National Security

NATIONAL SECURITY….The emerging consensus about the lovefest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton last night is that Clinton was better in the first half, when they discussed domestic policy, and Obama was better in the second half, when they discussed Iraq.

Maybe so. But here’s the difference I noticed: they were both good in the first half and they were both lousy in the second half. When they were discussing domestic issues they were both sharp, well-briefed, and obviously engaged. But when the conversation turned to foreign policy, they became mushy, vague, and meta. For my money, they both need to hone their foreign policy message considerably for the general election.

Another thing the debate brought home to me is something Matt Yglesias complains about frequently. Both candidates claimed that Democrats understand national security and terrorism issues better than Republicans (“Democrats have a much better grasp of the reality of the situation,” as Hillary put it), and both agreed that a successful Democratic candidate would need to be able to make that case to the public. Obama thought he could make that case better because he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, while Clinton thought she could make the case better because she’s better prepared. But neither of them actually made that case. Both Obama and Clinton had a national stage where they had more time than usual to explain the liberal position on how to combat terrorism and make the world safer, and neither of them did it. They just said they needed to do it.

And they’re right. They do need to do that. So why didn’t they start last night?