Thursday, February 21, 2008

Texas Democratic Presidential Debate 2-21-08

Hillary failed miserably tonight to put Obama on the defensive. Ms.Clinton was left to embarrassed smiling while her opponent repeatedly made his powerful case. Read the entire transcript here:

OBAMA: The problem we have is that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die. They go to die because the lobbyists...


They go to die because lobbyists and special interests have a strangle-hold on the agenda in Washington. They go to die in Washington because too many politicians are interested in scoring political points rather than bridging differences in order to get things done.

And so the central premise of this campaign is that we can bring this country together, that we can push against the special interests that have come to dominate the agenda in Washington, that we can be straight with the American people about how we're going to solve these problems and enlist them in taking back their government.

[...] BROWN: Senator Obama, just to follow up, you had said in a previous CNN debate that you would meet with the leaders of Cuban, Iran, North Korea, among others, so presumably you would be willing to meet with the new leader of Cuba.

OBAMA: That's correct. Now, keep in mind that the starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century.

I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda, and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time.

But I do think that it's important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that's where diplomacy makes the biggest difference.

OBAMA: One other thing that I've said, as a show of good faith that we're interested in pursuing potentially a new relationship, what I've called for is a loosening of the restrictions on remittances from family members to the people of Cuba, as well as travel restrictions for family members who want to visit their family members in Cuba.

And I think that initiating that change in policy as a start and then suggesting that an agenda get set up is something that could be useful, but I would not normalize relations until we started seeing some of the progress that Senator Clinton was talking about.

BROWN: But that's different from your position back in 2003. You called U.S. policy toward Cuba a miserable failure, and you supported normalizing relations.

BROWN: So you've backtracked now...

OBAMA: I support the eventual normalization. And it's absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton's entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba.

So I think that we have to shift policy. I think our goal has to be ultimately normalization. But that's going to happen in steps. And the first step, as I said, is changing our rules with respect to remittances and with respect to travel.

And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact, not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down, I think, is one that we should try to take advantage of.


BROWN: Senator Clinton, do you want a quick response?

CLINTON: Well, I agree, absolutely, that we should be willing to have diplomatic negotiations and processes with anyone. I've been a strong advocate of opening up such a diplomatic process with Iran, for a number of years.

Because I think we should look for ways that we can possibly move countries that are adversarial to us, you know, toward the world community. It's in our interests. It's in the interests of the people in countries that, frankly, are oppressed, like Cuba, like Iran.

But there has been this difference between us over when and whether the president should offer a meeting, without preconditions, with those with whom we do not have diplomatic relations. And it should be part of a process, but I don't think it should be offered in the beginning. Because I think that undermines the capacity for us to actually take the measure of somebody like Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad and others.

CLINTON: And, as President Kennedy said, he wouldn't be afraid to negotiate, but he would expect there to be a lot of preparatory work done, to find out exactly what we would get out of it.

And therefore, I do think we should be eliminating the policy of the Bush administration, which has been very narrowly defined, and frankly against our interests, because we have failed to reach out to countries, we have alienated our friends, and we have emboldened our enemies.

So I would get back to very vigorous diplomacy, and I would use bipartisan diplomacy. I would ask emissaries from both political parties to represent me and our country, because I want to send a very clear message to the rest of the world that the era of unilateralism, preemption and arrogance of the Bush administration is over and we're going to...


BROWN: Very briefly and then we're going to move on.


OBAMA: I think, as I said before, preparation is actually absolutely critical in any meeting. And I think it is absolutely true that either of us would step back from some of the Bush unilateralism that's caused so much damage.

But I do think it is important precisely because the Bush administration has done so much damage to American foreign relations that the president take a more active role in diplomacy than might have been true 20 or 30 years ago.

Because the problem is, if we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time. And I think that it's important for us in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, for the president to be willing to take that extra step.

OBAMA: That is the kind of step that I would like to take as president of the United States.

McCain Loan Raises FEC Questions

While all the talk is about the female lobbyist, there is another McCain scandal that might deserve just as much coverage. In both cases it points to a politician who misrepresents himself as being above typical Washington corrupt behavior:

The government's top campaign finance regulator says John McCain can't drop out of the primary election's public financing system until he answers questions about a loan he obtained to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign.

Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason, in a letter to McCain this week, said the all-but-certain Republican nominee needs to assure the commission that he did not use the promise of public money to help secure a $4 million line of credit he obtained in November.

McCain's lawyer, Trevor Potter, said Wednesday evening that McCain has withdrawn from the system and that the FEC can't stop him. Potter said the campaign did not encumber the public funds in any way.

McCain, a longtime advocate of stricter limits on money in politics, was one of the few leading presidential candidates to seek FEC certification for public money during the primaries. The FEC determined that he was entitled to at least $5.8 million. But McCain did not obtain the money, and he notified the FEC earlier this month that he would bypass the system, freeing him from its spending limits.

But just as McCain was beginning to turn his attention to a likely Democratic opponent, Mason, a Republican appointee to the commission, essentially said, "Not so fast."

By accepting the public money, McCain would be limited to spending about $54 million for the primaries, a ceiling his campaign is near. That would significantly hinder his ability to finance his campaign between now and the Republican National Convention in September.