Sparks Fly In Democratic Debate

Obama reiterated that he had opposed the war from the very beginning. He said that while he was working within the low income community in Chicago with people that had lost their jobs, Senator Clinton was a corporate lawyer on the board of Wal-Mart, which generated cheers.

[National News]


Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton engaged in verbal duels at tonight’s Democratic candidates debate, with former senator John Edwards occasionally dousing the flames.

The sharp exchanges started when Obama expressed his displeasure at having to spend days or even a week defending himself against what he said were inaccurate attacks against him by both Senator Clinton and her husband former president Bill Clinton; in essence he was conceding that the Clinton’s had detracted him from his campaign theme of being a force for change and unity. “I can’t tell who I’m running againts at times,” Obama remarked, clearly prepared to launch a more vigorous confrontation.

Obama bristled when he spoke about a past incident when Bill Clinton referred to his sance against the Iraq war, before it was launched, as a “fairy tale.” Obama reiterated that he had always opposed the war. He said that while he was working within the low-income communities in Chicago with people that had lost their jobs, Senator Clinton was a corporate lawyer on the board of Wal-Mart; his remark generated cheers.

But Clinton retorted sharply later in the debate, accusing Obama of once being a corporate lawyer for a Chicago “slumlord“ while she was resisting the Republicans; the remark elicited loud boos from the audience, perhaps because of the angry tone in which Senator Clinton delivered it.

“This kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to give healthcare?” Edwards interjected, to loud applause.

The debate was held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and CNN. The majority of an informal group of undecided voters monitored by CNN said they believed Edwards won the debate but that they would vote for Obama, who seemed more likely to win the White House.

Obama would become the first Black Democratic Party nominee for president if successful, while Clinton would be the first female nominee. A recent survey shows that 72% of whites believe the country is ready for a Black president while the poll showed 61% of Blacks saying the country is ready for an African American president.
Tonigh’s debate started with the candidates asked how they would address the current U.S. economic crisis, sparked by concern over spiraling home foreclosures around the country, which in turn has led to losses by banks that extended mortgage loans to sub prime borrowers. Investment banks also recorded tens of billions of dollars in losses; many had sold investment products linked to mortgages. In recent weeks major banks like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup have received billions of dollars from China and the Middle East in cash infusion to shore up shaky foundations. The Dow Jones index has declined by about 10% since the beginning of the year. Tremors in the U.S. economy have caused declines in European and Asian stock markets and analyst predict further sell offs when the market opens tomorrow after today’s national Dr. King memorial holiday.

President George Bush has announced plans for an immediate economic stimulus package that would involve rebates to the public to stimulate spending. It’s unclear whether low-income people who don’t pay taxes will be eligible.

Senator Clinton tonight said she proposes a $110 billion stimulus package that would include $650 to millions of people in rebates. Clinton also said she wants green infrastructure economic activity to boost job creation.

Senator Obama said his stimulus package would ensure that low-income families would not be ignored; he proposed $500 in rebates, with additional spending for social security beneficiaries.

John Edwards was the only candidate who did not offer a short term stimulus package instead proposing plans for long-term growth to benefit low-income communities. The former senator also spoke strongly on the need to help low-income families and African Americans. Edwards said Black poverty and African American families’ vulnerability –including the fact that sub prime lenders seemed to target Black families more–are all legacies of the nation’s history of slavery and discrimination.

Clinton and Obama could not conceal the friction that has emerged in recent weeks between their campaigns. At times neither could mask the hostility, judging by their facial expressions.

Obama said Clinton has been mischaracterizing his recent remarks and distorting his political record. Obama said recently when he appeared before the editorial board of a newspaper he had noted that former president Ronald Reagan had been successful, as a communicator, in getting Democrats to vote in support of programs the Republican president wanted. Senator Clinton had distorted his remarks to make it appear as if he had been praising Reagan, Obama said.

Clinton said she was the best candidate, with the best healthcare plan, and the best economic recovery plan for the United States. She called on Bush to convene the “working group” on financial markets. She also called for a 90 day moratorium on home foreclosures. Clinton reminded the audience, when the format was changed and the candidates sat next to each other, that African Americans enjoyed income growth before Bush’s election, a clear reference to her husband’s administration.

Edwards said he had made the issue of poverty elimination “central to what I am doing.” He added: “If you’re Black you’re much more likely to lack health coverage.” He called the issue of poverty “a moral” crisis. He was most forceful in addressing the issue of poverty.

The candidates sparred over their healthcare proposals with both Edwards and Clinton saying that Obama’s did not provide universal coverage since it had no mandated coverage.

At one point the over-heated temperature on the stage diminished a little when Obama was asked whether he agreed with Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison’s assessment that Bill Clinton had been the “first Black president.”

“Well,” Obama, said, to a pause in the audience, “Bill Clinton did have tremendous affinity to the African American community and still does.” Obama continued: “I would have to investigate more Bill’s dancing abilities to decide whether he was a brother,” eliciting loud laughter from the audience.

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Clinton rejoined, as the temperature on the podium diminished a little.

Obama also noted that while the media seemed more focused on covering the campaign from a racial prism, this did not mean that issues such as the disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates between Blacks and whites did not need to be discussed.

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