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Last: Democratic Debate

10:03 PM, Jan 5, 2008 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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All in all, this is a bad night for Hillary Clinton. She wasn't able to damage Obama and she weakened her own case for being the mature, serious candidate. Let's take a look at what happened:

* Clinton tries to gently attack Obama at first, seeking to label him a flip-flopper. She then becames a bit more forceful, shrewdly confronting him under the guise of defending Edwards's honor. But Edwards would have none of that, and turned on her, accepting Obama's prior criticisms in order to go after Clinton as being part of the "status quo." As a tactical matter, this makes no sense. And it drives Clinton insane, launching her into a stern, angry, Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy moment. It's gruesome.

* But the biggest problem for Clinton comes from her handling of foreign policy, which should be her competitive advantage.

After telling us how terrible Bush's foreign policy is, Clinton declares that there should be no state havens for stateless terrorists and that America should retaliate against any state "giving safe haven to stateless terrorists." Which seems very near to the Bush Doctrine.

If her position doesn't go quite that far, then it is at least supportive of part of the grounds for the Iraq war--Saddam's ties to al Qaeda and other terrorists who were given safe haven there. And it could be enough to justify the use of military force against Iran. All of which Clinton now firmly opposes.

* Later, when Gibson confronts Clinton on her opposition to the surge, she simply refuses to acknowledge the reality that the surge has worked and that Iraq is much improved--something even the proto-withdrawal Obama concedes.

* And still later, after calling for withdrawal within 60 days of taking office, Clinton openly admits that she has no idea what the consequences of withdrawal will be. But that she's for it anyway.

This is madness. Clinton's pitch for New Hampshire is that Obama is too inexperienced to be trusted with big decisions. By being transparently (a) contradictory and (b) irresponsible on questions of national security she insulates him from this charge. After all, how much worse could an inexperienced Obama be?

Then again, maybe I'm making much ado about something Democratic voters will hardly notice. Maybe in the Democratic primary nothing a candidate says on a subject after "Bush = Bad" really matters.

But maybe not.