Debate Advice: Take The High Road

[ Posted Tuesday, February 26th, 2008 – 15:00 UTC ]

I have a piece of advice for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for tonight's debate: take the high road and start trying to outdo each other on who can best take on the Republicans. In other words, both of them should start speaking as if the Democratic nomination is already theirs, and preview their general election campaign to the voters.

Hillary actually started campaigning this way a while ago, back when she was seen as "inevitable." She used phrases such as "When I am president..." and centered her speeches around why we needed to defeat the Republicans. George Bush was mentioned frequently. Barack has, somewhat awkwardly, started transitioning his campaign to general election mode as well in the past few weeks.

But somewhere in between, Clinton and Obama began focusing on the differences between the two of them instead of between Democrats and the Republican candidate. This was natural, since the primary fights have been so close, and so intense.

But now most voters are aware of the differences between the two. There aren't that many policy differences between them to begin with, and most of them have been explored at length. And with John McCain (barring a Huckabee miracle) all but assured of the Republican nomination, it is now time to see which Democrat would be more effective in running against McCain in the general election.

This shouldn't be too hard for either of them to do (hint: use the phrase "third term of George W. Bush" as often as possible). They'll basically be reading out of the same playbook to do so, in other words. But you know what? I would like to see exactly how Barack is going to present the difference between electing him and continuing the failed policies of Bush. I similarly want to see how Hillary is going to take on McCain face-to-face, and challenge him on the issues.

I realize this advice may seem premature to some, and the candidates most likely will focus during tonight's debate on tearing each other's positions down. But the Democratic electorate really doesn't need to see any more of that. Instead, since the two states they are currently fighting over are so close in the polls, I would like voters in those states to judge the candidates on what kind of general election campaign each is capable of. And what style it will have.

Because the question of "electability" is an important one. A case can be made for either Clinton and Obama being "more electable" than McCain in November. But demographics aside, I would like to see a preview of how the candidates will make such a case to the voters.

I want specifics, too. I want the candidates to stand up and say "On my first day of office, these are the following things that I will change from the way President Bush has been running the country" -- complete with a list of immediate action items. I don't just want to hear the candidates say "I will clean up after the Bush mess," I also want them to tell me exactly what they will do to achieve the goal: "These are the things I will do to clean up after Bush." I want each of them to address what they will do to uncover Bush's secret actions, as well, or whether they will brush it all under the rug of political expediency.

The political advisors will say it is dangerous to start campaigning for the general election before the primary race is over (look at what happened when Hillary tried it last year, for example). But the primary race is almost over. Even if we go to the convention without a clear nominee, the voters in the remaining states have already largely heard how Barack is different than Hillary, and vice versa. I think it would be far better at this point to hear how both will make the case that their Democratic administration will be different than George W. Bush's, or John McCain's.

In detail.


-- Chris Weigant


One Comment on “Debate Advice: Take The High Road”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I think this is a good idea. I have noticed that there have been some negative comments between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama which Senator McCain could use against them later.


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