David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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Obama and Clinton Debate in Cleveland: No Pain, No Gain

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 10:40 PM PST

If the political winds in Ohio and Texas are blowing in Barack Obama's favor—and polls in each state show Obama gaining strength—Hillary Clinton did little during Tuesday night's debate in Cleveland to change the weather.

With a week to go before primaries in those important states, this debate was much a repeat of last Thursday's face-off. The two remaining Democratic candidates once again got hot and bothered over the issue of health care insurance mandates. But neither had anything new to say. The Clinton campaign has been pounding Obama for weeks on this front, but the wonky issue has not provided her any traction. And after 16 minutes of grueling back and forth—much of which was devoted to each candidate insisting that unnamed experts had pronounced his or her plan the best—Clinton did not achieve any breakthrough. She claimed the difference between their two health care proposals—she's for a comprehensive mandate that would force all Americans to purchase health insurance; he's for a limited mandate covering insurance for kids—is the defining issue of the Democratic presidential contest. His response: not really. He minimized the gap between their plans. And it's hard for a candidate to have a battle royale with a foe who deftly maintains, we ain't got that big of a dispute here, let's move on. By now it should be clear: mandates are not going to save Hillary Clinton.

The other big squabble of the night came right after the mandates mudwrestle, and it focused on NAFTA, which has emerged as an issue in the past week, with Clinton and Obama competing for blue-collar Democratic voters in Ohio. As part of this tussle, Clinton has in recent days complained that Obama has unfairly tarred her as a flip-flopper on NAFTA. (Her current position: the trade accord is flawed, needs to be renegotiated, and there should be a time-out in negotiating similar treaties.) At the debate, she declared that she's been a critic of NAFTA "from the very beginning." Obama called her out on this—and simultaneously, his campaign sent reporters a link to a YouTube video in which she praises NAFTA. (Obama's campaign website conveniently features a list of Clinton's pro-NAFTA remarks over the years.)

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In Letter to Spy Chief, Four National Security Vets Suggest Bush is Fearmongering

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 1:56 PM PST

Can it be that the evildoers are closer to harming the United States because House Democrats won't roll over for President Bush and pass a bill that awards legal immunity to telecom firms that participated in what might have been illegal surveillance requested by the Bush administration? That's what George W. Bush and his aides have claimed. But four former top national security officials yesterday sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell that challenges that melodramatic--and fearmongering--interpretation. The letter--written by Rand Beers, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council; Richard Clarke, former head of counterterrorism at the NSC; retired Lt. General Don Kerrick, former deputy national security adviser; and Suzanne Spaulding, former assistant general counsel at the CIA--is a good retort to the Bush White House. Here are the key parts:

The sunset of the Protect America Act (PAA) does not put America at greater risk. Despite claims that have been made, surveillance currently occurring under the PAA is authorized for up to a year. New surveillance requests can be filed through current [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law. As you have stated, "Unlike last summer, there is no backlog of cases to slow down getting surveillance approvals from the FISA court. We're caught up to all of it now." As court orders are received, telecom companies are required to comply. Also, existing NSA authority allows surveillance to be conducted abroad on any known or suspected terrorist without a warrant. It is unclear to us that the immunity debate will affect our surveillance capabilities.

Another Dem Debate Tonight? Another Chance to Go Round and Round on Health Care Mandates

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 8:50 AM PST

Another Democratic debate tonight? Enough already. Hillary Clinton has been pushing Barack Obama for more and more debates. But these debates have lost their utility. Do we really need to see the pair bicker once more over health care coverage mandates? That's the only major current policy difference that the two have zeroed in on in their face-offs. They argue their points around and around in a circle like quarrelers in a bad marriage. And they're kinda both right.

If you want to achieve universal coverage at the most efficient price point, then you need as big a pool as possible. That's basic economics. So Hillary Clinton correctly notes that mandates are needed--especially to get into this pool those folks who may not need costly health care. Their premiums will help cover the cost of care for others. That's how insurance works: the more, the merrier.

But Obama has a point when he says that it would not be fair to force people to buy insurance they cannot afford and that may not meet their needs. I recently met someone from Massachusetts--where there now is a health insurance mandate--who complained that she and her husband could not afford the insurance they are mandated to purchase. And, she added, they make just enough money to be beyond qualifying for a subsidy. This couple is considering moving out of the state. Maybe they're over-reacting to the situation. But no one should be compelled to purchase substandard but costly coverage. Consequently, it seems fair to say, "Let's see the policy, before we accept the mandate." No doubt about it, Obama got somewhat trapped in all this. He put out a plan with limited mandates (only for parents regarding coverage for their kids) and was then raised (as in poker) by Clinton. At that point, Obama could not admit he had proposed an insufficient plan. He was forced into a corner--defending the absence of a comprehensive mandate in his plan--and this debate was born.

Dems Debate: No Shoot-out in Texas, as Clinton Halfheartedly Goes After Obama

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 9:33 PM PST

obama-clinton250x200.jpg Asked if Barrack Obama was ready to be commander in chief, Hillary Clinton ducked the question. When Obama suggested she is not as willing as he is to confront the special interests of Washington, she did not engage. Offered the chance to blast Obama for vowing to meet with the dictatorial leaders of North Korea and Iran in his first year as president, she took a pass. When Clinton did go on the attack at Thursday night's debate in Austin, Texas, she chose to focus on Obama's use of several speech lines borrowed (or plagiarized, according to the Clinton camp) from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a supporter of Obama. That was, she said, "not change you can believe in; it's change you can Xerox."

With the zinger, Clinton was trying to reinforce one of her campaign's themes: I offer solutions; he offers words. But during this portion of the debate, Obama came on strong. He brushed aside the plagiarism accusation as part of the "silly season in politics," and noted that the fine words of his eloquent speeches convey not only hope and inspiration but also support proposals for tuition tax credits for college, tax relief for working families, and military disengagement in Iraq. And Obama explained that inspiration is essential because "if we can't inspire the American people to get involved in their government," Washington will continue to be a city of gridlock dominated by corporate lobbyists. Clinton didn't have much of a reply to that. She did continue stick to her my-actions-speak-louder-than-his-words assault. But there was no new punch to this now routine line, and she appeared to gain no new ground in the battle between (his) hope and (her) experience.

Which means the debate was no game changer. Obama, who has not been his best at debates earlier in the campaign, performed well in Austin before a pumped-up crowd that cheered on both candidates. (Kudos to CNN for not shushing the candidates' supporters.) Clinton performed well, too, especially when it came to demonstrating her command of policy details and ticking off her legislative accomplishments. But at this point, she needs to do better than well and clobber Obama, and that did not happen. A recent poll in Texas--which holds its primary on March 4--shows the race between the two a statistical dead heat. That is, Obama, if the polls are to be believed, is catching her in the crucial state. And polls in Ohio--the other big prize on March 4--show Obama nipping at a still-significant Clinton lead. But there's still plenty of time for him to close in on her in the Buckeye State.

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