Politics, it is said, is show business for ugly people. So it only made sense when the Democratic presidential race came to Hollywood, viewers of the last debate before a score of states will hold primaries and caucuses February 5 would be invited to compare the celebrity candidates who remain in the race – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – with actual celebrities.
Thus, as Obama and Clinton spent inordinate amounts of time parsing the spending formulas for their health care plans during Thursday night’s forum in Los Angeles, CNN’s cameras crews spent inordinate amounts of time searching out and focusing on George Constanza (actor Jason Alexander), Archie Bunker’s son-in-law (actor-turned-director Rob Reiner) the Titanic guy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Stevie Wonder.
These “Academy Awards moments” were often more engaging than the actual debate.
Seated just inches from one another, Obama and Clinton chose to host an academic seminar rather than rumble in a “Super Tuesday” wrestling match.
When Wolf Blitzer tried to get the candidates to spar a bit, it didn’t really work. While the differed on some particulars of how they had previously answered questions about whether to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants, or whose health care plan was more thoroughly compromised, most of their clashes ended with compliments.
“I respect Senator Clinton’s record. It’s a terrific record.”If there was a point of disagreement, it was on the pressing question of who was more like John Edwards.
One day after Edwards quit the race in which he said he represented “the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party,” the remaining candidates pursued his endorsement by lavishing so much praise on the former senator from North Carolina that it was hard to remember why he quit the race.
Obama opened his remarks by paying homage to “John Edwards, who did such an outstanding job of elevating the issues of poverty and working people…”
Clinton upped the ante by saying “I’m very grateful for the extraordinary service of John and Elizabeth Edwards…”
When the subject turned to health care, the senator from New York said, “I have put forward a plan similar to what Senator Edwards put forward.”
Minutes later, Obama said, “I think that a lot of issues that both Sen. Clinton and I care about will not move forward unless we have increased the kinds of ethics proposal that I passed just last year — some of the toughest since Watergate — and that’s something that John Edwards and I both talked about repeatedly in this campaign.”
Even when Obama and Clinton reviewed their minor differences on questions of how and when to withdraw troops from Iraq, Clinton said, “We’re having a wonderful time.”
And it almost seemed that the candidates — who almost came to blows in their last debate before the South Carolina primary ended this one with a hug — were getting along.
For the first time since this campaign began, it was possible to imagine these two contenders as running-mates.
Clinton came close to saying as much during a discussion about whether her proposal to mandate universal health care coverage or Obama’s proposal to expand access might be preferable, the senator from New York said of the senator from Illinois, “We share a lot of the same values… we are trying to work our way through to get to where we need to be and that is to have a united Democratic party…”
But neither Clinton nor Obama is running for vice president just yet. Despite one warm and fuzzy debate, don’t think that this race has gone “soft.” Simply recognize that Obama and Clinton no longer choose to be seen slinging mud at one another in public. They’ll do that via direct mail and negative radio ads as their struggle to secure the nomination hits its critical stage in coming days — and, if “Super Tuesday” proves inconclusive, coming weeks and months.
Only when one candidate claws his or her way to the top will we get a sense of whether Thursday night’s magnanimity was feigned or the start of a beautiful relationship. And, even then, personal ambitions and political calculations make a fall combination of this duo no more likely than a John Kennedy/Lyndon Johnson pairing in 1960 or a Ronald Reagan/George Bush match in 1980.
But even Wolf Blitzer noticed the dynamic.
Referring to the potential for a “dream ticket,” the CNN anchor asked, “Would you consider an Obama-Clinton or a Clinton-Obama ticket down the road?”
“Obviously, there’s a big difference between the two…” said Obama.
But he did not shoot the speculation down. He merely referred to it as “premature.”
“Well,” Clinton chipped in, “I have to agree with everything Barack just said.”