Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Clinton-Obama Debate in Wisconsin?

It is no secret that Hillary Clinton is calling on Obama to debate her in Wisconsin before that state's primary. I can understand Hillary's strategy here because she's actually quite good at debates when she's not using them as character attack opportunities. When she sticks to policy issues, she comes across eloquently and well-informed. Likewise, Obama is smart to refuse to debate her for precisely the reason why Hillary wants to debate: he's better on the stump than in the debate format. At least I think so.

But Obama has a chance to turn this situation to his advantage. He can agree to a debate without its probability of occurring while also exposing the vacuousness of Hillary's actual commitment to a debate beyond a campaign strategy to paint Obama negatively. Let me explain. According to a report filed today by Beth Fouhy for the Associated Press, Clinton is drumming the "Obama-won't-debate-me-in-Wisconsin" meme while she also plans to stop campaigning in Wisconsin a full day before Wisconsin voters go to the polls. What Obama should do is to agree to debate Clinton, but to do so the day before the voters go to the polls. That way, Hillary will either have to disrupt her campaign plans to do so, or she'll have to eat crow about Obama's unwillingness to debate her when it would be Clinton herself who would have to beg off a debate. At the very least, she'll be forced on the defensive regarding the subject by having to come up with some excuse about unfair play on Obama's part. And if she would agree to do a debate, she'll have to do some explaining and offer some apologies to the folks who were expecting her elsewhere that day.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems like this could be a shrewd move for Obama, with minimal risk involved for him. At worst, he'll have to debate Clinton in Wisconsin, which is not the worst thing for him to do. At best, he can put Clinton on the defensive regarding the whole issue and perhaps put the subject of debating to sleep for a while in the Clinton campaign strategy.

If I am missing something here, someone please fill me in.


LAmom said...

The only potential downside that I could see is that if he "caves" to the demand for a debate this time, that could set her up to ask for debates again and again (I saw one article right after Super Tuesday that suggested that she was going to call for weekly debates). At whatever point he finally said that enough was enough, the same charge of being afraid to debate could be resurrected.

Huck said...

That's an excellent point, lamom. Perhaps it is best for Obama to take his lumps on limiting debate but to put the matter to rest once and for all. Thanks for bringing it up. I hadn't considered it and it makes a lot of sense.