Oh boy! Big drama between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama via their henchmen, Howard Wolfson and David Axelrod, who were free to haul off against each other in a way that their diplomatic, genteel and no-more-negative-politics-ever bosses cannot. The sticking point: Under what circumstances will these two hypothetical presidents agree to hypothetically meet with hypothetical leaders? AMERICA NEEDS TO KNOW! Basically, the positions which, in the debate on Monday, were nuanced but briefly stated, have hardened into absolutes: Obama is a neophyte who is racing to the side of Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong Il! Hillary Clinton would never allow such a meeting if it would further anti-US propaganda! Here's the thing: Though Clinton was credited with scoring a point off Obama during the debate for qualifying his "sure, I'd meet with them" answer to the question of 'would you meet with rogue-state leaders during your first year as president?', the thrust of Obama's answer was less that he'd rush blindly to curry favor than the isolationist policy of Heismanning leaders of states that directly affect U.S. foreign policy "as punishment" was simplistic and ineffective. For her part, Clinton's qualifier made excellent sense — but essentially she, too, said she'd meet with the leaders were there not propaganda issues or otherwise mitigating circumstances — which is far closer to Obama than it is to Bush administration policy. Implied in both answers was the notion that diplomacy could be better effected through relaxing the inflexible stance of the current administration.
Not that you'd know it from the fallout — Obama taking a swipe the next day in an email to reporters citing Hillary saying "I think it is a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people." OH NO SHE'S A FLIP-FLOPPER! Actually, the statement was logically consistent with both candidates since it went to impetus, not specifics. Hillary retorted that Obama's answer was "irresponsible and frankly naive"; Obama re-retorted that "I think what is irresponsible and naive is to have authorized a war without asking how we were going to get out. " Ooh, snap! And lo, a catfight was born.*
And grew up into a healthy slugfest between Wolfson and Axelrod yesterday on The Situation Room and later in a repeat performance on Hardball. Here's the clip (with the audio at the end slightly off — Ax: "I believe the American people are serious about changing this disastrous foreign policy, and they are not interesting in low-rent poltical tactics--" Wolf: "Like comparing Senator Clinton to Bush? I agree, they're not interested in those kind of tactics"):
It is immensely fun to watch these two square off. In that way that people tend to look like their dogs or fat people make their friends fat, Axelrod and Wolfson each seem like the obvious representatives for Obama and Clinton &mdas; Axelrod all earnest and seeming slightly green, Wolfson coldly precise and in complete control of the facts as he smacks it down with utter confidence. Of course, these are exaggerated qualities, which makes them more fun to watch as they lock horns (though Wolfson's calm certainty has a certain
four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse type feeling — you can just imagine his contemptuous snort as you forget your keys yet again, whereas Axelrod would be the guy showing up panting and disheveled with slightly droopy flowers with a hopeful, hangdog look on his face). While that may make Axelrod a better boyfriend, it doesn't make him a better debater: Wolfson had him dead to rights here, especially when Axelrod got huffy about Wolfson calling Ahmedinejad a holocaust denier (true) in the context of Obama condoning those views (obvs. not) — Wolfson flung that back at him, invoking the "Bush-Cheney Lite" slur and saying that this was hardly Obama practicing a new kind of politics. Even better, Wolfson scored the most important point, really: Saying that Obama and Hillary were essentially the same on Iraq, since that is where Obama desperately wants to draw the line in the sand (Matthews: "So there's no distinction here between the two of your candidacies with regard to ending the war that President Bush began, right?" Wolfson: "No." Point!). Plus, to be fair, Axelrod was playing the tarring-with-the-same-brush game by invoking Mitt Romney's agreement with Hillary earlier in the segment . But really, Ahmedinejad tops that every time.
To Axelrod's credit, however, he did not insult Hillary's clothes.