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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee

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Coming into the final primary election battles tonight's 20th debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, Ohio was a heavyweight political fight for the crown as the Democratic nominee for president.

Hillary Clinton, the early favorite, was now down, late in the election campaign, and facing the slender quick maneuvering of Barack Obama. Obama comes in with 10 straight primary victories and has caught Clinton in the polls in Texas and creeping up on her in Ohio. This debate was the last chance for Clinton to slow Obama's momentum.

Round 1: Health Care

Hillary comes out with a flurry, attacking Obama for distorting her record on health care about who would be "mandated" to purchase health care. Obama counters with a neutralizing dodge that his plan is 95 percent similar to Hillary's but gives a couple of quick jabs that started a 16-minute tête-à-tête on health care, which favored Obama because it allowed him to run time off the clock without giving anything up.
Score of Round: Even.

Round 2: Jobs and NAFTA

At the beginning of this round Hillary threw a roundhouse punch that missed when she chided the commentators for always asking her the first question in the debates and asserting sarcastically that the media is soft on Obama offering him pillows for his comfort. Obama ducked the roundhouse and countered by showing he understands the complex needs of importers as well as exporters. And then Obama jabbed her in the jaw by quoting Hillary from 2004 saying that NAFTA was "good for New York and good for the nation." Hillary struck back that NAFTA worked in some regions of New York and not in other regions. Obama ended the round with his own flurry stating that infrastructure and green development can move in the direction of restoring the lost jobs due to NAFTA.

Unless you were in a coma in 1993 you know that the nation's labor unions screamed bloody murder trying to stop NAFTA and President Bill Clinton overruled the base of the Democratic Party and expended a lot of political capital in passing the "free trade" agreement that has proven to be a job loser for Ohio and the nation.
Score of Round: Obama

Round 3: Foreign Policy

Obama rushes out with a combination pointing out that he was against the Iraq war from the beginning and that John McCain is furthering Bush's policies in Iraq (bringing in McCain for the first time in the debate). He blocked the charges from Hillary that he plans to bomb Pakistan willy-nilly by stating that he would only attack Al Qaeda operatives inside Pakistan if as Commander-in-Chief he believed it to be vital to U.S. national security. With regard to Iraq, Obama said he would sit down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and formulate a set of policies to begin extricating U.S. forces from Iraq. Obama said: "We will be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in."

The Bell Rings: NBC's Brian Williams cuts in stating: "Television doesn't stop."
Break to Commercial. An abrupt end to the round while Hillary was in mid-sentence.
Score of Round: Obama

Round 4: Campaign Style

Obama enters the round ahead on points and is thrown a question implying that he is more style than substance. Barack does the "Obama Shuffle" and begins to pummel Clinton by itemizing his accomplishments in the U.S. Senate including passing the toughest ethics reform bill in years and forcing Walter Reed Hospital to better serve wounded soldiers returning from Iraq. Hillary calls it "fun" after the clip of her ridiculing Obama and mockingly talking about a "celestial chorus" singing Obama's praises. Obama just leisurely bobbed and weaved and deflected her assertions of his stylistic flourishes in speechifying. And then Obama cut Hillary off at the knees by bringing up the fact that she voted in favor of the bankruptcy bill that benefited credit card companies and then stated publicly that she hoped it would be defeated, which sparked a hearty round of laughter from the audience. And then Obama ended the round by landing a right hook stating that uplifting oratory is no joke and is necessary to mobilize and inspire the American people to break the stranglehold of special interests in Washington.
Score of Round: Obama

Round 5: Public Financing

Tim Russert and Brian Williams tried to challenge Obama's alleged assurance that he was going to use public financing in the general election. But Obama fired back that it he was not yet the nominee and would not be so presumptuous to speculate about financing of the general election and countered by pointing out that the average donor to his campaign was $109. And then Russert and Williams brushed back Hillary with the pointed question about when, if ever, she would make her IRS records public. Hillary dodged and weaved and obfuscated.
Score of Round: Obama

Round 6: Farrakhan

At the bell, Russert asked if Obama "rejects" Louis Farrakhan's endorsement. Obama denounced the anti-Semitic remarks that Farakhan is known for and said that he wished to "rebuild" the relationship between African Americans and Jewish Americans that was vital to the success of the civil rights movement of the 1960s but has unfortunately become "frayed over time." Obama also said that the United States' support of Israel is "sacrosanct." At this point Hillary pressed Obama against the ropes demanding that he not only "denounce" Farrakhan, but "reject" him. Obama played the "rope a dope" and got out of a delicate dilemma by stating he would "denounce" and "reject" Farrakhan.
Score of Round: Hillary

Round 7: General Election Prospects

Obama, ahead on points, responds to a question about the Kosovo independence declaration and Russia's hostile reaction to it by stating he would use the framework set up by the Clinton Administration utilizing NATO and multilateral diplomacy to coax Russia out any precipitous actions in the Balkans. Obama emphasized that the United States would not work in isolation or take unilateral action. Obama praised the Clinton policies in the Balkans and Hillary's jabs were neutralized.
Score of Round: Obama

Round 8: Denouement

Responding to a "what do you regret" question, Hillary tried to backpedal on the Iraq invasion saying that as president she would not have gone in. She feigned a blow by rambling about a "retreat from democracy" in Latin America. (An underhanded reference to the twice-elected Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.) In response to the same question posed to Obama, he said he wished he would have stood more strongly against the Senate's ill-conceived decision to intervene into the Terry Schiavo case. Obama gave a finishing flurry of graciousness when he complimented Hillary for her public service and said that all he wanted to do is bring the nation together regardless of race, religion, and region and infuse the people with the "bias" to stand up to special interests.
Score of Round: Even

Barack Obama won the debate on points:
5 Rounds Obama;
1 Round Hillary;
2 Rounds Even.

Hillary Clinton had to score a KO in this debate and failed to deliver. Barack Obama was at his steady best and showed that his movement for change "floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee."

(Thanks once again to my colleague Dr. Stan Oden for his collaboration.)