Dem Debate in Nevada: Clinton is Back, Actually She Never Went Away

This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

A couple of weeks ago, after a Democratic debate in Philadelphia, the media hype was unmistakable: Hillary Clinton had “stumbled.” She was “off her game.” She “waffled,” got “tripped up,” and “lost her momentum.” By any reasonable measure, all of this was wildly overstated — it might have been Clinton’s least impressive debate performance, but she wasn’t that bad. News outlets just needed something to talk about, and the “Clinton’s-post-debate-trouble” narrative was easy.

Similarly, those same outlets are reporting on last night’s debate from Nevada with a new narrative: “Clinton is back!” Actually, she never really went away, but apparently that’s not important right now.

To be sure, Clinton had a much better night than in Philadelphia. Two weeks ago, she was on the defensive; last night, she was on the offensive. When Barack Obama and John Edwards would challenge her, she’d return fire.

In just the first few minutes, for example, Obama said, “[W]hat the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions. And that is not what we’ve seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues.” Instead of defending herself, Clinton struck back: “Well, I hear what Senator Obama is saying, and he talks a lot about stepping up and taking responsibility and taking strong positions. But when it came time to step up and decide whether or not he would support universal health care coverage, he chose not to do that. His plan would leave 15 million Americans out.”

Obama, of course, insisted that wasn’t true, but the result was a substantive back-and-forth on healthcare policy. It was as if CNN organized a debate, and by accident, a debate broke out.

Soon after, Edwards took a few shots, and Clinton again returned fire: “You know, Senator Edwards raised health care again. When Senator Edwards ran in 2004, he wasn’t for universal health care. I’m glad he is now. But for him to be throwing this mud and making these charges, I think, really detracts from what we’re trying to do here tonight.”

What makes this interesting, I suppose, is that it was different. Clinton was no longer trying to stay above the fray; she was mixing it up. The media, apparently, was impressed.

But there was a limit on the audience’s tolerance for intra-party criticism. Last night we heard something unusual: booing.

This, for example, was a striking moment:
EDWARDS: Senator Clinton defends the system, takes money from lobbyists, does all those things. And my point is simply that people have — (chorus of boos) — no, wait a minute. Voters have those choices. Voters have those choices. They deserve to know that they have those choices and that there are, in fact, differences between us. But I think every one of us should be held to the same standard.
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