Kingsford arrived late as you will note with his own special tribute to the dearly departed John Edwards, while an ailing Tim Willette e-mailed in his comments from his sickbed. Steve Rhodes hosted.

As always, this transcript has been edited for clarity, space and sanity.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Let's begin with Senator Obama.

OBAMA: First of all want to acknowledge a candidate who left the race this week, John Edwards . . .

STEVE: Like John, I was born in a mill.

TIM: I want to thank John Edwards for helping build this stage. He's up there in the rigging tonight.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: I'm very grateful for the extraordinary service of John and Elizabeth Edwards.

STEVE: Why no shout-outs to the Dodds?


DOYLE MCMANUS, L.A. TIMES: Senator Clinton, your two campaigns have been going on for more than a year now and it's clear that the two of you have had different experiences in your lives.

STEVE: Though you both married black people.

MCMANUS: But when most voters look at the two of you, they don't see a lot of daylight between you on policy. So what I'd like to ask is: what do you consider the most important policy distinction between the two of you?

STEVE: Great question.

CLINTON: Well, I want to start by saying that whatever differences there are among us . . .

STEVE: Pale in comparison to the differences we have with the Republicans.

CLINTON: . . . pale in comparison to the differences that we have with Republicans.

TIM: Did you hear that? Pale in comparison - eh? eh?

CLINTON: But we do have differences and let me mention a couple.

STEVE: Health care mandates.

CLINTON: First, on health care . . .


CLINTON: I think when it comes to how we approach foreign affairs, in particular, I believe that we've got to be realistic and optimistic . . .

TIM: Realistic and optimistic - I like to think of myself as a roptimist.

CLINTON: . . . And I think that we've got to have a full diplomatic effort, but I don't think the president should put the prestige of the presidency on the line in the first year to have meetings with out preconditions with five of the worst dictators in the world.


OBAMA: My view is that the reason people don't have health care . . .

STEVE: Is because people can't afford it. We get it.


OBAMA: On the mortgage crisis, again, we both believe that this is a critical problem.

STEVE: Take the home I bought with Tony . . .

OBAMA: Part of the reason we are in this mortgage mess is because there's been complete lack of oversight on the part of the Bush administration.

STEVE: You might say he's been boneheaded.


OBAMA: I have not signed on to the notion of an interest rates freeze, and the reason is not because we need to protect the banks. The problem is, is that if we have such a freeze, mortgage interest rates will go up across the board and you will have a lot of people who are currently trying to get mortgages who will actually have more of a difficult time.

TIM: Why not just rename the interest rate 10 and make that louder?


OBAMA: And I have disagreed with Senator Clinton on, for example, meeting with Iran.

STEVE: Right. Ahmadinejad just has to be reasoned with. Christ, you can't even reason with Rod Blagojevich!


JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO: You both mentioned that health care is a priority for your party, but the truth is that most Democrats really do want full coverage, everybody covered.

Now, Senator Obama, this is a question for you. Under your plan, which is voluntary, it creates incentives for people to buy, but still is voluntary. There would be about 15 million people who would still not be covered.

Now, why is your plan superior to hers?

OBAMA: Every expert who looks at it says anybody who wants health care will be able to get health care under my plan.

STEVE: Except the experts who say they won't.

OBAMA: So the estimate is that there are 15 million people who don't want health care. Now, first of all, I dispute that there are 15 million people out there who don't want it.

STEVE: They want to die.

OBAMA: I know that those who have looked at it understand, you can mandate it, but there's still going to be people who can't afford it. And if they cannot afford it, then the question is, what are you going to do about it?

STEVE: That's the point of the subsidies, premium caps and tax credits. You do whatever you have to to make it affordable.

TIM: Sen. Obama, this health care question is for you - at this very moment, Tim is very congested and running a medium fever . . .

CLINTON: Contrary to the description that Barack just gave, we actually will make it affordable for everyone, because my plan lowers costs aggressively, which is important for us all; improves quality for everyone, which is essential. And the way it covers all of those who wish to participate in the congressional plan is that it will provide subsidies, and it will also cap premiums, something that is really important, because we want to make sure that it is affordable for all.

We cannot get to universal health care, which I believe is both a core Democratic value and imperative for our country, if we don't do one of three things. Either you can have a single payer system, or - which, I know, a lot of people favor, but for many reasons, is difficult to achieve. Or, you can mandate employers. Well, that's also very controversial. Or, you can do what I am proposing, which is to have shared responsibility.

Now, in Barack's plan, he very clearly says he will mandate that parents get health insurance for their children. So it's not that he is against mandatory provisions, it's that he doesn't think it would be politically acceptable to require that for everyone.

I just disagree with that. I think we as Democrats have to be willing to fight for universal health care.

And what I've concluded, when I was looking at this - because I got the same kind of advice, which was, it's controversial, you'll run into all of this buzz saw, and I said, been there, done that. But if you don't start by saying, you're going to achieve universal health care, you will be nibbled to death.

STEVE: In other words, Obama is giving away a negotiating chit before the game's begun.

CLINTON: I think it's imperative that we recognize what both John Edwards and I did, that you have to bite this bullet. You have to say, yes, we are going to try to get universal health care.


BLITZER: Senator Obama, let me just fine-tune the question, because I know you want to respond.

On this issue of mandates, those who don't, whether it's 10 million or 15 million, those who could afford it but don't wind up buying health insurance for one reason or another, they wind up getting sick, they go to an emergency room, all of us wind up paying for their health care. That's the biggest criticism that's been leveled at your plan.

OBAMA: If people are gaming the system, there are ways we can address that. By, for example, making them pay some of the back premiums for not having gotten it in the first place.

STEVE: We'll put Dog Chapman on the case.

OBAMA: But the last point I want to make has to do with how we're going to actually get this plan done. You know, Ted Kennedy . . .

STEVE: Here we go with Ted Kennedy . . . does he qualify as a special interest?

OBAMA: . . . said that he is confident that we will get universal health care with me as president, and he's been working on it longer than I think about than anybody.

But he's gone through 12 of these plans, and each time they have failed. And part of the reason, I think, that they have failed is we have not been able to bring Democrats, Republicans together to get it done.

TIM: I'd like you each to explain what you'll do after your health care plan fails to pass Congress.

OBAMA: That's what I will do in bringing all parties together, not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are.

TIM: Oh, YES! They can let people call in and comment on the deliberations!

STEVE: What if C-SPAN doesn't want to broadcast it?

TIM: We'll mandate coverage.


BLITZER: Senator Clinton, we remember in '93, when you were formulating your health care plan, it was done in secret.

CLINTON: Well, it was an effort to try to begin this conversation, which we're now continuing. It has been a difficult conversation. There have been a lot of efforts.

It is so important that, as Democrats, we carry the banner of universal health care. The health insurance industry is very clever and extremely well-funded.

I know this. I had $300 million of incoming advertising and attacks during our efforts back in '93 and '94. And one of the reasons why I've designed the plan that I have put forward now is because I learned a lot about what people want, what people are willing to accept, and how we get the political process to work.

TIM: I've learned a lot about how to cope with a plan that goes nowhere.


CLINTON: And, certainly, it is important that the president come up with the plan, but we'll have to persuade Congress to put all of those deliberations on C-SPAN. Now, I think we might be able to do that, but that's a little heavier lift than what the president is going to propose, because what happens is we have to have a coalition.

And I think the plan that I have proposed is if you take business, which pays the costs and wants to get those costs down, take labor that has to negotiate over health care instead of wages, take doctors, nurses, hospitals who want to get back into the business of taking care of people instead of working for insurance companies, I think we will have a coalition that can withstand the health insurance and the drug companies.


CUMMINGS: This is from Kim Millman from Burnsville, Minnesota. And she says, "There's been no acknowledgement by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of immigration on the African-American community. How do you propose to address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor?"

OBAMA: Before the latest round of immigrants showed up, you had huge unemployment rates among African-American youth.

And, so, I think to suggest somehow that the problem that we're seeing in inner-city unemployment, for example, is attributable to immigrants, I think, is a case of scapegoating that I do not believe in, I do not subscribe to.

MCMANUS: Senator Clinton, Senator Obama has said that he favors allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses, and you oppose that idea. Why?

CLINTON: Well, let me start with the original question from Kim, because I think it deserves an answer.

I believe that in many parts of our country, because of employers who exploit undocumented workers and drive down wages, there are job losses. And I think we should be honest about that.

STEVE: She's right. It's not scapegoating. She just got the labor and working-class vote. You can't say we have to crack down on companies taking advantage of undocumented workers by lowering wages and then claim there are no job losses or wage lowering due to illegal immigration.

CLINTON: There are people who have been pushed out of jobs and factories and meat processing plants, and all kinds of settings. And I meet them.

You know, I was in Atlanta last night, and an African-American man said to me, "I used to have a lot of construction jobs, and now it just seems like the only people who get them anymore are people who are here without documentation." So, I know that what we have to do is to bring our country together to have a comprehensive immigration reform solution.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, in an interview with CNN this week, you said this. You said, quote, "I stood up for a humane and intelligent immigration policy in a way that, frankly, none of my other opponents did." What did you mean by that?

OBAMA: Well, what I meant was that, when this issue came up - not driver's licenses, but comprehensive immigration reform generally - I worked with Ted Kennedy . . .

STEVE: Do we have to drink every time he says Ted Kennedy now?

OBAMA: . . . to move this issue forward aggressively. And it's a hard political issue. Let's be honest. This is not an issue that polls well.

STEVE: He oughta know, he's got four pollsters on his payroll.

(BLITZER: Are you suggesting that Senator Clinton's policy was not, in your words, "humane"?

OBAMA: That is - what I said was that we have to stand up for these issues when it's tough, and that's what I've done.

BLITZER: Was she lacking on that front?

OBAMA: Wolf, you keep on trying to push on this issue.

BLITZER: I'm just trying to find out what you mean.

OBAMA: There are those who were opposed to this issue, and there have been those who have flipped on the issue and have run away from the issue. This wasn't directed particularly at Senator Clinton. But the fact of the matter is I have stood up consistently on this issue.

BLITZER: I want to let Senator Clinton respond. Were you missing in action when Senator Obama and Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy started formulating comprehensive immigration reform?

CLINTON: Well, actually, I co-sponsored comprehensive immigration reform in 2004 before Barack came to the Senate.


BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator, why not, then, if you're that passionate about it, let them get driver's licenses?

CLINTON: Well, we disagree on this. I do not think that it is either appropriate to give a driver's license to someone who is here undocumented, putting them, frankly, at risk, because that is clear evidence that they are not here legally, and I believe it is a diversion from what should be the focus at creating a political coalition with the courage to stand up and change the immigration system.

OBAMA: The only point I would make is Senator Clinton gave a number of different answers over the course of six weeks on this issue, and that did appear political.

CLINTON: Well . . .

OBAMA: I'm just being - just in fairness. Initially, in a debate, you said you were for it. Then you said you were against it. And the only reason I bring that up is to underscore the fact that this is a difficult political issue.

CLINTON: Well, I just have to correct the record for one second, because, obviously, we do agree about the need to have comprehensive immigration reform.

And if I recall, about a week after I said that I would try to support my governor, although I didn't agree with it personally, you were asked the same question and could not answer it. So this is a difficult issue.


STEVE: Let the record show Obama is nodding his head and gesturing in acknowledgement.

CLINTON: And both of us have to recognize that it is not something that we easily come to, because we share a lot of the same values.

OBAMA: I agree.


OBAMA: You know, I have spent my entire adult life trying to bring about change in this country. I started off as a community organizer, working on the streets of Chicago, providing job training and after- school programs and economic development for neighborhoods that have been devastated by steel plants that had closed.

I worked as a civil rights attorney, turning down lucrative corporate jobs to provide justice for those who had been denied on the job on at the ballot box.

I worked as a state legislator for years, providing health care to people who did not have it, reforming a death penalty system that was broken, providing tax relief to those who needed it.

And in the United States Senate, I worked on everything from nuclear proliferation to issues of alternative energy.

And in each instance, what I found is that the leadership that's needed is the ability to bring people together, who otherwise don't see anything in common. The ability to overcome the special interests. And I passed both in Washington in Illinois comprehensive ethics reform that opened up government so that the American people could be involved. And talking straight to the American people about how we're going to solve these problems, and putting in the hard work of negotiations to get stuff done.

So I respect Senator Clinton's record. I think it's a terrific record. But I also believe that the skills that I have are the ones that are needed right now to move the country forward.

CLINTON: And I really spent a great deal of my early adulthood, you know, bringing people together to help solve the problems of those who were without a voice and were certainly powerless.

I was honored to be appointed by President Carter to the Legal Services Corporation, which I chaired, and we grew that corporation from 100 million to 300 million. It is the primary vehicle by which people are given access to our courts when they have civil problems that need to be taken care of.

You know, I've run projects that provided aid for prisoners in prisons. I helped to reform the education system in Arkansas and expand rural health care. And I've had a lot of varied experiences, both in the private sector, as well as the public, and the not-for- profit sector.

And certainly during the eight years that I was privileged to be in the White House, I had a great deal of responsibility that was given to me to not only work on domestic issues, like health care - and when we weren't successful on universal health care, I just turned around and said, well, we're going to get the Children's Health Insurance Program. And I'm so proud we do, because now six million children around the country every month get health care. And I took on the drug companies to make sure that they would test drugs to see if they were safe and effective for our kids.

And began to change the adoption and foster care system. Here in California, because of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, we have three times more children being adopted out of foster care.

And certainly the work that I was able to do around the world, going to more than 82 countries, negotiating with governments like Macedonia to open their border again, to let Kosovar refugees in. Speaking on behalf of women's rights as human rights in Beijing, to send a message across the world that this is critical of who we are as Americans.

And to go to the Senate and to begin to work across the party lines with people who honestly never thought they would work with me. But I believe public service is a trust. And I get up every day trying to make change in people's lives.

And today we have 20,000 National Guard and Reserve members in California who have access to health care because I teamed up with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to get that done. Really positive change in people's lives, in real ways, that I am very proud of.


CUMMINGS: Howard Meyerson of Pasadena, California, says he views the country as a very large business, and neither one of you have ever run a business [like, say, Mitt Romney]. So, why should either of you be elected to be CEO of the country?

CLINTON: Well, I would, with all due respect, say that the United States government is much more than a business. It is a trust.

And with all due respect, we have a president who basically ran as the CEO, MBA president, and look what we got. I am not too happy about the results.

OBAMA: Let me just also point out that, you know, Mitt Romney hasn't gotten a very good return on his investment during this presidential campaign.

STEVE: They're both on fire. This is a very good night for Democrats.


Andrew shows up with a Poor Boy sandwich from 7-11 and a six-pack of Pilsner Urquell.

STEVE: Is that Poor Boy in honor of John Edwards? Was that sandwich born in a mill? Is it the cause of your life?


MCMANUS: Senator Clinton, you've both called for a gradual withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, but Senator Obama says he wants all combat troops out within 16 months of his inauguration and you haven't offered a specific end date.

Why shouldn't voters worry that your position could turn into an open-ended commitment?

CLINTON: Well, because, Doyle, I've been very clear in saying that I will begin to withdraw troops in 60 days. I believe that it will take me one to two brigades a month, depending on how many troops we have there, and that nearly all of them should be out within a year.

It is imperative, though, that we actually plan and execute this right. And you may remember last spring, I got into quite a back-and- forth with the Pentagon, because I was concerned they were not planning for withdrawal, because that was contrary to their strategy, or their stated position.

So I've said that I will ask the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense and my security advisers the very first day I'm president, to begin to draw up such a plan so that we can withdraw.

BLITZER: But you can't make a commitment, though, that 16 months after your inauguration would be enough time?

CLINTON: I certainly hope it will be, and I said I hope to have nearly all of them out within a year.

OBAMA: I do think it is important for us to set a date. And the reason I think it is important is because if we are going to send a signal to the Iraqis that we are serious, and prompt the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds to actually come together and negotiate, they have to have clarity about how serious we are.


CUMMINGS: This comes from Howard Schumann from Phippsburg, Maine. And he asks, "Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, you could have voted for the Levin amendment which required President Bush to report to Congress about the U.N. inspection before taking military action. Why did you vote against that amendment?"

CLINTON: The reason is because, although I believe strongly that we needed to put inspectors in, that was the underlying reason why I at least voted to give President Bush the authority, put those inspectors in, let them do their work, figure out what is there and what isn't there.

The way that amendment was drafted suggested that the United States would subordinate whatever our judgment might be going forward to the United Nations Security Council. I don't think that was a good precedent. Therefore, I voted against it.

I did vote with Senator Byrd to limit the authority that was being given to President Bush to one year, and that also was not approved.

You know, I've said many times if I had known then what I know now, I never would have given President Bush the authority. It was a sincere vote based on my assessment at the time and what I believed he would do with the authority he was given.

OBAMA: You know, Senator Clinton mentioned the issue of gravitas and judgment. I think it is much easier for us to have the argument, when we have a nominee who says, I always thought this was a bad idea, this was a bad strategy.

It was not just a problem of execution. I mean, they screwed up the execution of it in all sorts of ways. And I think even Senator McCain has acknowledged that.

The question is: Can we make an argument that this was a conceptually flawed mission, from the start?

BLITZER: Senator Clinton, you always say, if you knew then what you know now, you wouldn't have voted like that. But why can't you just say right now that that vote was a mistake?

CLINTON: The idea of putting inspectors back in - that was a credible idea. I believe in coercive diplomacy. I think that you try to figure out how to move bad actors in a direction that you prefer in order to avoid more dire consequences.

And if you took it on the face of it and if you took it on the basis of what we hoped would happen with the inspectors going in, that in and of itself was a policy that we've used before.

STEVE: Yes, if you took it on the face of it.

CLINTON: I think what no one could have fully appreciated is how obsessed this president was with this particular mission.

STEVE: We fully appreciated it! And we're in this tiny apartment in Wicker Park!

BLITZER: So, what I hear you saying - and correct me if I'm wrong - is that you were naive in trusting President Bush?

CLINTON: No, that's not what you heard me say.

STEVE: That's kind of what I heard.

BLITZER: Was she naive, Senator Obama?

CLINTON: Well, let me - you asked the question to me. I - you know, I deserve to answer.

BLITZER: I thought you weren't going to.

CLINTON: You know, the point is that I certainly respect Senator Obama making his speech in 2002 against the war. And then when it came to the Senate, we've had the same policy because we were both confronting the same reality of trying to deal with the consequences of George Bush's action.

I believe that it is abundantly clear that the case that was outlined on behalf of going to the resolution - not going to war, but going to the resolution - was a credible case. I was told personally by the White House that they would use the resolution to put the inspectors in.

STEVE: So you were fooled by the White House.

OBAMA: I don't want to belabor this, because I know we're running out of time and I'm sure you guys want to move on to some other stuff . . .

STEVE: Like Tony Rezko.

OBAMA: But I I think everybody, the day after that vote was taken, understood this was a vote potentially to go to war.

STEVE: Not even potentially.


BLITZER: This will be the last question. It will go to both of you, to Senator Obama first.

The more I speak to Democrats out there - not only the Democrats here at the Kodak Theatre, but all over the country - they take a look at the two of you and they see potentially a dream ticket. A dream ticket for the White House.

STEVE: She'd have to be on top. Er, that's not the way I meant it. Then he could learn how to be president.

OBAMA: We've got a lot more road to travel. And so I think it's premature for either of us to start speculating about vice presidents, et cetera. I think it would be premature and presumptuous.

BLITZER: All right. What about, Senator Clinton, what do you think about a Clinton/Obama, Obama/Clinton ticket?

CLINTON: Well, I have to agree with everything Barack just said.

STEVE: It would be a dream ticket. You would get a majority of the women's vote, nearly every black vote, Latinos and white liberals. Talk about a governing majority. Oh, and the youth vote.


Beachwood Analysis
This may have been the most edifying presidential debate in modern American history. It was a pleasure to watch these two candidates removed from the pettiness of ordinary politics. Maybe that's to the credit of Obama's rhetoric, even though he's been as petty and divisive as anyone in this campaign.

Hillary Clinton showed that she is clearly more shrewd and in command of policy than Obama. Obama showed that he has a more charismatic presentation. He's the car salesman, she's the mechanic. It depends on what you want out of your president.

Because I'm a substance guy, I'll give the edge to Clinton. But mostly this was a huge win for the Democrats on the heels of the McCain-Romney bitchfest the night before. These were adults in the room respecting voters for the first time, well, maybe ever in my life.


Catch up with every episode of Mystery Debate Theater!


Posted on February 1, 2008

MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - Locked Out And Loaded.

BOOKS - Foxconned.


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