Calling the media events happening on cable “debates” is a misnomer. They are actually serial press conference, or if you prefer, auditions for the role of national HERO. It’s all about defining your point of view.
Two candidates stood out as extremely effective on MSNBC last night.
HILLARY CLINTON was thrown a trick question by Tim Russert. He began by quoting a “hypothetical” President about using torture to stop a nuclear terrorist attack. All the candidates rejected the use of torture. Then Russert went to Hillary and revealed that it was her husband, Bill Clinton, who had made the statement. Her quick response, "Well, he’s not standing here right now,” was pitch perfect. She defined herself and her POV as different from the old Clinton brand without repudiating it. Very nicely played.
JOHN EDWARDS’ moment came in response to a question involving a cap on the social security FICA tax. Currently you stop paying that payroll tax at about $90,000 a year. If incomes above that were taxed (particularly those of the ultra rich) it would make social security much more solvent. But removing the cap would be a huge tax increase on the middle class. Most candidates dithered. Edwards had a clearly defined solution targeted at helping the middle class. In his plan you would stop paying the payroll tax at $90,000, then start again on incomes over $200,000. His proposal was clearly focused on helping common people through the hard times that may be coming. It is a winning Point of View.
Forget national polls, it is Iowa where the rubber meets the road. Hillary and Edwards are running neck and neck there. Things are getting interesting.