Political Capital with John Harwood

Democrats' Debate: Will Economy Ever Take Center Stage?

As Robert Palmer might sing it, 'we might as well face it, the Democratic presidential candidates are addicted to war.' Which is another way of saying that Iraq, the issue that has most driven down President Bush's popularity, is driving the debate in the Democratic debate as well. The economy is not.

Democratic Debate

The debate Monday night at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, was three fourths over before the first question on taxes. Private equity never came up. The economic debate was largely limited to blaming drug and insurance companies for blocking health reform.

If anything in the debate has a half-life beyond 24 hours, it may be Barack Obama's skirmish with Hillary Clinton over meeting with anti-American tyrants.

Obama said he would. Clinton said she wouldn't, and warned against being used for anti-American propaganda. Her aides considered Obama's statement a huge blunder at a time when he's trying to display presidential gravitas. Huddling with Clintonistas in the media "spin room" later, I asked them how they expected Obama's team to handle the issue. They were stumped, since his response sounded so direct.

A few minutes later, when I encountered Team Obama, we got the answer: Obama had been misunderstood. He didn't mean to say he would PERSONALLY meet with the tyrants, but rather lower level aides would. Just the sort of meeting Clinton said she'd permit.

For me, a memorable moment in the annals of post-debate spin. We'll see if it works for political damage control. If only this campaign could elicit exchanges that sharp and intriguing over the economy.

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