Ever seen a boxing match on TV? If so, you've probably witnessed one fighter getting so physically close to their opponent during the match that no punches can be thrown. Usually this fighter ends up literally bear-hugging the opponent, forcing the referee to step in and separate the two.
The whole point of doing it is that if your opponent can't throw a punch, they can't land one, either.
Barack Obama executed this technique to a "t" on CNN's debate last Thursday night from Austin, and basically held off Hillary Clinton for the full 90 minutes. She wanted to get him exercised but couldn't connect because he kept giving her the sugar, the love. By the end of the evening she was reduced to bear-hugging him.
It certainly helped that the two were seated side-by-side all night, but make no mistake: Obama and his team drew up this specific plan, and his language reflected it at every turn. Here are just a few examples from the first 45 minutes:
"....it's a great honor to share the stage once again with Senator Clinton. I've said before that we've been friends before this campaign started; we'll be friends afterwards....We both offer detailed proposals...."
"....Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation....."
...."Senator Clinton and I, I think, both agree on many of these issues. And I think it's a credit to the Democratic Party as a whole that the other candidates who were involved earlier on agreed with us on many of these issues...."
"Well, this is an area where Senator Clinton and I almost entirely agree...."
You get the picture. Barack was there to make love, not war, and he disarmed her.
Oh, Hillary was quick to pick up on his tone and was gracious in return. She nonetheless tried gingerly to draw him into a verbal dance early on, noting during the Cuba segment that he would meet with people like Castro without preconditions and she wouldn't. Barack didn't ask the moderator for rebuttal time.
All of this was very wise debate prep on his part.
As previously noted, the side-by-side seating didn't lend itself to aggression, and her one attempt at it -- on plagiarism -- fell flat. While her performance and command of the issues remained sharp as always, he won on strategy and held his own on substance.
Up next: Tuesday's MSNBC debate from Cleveland. If they are farther apart from each other on the stage, and behind podiums, look for Hillary to lob grenades early and often. She parries well, and she needs it now more than ever. It's totally legitimate for candidates to mix things up in these forums, and Democrats should applaud, not boo. After all, it's what debates are for.
Still, it takes two to tango, and this was widely considered Barack's main weakness in some of the earlier debates, a weakness largely masked because there were others vying for face time. He smartly avoided a dust-up in the one-on-one down in Texas, but it's doubtful he'll be able to do so again.
Yale Law, class of 1973 vs. Harvard Law, magna cum laude, class of 1991. It's the 12th round, and he's ahead on points.
This is fun.