Clinton Defeated and Booed

In a campaign with twenty debates it is possible that history will not recall any particular moments, but there is a possibility that Thursday’s debate could go down in history as the event which marked the end of Hillary Clinton’s aspirations to be president. The key moment of the debate (full transcript here) was a microcosm of the campaign as Clinton tried to repeat her usual attacks and wound up being booed.

Clinton tried to get in a number of jabs but the most memorable was over the bogus charges of plagiarism which she has tried to raise against Obama. Clinton got booed for her prepared line, “change you can Xerox” (video below).


Chris Cillizza summarized the exchange, and explained why it did not work:

Asked about his lifting of lines from Gov. Deval Patrick (Mass.), Obama sought to dismiss the charges of plagiarism as the sort of politics the American public is sick of. “The notion I had plagiarized from someone who is one of my national co-chairs who gave me the line and suggested I use it I think is silly,” Obama said. “This is where we get into silly season in politics and people start getting discouraged about it.”

Clinton, however, clearly believes this is a political weak spot for Obama and went after it — hard. “If your candidacy is going to be about words, they should be your own words,” said Clinton. “Lifting whole passages is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.”

That line, obviously prepared in advance of tonight’s debate, fell flat. The crowd went silent and then a smattering of boos rang out. Obama shook his head and muttered to himself.

That exchange highlighted the difficulty for Clinton when it comes to drawing contrasts with Obama. Any attack falls into a familiar dynamic that she is a partisan politician practicing politics as usual while he is a transformational figure bringing hope and change to the system.


James Fallows has explained how campaign speech writers work, so we should not be surprised to see that Clinton borrowed from the work of others in her closing (video above). Josh Marshall provides one example of how she borrowed from her husband’s 1992 campaign:

Clinton, 92: “The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people of this state and this country have been taking for a long time.”

Hillary Clinton, tonight: “You know, the hits I’ve taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country.

Daniel W. Drezner found similarities in the novel Primary Colors, which presumably modeled the fictitious speech after Clinton’s 1992 speech:

Jack Stanton speech, in Primary Colors (New York: Random House, 1996), p. 162: “Y’know, I’ve taken some hits in this campaign. It hasn’t been easy for me, or my family. It hasn’t been fair, but it hasn’t been anything compared to the hits a lot of you take every day.”

Meanwhile Ben Smith found that Hillary borrowed from John Edwards:

Clinton Tonight:

You know, whatever happens, we’re going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we’ll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that’s what this election should be about.

Edwards the December 13 debate:

What’s not at stake are any of us. All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election. But what’s at stake is whether America is going to be fine.

When Clinton resorts to her bogus attacks such as on plagiarism she only provides herself as an example of what Obama is speaking of when he calls for change. Clinton also resorted to another cheap shot when she mentioned Kirk Watson’s inability to cite Obama’s legislative achievements when asked by Chris Matthews. The fallacy here is that a surrogate freezing in a televised interview does not mean that Obama’s achievements did not occur. This was a particularly cheap shot as Clinton was well aware of his accomplishments while serving in the Senate with him.

Obama took advantage of this attack to debunk the entire Clinton campaign meme that the Obama campaign is not real and his supporters are delusional:

OBAMA: Well, I think actions do speak louder than words, which is why over the 20 years of my public service I have acted a lot to provide health care to people who didn’t have it, to provide tax breaks to families that needed it, to reform a criminal justice system that had resulted in wrongful convictions, to open up our government and to pass the toughest ethics reform legislation since Watergate, to make sure that we create transparency…


… to make sure that we create transparency in our government so that we know where federal spending is going and it’s not going to a bunch of boondoggles and earmarks that are wasting taxpayer money that could be spent on things like early childhood education.

You know, I think if you talk to those wounded warriors at Walter Reed who, prior to me getting to the Senate, were having to pay for their meals and have to pay for their phone calls to their family while they’re recovering from amputations, I think they’ve said that I’ve engaged not just in talk, but in action.


OBAMA: Now, I think that Senator Clinton has a fine record and I don’t want to denigrate that record. I do think there is a fundamental difference between us in terms of how change comes about. Senator Clinton of late has said: Let’s get real. The implication is that the people who’ve been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional.


And that, you know, the 20 million people who’ve been paying attention to 19 debates and the editorial boards all across the country at newspapers who have given me endorsements, including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas.


OBAMA: You know, the thinking is that somehow, they’re being duped, and eventually they’re going to see the reality of things.

Well, I think they perceive reality of what’s going on in Washington very clearly. What they see is that if we don’t bring the country together, stop the endless bickering, actually focus on solutions and reduce the special interests that have dominated Washington, then we will not get anything done. And the reason that this campaign has done so well…


The reason that this campaign has done so well is because people understand that it is not just a matter of putting forward policy positions.

There was one exchange where they actually debated over an issue, but Clinton was also on the wrong side here. Clinton tried once again to make the case that Americans can only have affordable health care if they are forced to participate in her plan. She repeated a fallacious argument which she borrowed from John Edwards and Paul Krugman in comparing health care plans to Medicare and Social Security. The error here is that Medicare and Social Security are financed by payments made throughout one’s working life. It is not possible to join at a later date as could be done with regular health care coverage. As I’ve explained in more detail previously, a better analogy would be to the Medicare D program which is voluntary and which does include mechanisms to handle the free rider problem.

This was the first debate in which Clinton was the clear underdog. To get back into the race she needed a performance which could change the dynamics of the race. Instead we saw more of the same. I’ve felt all along that Clinton’s campaign was failing due to lack of substance and an over-reliance on Rove style attacks. Just as Clinton’s attacks have worked to Obama’s advantage during the campaign, seeing Clinton booed only reinforced how her strategy has failed.

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  1. 1
    Mark Kraft says:

    Here’s the video, it was a “plagiarized” line by John Edwards, combined with a “plagiarized” line by Bill Clinton!

    Please pass the info on…

  2. 2
    Daniel says:

    I find it interesting how it is assumed that people were booing Clinton regarding her jab of Obama’s plagarism… however I was there and the booing was actually directed toward Obama for what he had done.

  3. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    Nice try but it doesn’t hold up. I saw it on television. Not only were they clearly booing Clinton, they were applauding Obama for debunking this phony charge.

    Being there doesn’t give you any credibility. Besides, the journalists who were there also report that it was Clinton who was booed.

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