Obama to Limit Debates

Barack Obama’s campaign has announced a decision to turn down additional fall debates beyond the eight he’s already committed to. This might be a smart move. In the past I’ve argued against the idea of limiting the debates to candidates who are believed to have a real chance to win, feeling that long shots such as Ron Paul and Bill Richardson deserve this chance to be heard. That does not mean that every candidate benefits from attending these debates.

The conventional wisdom is that the debates benefit challengers but pose a risk to front runners as they place everyone on the same level as the front runner. This may sometimes be true but has not applied well in Obama’s situation. In this case, although not the front runner, Obama entered the campaign as a larger than life personality. The debates limit him to brief answers to questions which do not allow him to display the vision he has shown when able to speak at greater length. Rather than harming the front runner, the debates might be bringing Obama down to the level of the other candidates.

The dynamics of the debates also harm a candidate such as Obama who is trying to bring a chance to politics as usual. Frequently the other candidates from the Senate have ganged up on Obama to defend Hillary Clinton, who they see more as one of their own. There may also be an element of jealousy from people like Biden and Dodd who have spent years in the Senate and now see a newcomer outshining them. It also doesn’t help matters that Hillary Clinton has concentrated her attacks on creating false issues to attempt to give the impression that Obama is inexperienced, even when Obama turns out to be right.

There’s also the problem of debate fatigue. Eight debates this fall is more than enough. Once the fall television and football seasons begin the average voter is not going to follow even this number of debates. Obama may be far better off campaigning on the stump where he is more effective than allowing even more debates to interfere with such campaigning.

Update: My opinion of Hillary Clinton’s campaign has just fallen considerably after reading this response: “So he’ll meet with dictators but not the black caucus or seniors in Iowa?” If Clinton wishes to retain credibility she should retract this statement This only reinforces all the negative views people have of the Clintons.

Update II: A contact in the Clinton campaign tells me this morning that the response quoted above was not from the campaign. The original source at Swampland is vague in attributing this to “a source close to the Clinton campaign” but does not actually attribute it to the campaign.

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  1. 1
    mbk says:

    wow, that update is incredible. This is not an isolated incident, either. She did the same thing to John Kerry last fall, and her campaign also had an over-the-top response to a very mild comment by John Edwards on Iraq last December. Her campaign strategists are truly awful Rovian types: unrelentingly win-at-all-costs, negative, word-twisting swine. They are the lowest of the low.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    Besides what she said about Kerry last fall, the other one which I thought was really bad was when she compared herself to the other candidates who she claimed didn’t take terrorism seriously. How Rovain can she get?

  3. 3
    I was undecided until tonight says:

    I was at a party and the conversation turned to politics for a moment. When I said I was undecided, about three of the women there tried to convert me into a Hillary voter. They said:

    1. Obama would be great in 4 years. But not yet.
    2. We need someone who can hit the ground running on day one, and Hillary has Bill whispering in her ear. We don’t need a forward thinker.
    3. At a personal event, Hillary went out of her way to talk to disabled people first.

    My response was that I did not want to return to the politics of the 1990s and all the baggage that the Clintons bring, that anyone elected in 2008 is likely to be Gerald Ford-like one-termer regardless of their experience because Iraq is a thankless mess, and thought but did not say that purposely talking to a disabled person first is just Pandering 101.

    When these veiled attacks on Obama’s “hope-mongering” did not work, (no surprise there, “Bring the Clintons Back” does not sound like a solution to Iraq or like the change I would like to see) I was essentially called a misogynist. My reply was that other female candidates would not have the problems that Hillary Clinton is having because she is Hillary Clinton, and that I did not like Hillary Clinton. This met with the admission that people would attack Hillary Clinton mercilessly once she was in office (HINT: this assumes she would win).

    In other words, when push came to shove and I did not accept being called a woman-hater simply because I don’t want a Third Term of the Clintons, I was told that Clinton was simply super-duper electable, without any empirical backing for the claim. This is exactly what troubled me about Kerry’s candidacy, which I did not support. Everyone said he sucked, but he was electable, and then he was not elected. Meaning he just sucked.

    So let’s analyze how such a sucky candidate won the nomination. Kerry focused on Iowa and New Hampshire extensively with positive commercials and town hall meetings while Dean and Gephardt duked it out in the press and on the airwaves. Edwards went around doing a lot of town hall meetings swayed undecideds and Independents. Both had low national polls and state poll numbers but cleaned Dean’s and Gephardt’s clocks in Iowa and New Hampshire. And they rode the favorable press cascade out of the initial contests.

    Obama is not a sucky candidate. People actually like and strongly support him and his candidacy has a theme and a message. Taking the Kerry-Edwards approach to Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina makes far more sense than bickering with Hillary in debate formats that everyone agrees are stifling, especially because, if one takes her supporters’ arguments seriously, there is no actual reason to support her candidacy. Just like there was no reason to support Kerry’s. Of course it makes sense to talk to the people. Frankly, I don’t even understand the nature of the criticism of Obama.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    I was undecided:

    While at this point I prefer Obama to Clinton at this time. I can’t agree with your comparisons to Kerry.

    It was a common slur against Kerry that he won due to being electable, but that is not true. Nor is it true that there was no reason to support Kerry. Many of us supported Kerry well before Iowa for a variety of reasons. This included Kerry being the strongest critic of Bush’s foreign policy, before anyone heard of Dean and when all the other Democrats were afraid to speak out post 9/11. He not only criticized what was wrong with Bush’s approach but showed the best understanding of what should be done. Kerry offered the best health care proposals, both in my opinion and in a review conducted by the National Journal. Kerry was also the strongest defender of civil liberties, separation of church and state, and ending the Bush administration’s “war on science.”

    It is also somewhat incaccurate to say that Kerry won purely due to concentrating in the early states. It did help Kerry a lot to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. Voters who actually heard him, as opposed to the media spin, realized he would make the best candidate of those running. In the context of the debates it should also be remembered that Kerry had the strongest performance in the debates in 2003. Most likely his campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire was more important, but the debates were also helpful to Kerry. Of course we didn’t have so many back then that they interfered with campaigning as they do this year.

    There is a little validity to the criticism that Obama might make a better president in the future with more experience. However we must choose candidates based upon who is running now. It looks like Obama might make a better candidate than some of those with more experience.

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