Please Barack - Don't Stop Debating

I read this morning in the NY Times that Barack Obama declined Hillary Clinton’s invitation to a debate a week for the next month.  The Times quotes Obama as saying:

“I don’t think anybody is clamoring for more debates,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve had 18 debates so far.”

Mr. Obama added that he would agree to at least one debate, but noted, “It’s very important for me to spend time with voters.”

Well Barack, I am clamoring for more debates. That makes one person. Please weigh in via the comments if you too would like more debates.

I honestly don’t know a better way to "spend time with voters" than by answering questions side by side with his competitor in front of a national television audience.

I made my decision to vote for Hillary on the morning I voted. Apparently many others did the same and the last minute vote broke for Hillary.

For me, a big part of my decision was the substance she showed in contrast to the lack of substance that Obama showed in the Los Angeles debate. If Obama is going to be the nominee, and I’ve said many times that I’d be fine with that, then he needs to show more substance, define what exactly he’d do to fix the big issues that face our country. And now that the country is watching, there is no better way to do that than a debate a week for the next month.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Sam

    The request for a ‘debate a week’ does two things: 1) gets him away from campaigning in battleground states where he’s proven more effective than Hillary at building momentum given the time to do so and 2) cedes his strategy to hers in a forum where she has proven his equal and where she can trump his soaring rhetoric by talking over him.It’s not clear if there will be political ramifications to his declination, but, as a Barack supporter, I’d want him to decline as well. I’d prefer him to spend time campaigning in the states that matter. I don’t need to see a debate a week and it wouldn’t clarify anything to me I don’t already know. Barack has plenty of position papers on his website that outline where he stands on the issues, I think he is unquestionably ‘of substance’, and, per your own posts Fred, I’m voting for a leader not an operator (I may be paraphrasing but you get the point).I have a sinking feeling none of this will matter anyway given her lead in super-delegates. I have a sneaking suspicion there will be some backroom deal leaving her with the nomination in Denver and, for all of us Barack supporters, it will feel a little like Florida ’00 all over again. She is at least the equal of Karl Rove in hand-to-hand combat and on super-delegate negotiations and threats I’d have to bet on her. Which is depressing because we’ll be right back to where we were in terms of partisan politics for another four years at least.

    1. fredwilson

      That is so cynical and depressing.

      1. Sam

        The Clintons (and the George Bush) have made my cynical. I’d love a non 50+1 strategy but I don’t see it from Mark Penn and the Clinton campaign.

      2. MIchael

        Actually, it’s ironic that you voted for Hillary but see this as cynical. ; )Seriously, tough, what Sam says is true. Her tactics are profoundly Rovean. And a debate steers attention away from that and more personal examinations on things such as the people on her donor list, the cluster-bomb vote, numerous instances foresaking principle for political expediency, more detailed examinations of her misstatements about Obama (and others), quasi-push-polling, you name it. Additionally, there is a strong indication that the next 9 contests (primaries and caucuses) could generate near-overwhleming momentum for Obama. He doesn’t want to distract from that, but I’m guessing she probably does.It’s fine and fair that you want a debate to hear more policy, etc. detail from Obama, but you should recognize that there’s various, serious reasons why Clinton would want the attention on that versus, well, just about anything else.

      3. Jay

        Dude, she changes her slogan to “Change” just because it works. Leader is one who sticks to his/her ideals.

        1. KD

          Jay and others,Why don’t you look up Deval Patrick and see how Obama has co-opted the exact same rhetoric (even down to “Yes, we can!”) that Axelrtod used to propel Patrick to his governorship, and Obama to his state senate seat. Perhaps you will see that this is not about ideals or leadership at all — and certainly not about authenticity. It is about marketing and manipulation of voter perception, and about a man who is following (albeit brilliantly) a pre-determined marketing plan already tested and forged by another.

          1. sajayo

            I’ve read Obama used “Yes, we can!” in his 2004 senate campaign. That’s before Patrick, of course.

    2. CivilAaron

      I agree Sam, smart political move by the Clinton camp. Beyond the 2 reasons you gave, it would also serve as free airtime for her cash strapped campaign. Glad Obama didn’t fall for it.

  2. Jonathan Peterson

    TV debates AREN’T really debates, they are opportunities for candidates to force prepared remarks and/or attacks on the other candidate in the form of “answers”. Making matters worse, the last one I watched had Wolf Blitzer TRYING over and over to get the candidates to attack each other personally.I’d LOVE to see a town-hall meeting style “debate” with both candidates sharing time talking about issues to an audience asking real questions about the direction of the country, who candidates would put their cabinet and how they would fix mistakes of the Bush administrations. But whoever wins the Dem nomination would likely come out of free-flowing “debates” like that with a handful of sound bites that would be used against them over and over in the general election.

  3. mfeinstein

    I agree, Fred. I think that much of America is just starting to pay attention to the election. It’s close and interesting, even to non-political junkies. Many of the 18 debates so far had many participants and lacked substance. Now that it would be 1 on 1, there is no place to hide.I voted for Obama, but would like to see him debate Hillary frequently as the continue to battle for the nomination. I hate the concept that they would want to avoid debates so that they limit the fodder that can be used against them in the general election. This type of strategizing makes voters very cynical.

    1. fredwilson

      Well said mike. I totally agree with you

  4. tim

    That’s funny I found no substance from any of them in any of the debates. Obama works best one on one. Its a strategy that worked for him. I also found it interesting that people make their decisions the moment they are in the voting both because I find that very superficial. I based my decision on Hillary’s and her husbands lackluster record – not her ability to debate. It was a slamdunk for me.

  5. Doug Kersten

    Debates are the only time I’ve really gotten to watch Obama and Hillary, other then the speeches they’ve made on major primary nights. I’m sure many other people are the same way. No debates, less exposure. I don’t see how that benefits anyone.Doug K.

    1. Laura

      The problem is, debates also exaggerate the differences between them. On most policy issues, they are pretty similar, but debates force them to take more extreme positions just to draw contrast. Plus, there is the potential for it to get nasty, which plays right into the Republicans’ hands.

  6. ErikSchwartz

    The big TV debates made sense when 22 states were voting at the same time. Much less so now that we’re back to one-at-a-time campaigns.I suspect her clamor for debate has more to do with her campaign needing free media due to cash flow issues rather than a desire for discourse. He comes off as a leader, she comes off as a wonk. Leaders hire wonks. Wonks (with the notable exception of Bill Clinton) make ineffective leaders.If there are more debates, make them town hall debates with questions from the people. The “professional” questions so far have been uninspired.

  7. jimroper

    I think some people who say Obama lacks substance haven’t really made the effort to learn about his ideas. His proposals are directly on his website and there are plenty of articles about his substance.…Lawrence Lessig makes a great case for Obama in a video:…More specifically, his approach to the mortgage mess is more practical than Hillary’s plan to magically freeze interest rates for 5 years and hold a moratorium on foreclosures (this creates a moral hazard – rewarding risk takers). As someone who has followed the housing bubble since 2003, I cringed when I heard Hillary’s plan.

    1. fredwilson

      I am not saying he doesn’t have substance.I am saying I’ve not seen it exhibited in his public momentsFred

  8. fnazeeri

    It used to be that debates were an opportunity to learn about a candidate’s platform. Today, the internet and 24-hour news make all the policy, voting record and platform stances available whenever anyone is interested in them and that has turned the debates into empty events where a pregnant pause or a nifty one liner can “win” the debate. I don’t need to see more of that.In reality, I think Obama believes he can out fund raise Clinton so why give her free national advertising via a debate. It’s a calculated risk.

    1. fredwilson

      It makes him look cynical and calculating in my bookThat’s been a point of differentiation with hillary to dateNot anymoreFred

      1. jimroperaz

        Fair enough, but Hillary agreed to the debates on Fox recently. Previously, all Democratic candidates agreed not to debate on Fox, but now that Hillary is behind in the money department, she’s changed her mind. I think that’s more cynical and calculating in my book. It’s a smart play by Hillary. Down in money, she needs free airtime…and if Obama refuses, she can spin it to her advantages.http://www.huffingtonpost.chttp://embeds.blogs.foxnews

      2. ronp

        He is a politician – plain and simple. He has to be cynical and calculating by default in the current form of American politics.It’s not new, Obama’s been that way for a while. Here’s an example of how he snubbed S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom after his gay marriage move – http://www.huffingtonpost.c…It’s simply the devil we know vs. the devil we don’t. NOW that’s cynical!

      3. Jason Preston

        I agree Fred, and I would like to see more debates.

      4. fnazeeri

        Cynical for Obama is what Hillary calls experience.

  9. Greg Cannon

    Personally, I’ve got debate fatigue. Yes, there should be more debates, but 1/week is excessive. And it’s clearly a strategic proposal and not one done in the interest of the voters. Not that that’s bad or that Obama doesn’t/shouldn’t make similar moves. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call it what it is. And I’m trying not to be too cynical this time around (which is why I’m supporting Obama in the first place), but I do fear that it’s going to come down to back room dealing at the convention leaving Obama seriously outmatched. BTW, while I’m a big fan of the Times, I think the tin-hat brigade has an issue with their endorsement of Hillary and now with this morning’s lame piece on how Obama didn’t live up to the hype on Tuesday. Check out this snippet: “Mr. Obama more than held his own against Mrs. Clinton: he won more states and may well have won more delegates, once all of them, including those from caucus states, are officially allocated.But….” Talk about quickly dispensing with the inconvenient facts to make your predetermined point. Disappointing to see this in the Times.

  10. Blake

    Hillary has gone broke. She needs the free air time. Why would Barack voluntarily give that to her?

    1. j 2 the b

      +1 Blake.Funny how she suddenly wants debates once her cash flow has dried up. Obama just out-raised her 3-1 and now she wants to get some free airtime.Hopefully Obama won’t fall for it. He has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. Clinton is a stronger debator, while Obama is stronger when giving scripted speeches. Stay on the stump, talk to the people in the voting states and see what happens. Who needs a national debate? Super Tuesday is over, it’s all downhill from here. If he can hang in there he may win a war of attrition as she runs out of cash.Hillary can’t tap her already tapped-out ‘Hill-Raisers’, but Obama can keep getting $25, $50 from the legions of people who contributed over the internet but haven’t hit the maximum levels yet.

      1. fredwilson

        It will be interesting to see if Hillary can tap internet money raising more than she has to dateFred

        1. Yb927

          Obviously she has with $7 m raised in about 48 hours.

  11. Robert

    Fred-Agreed. Big ideas are important. How they are carried out is crucial whether you are talking about launching a company or “changing Washington.” Obama plays the role of visionary nicely but to capture my vote I need more than what sometimes comes across as passionate rhetoric.Robert

  12. SC

    Anyone who has a deep policy understanding of the issues realizes that even a 10 minute back and forth (an eternity in a debate) does practically nothing to educate anyone on the substance. Furthermore, since the goal is to ‘win’ the debate, not educate the viewers, both candidates have to resort to overselling their own plans and over-criticizing their opponents. Debate is no more a substantive discussion of issues and viewpoints then wrestling on TV is real fighting.Clinton generally has an edge on debates just as Obama has an edge in rallies and oration. They are all just pieces to the same political game. At this stage, there’s no reason for Obama to accept these debates – he has a clear edge in funding and has nothing to gain by giving Clinton free publicity in a forum she generally performs better in.

  13. gary

    18 debates is enough already…Hilary’s people want the exposure and Barach’s people don’t need to give it to her. This is not about issues, it’s about politics.

  14. JJFlowgoer

    Obama can say 18 debates so far, but there’s only been one with just the two of them on stage. Which is different. He doesn’t want to because it DOES show the contrast – and it doesn’t favor him. Our country is broken. If I have to choose between a visionary who can give great speeches and a agressive wonky manager, I’ll take the manager any day of the week.

    1. Sam

      Respectfully, I think that is exactly wrong. My experience (as a spectator in politics, as a participant in corporate america and as a leader in music-related group settings) is that vision and leadership are the things that pull an organization (country, company, band, whatever) forward. Communicating that vision to a large group of people and motivating them to success are the true core of leadership and, given the divisions in congress, the crucial component to getting something done. Hillary’s wonkishness won’t serve her well when the election once again drives a wedge through the heart of the American public and when the Republican minority in Congress is still sizable enough to keep most initiatives from reaching her desk anyway. The President simply doesn’t have the power to enact most of the policies the nominees are proposing without serious compromise and, to use the jargon of the day, a post-partisan approach to the issues. You can hire wonks, as Barack pointed out in one of the first debates, but getting people with vision is much harder, in my opinion.

      1. jaredran

        I worry that since Barack has presented himself as such an inspirational visionary, which I’m all for, he has overshadowed his own wonkishness. I don’t think you can be a professor of law at The University of Chicago without being “knowledgeable about and fascinated by details of a particular field.” See the Wikipedia entry for wonk for the origin of that quote:…I agree with those who argue that debates drive the candidates to create false extremes and cause the viewers to devise false dichotomies. Wonk vs. Visionary is the epitome of this problem.

  15. Jess

    I get the tactic behind Obama not wanting to debate Clinton and why she does have an interest in some more free air time since he has blown away her campaign fundraising. But I also wish they would debate again. Like many others, choosing between Clinton and Obama has been tough for me.

  16. Frank fr Texas

    I’m a voter from Texas. There have been plenty of media coverage (albeit mostly biased) and plenty of campaign speeches. I would very much like to see more debate as it provides a more direct contrast between candidates. Especially for the case of unknown qualifications of Obama, if I am to make a leap of faith, we here in Texas want more debates before the election. It seems that Obama too often hides behind the vague speeches.

  17. AD

    if you are interested in a comparison of obama and clinton, see this…if this link doesn’t come through, go to youtube and search for the terms: lessig obama

  18. Steven Kane

    i think we’re all missing the story behind the story here.this desire for more debates is a new sudden shift by the clinton campaignwhy? because the clinton campaign is strapped for cash, running on fumes at presentbut the obama campaign is flush with cash, and still raising more and faster than anyone in historydebates are massive free airtime and exposure.which, arguably, is why the clinton campaign is clamoring for lost of them, now (versus their previous agreement that debates would taper off immediately after super tuesday.) they are way short on cash which means they are going to be way short on airtime and declining to add more debates, obama campaign loses nothing but deprives clinton campaign of oxygenobama may be a truly altruistic type candidate but politics is politics and this obama supporter applauds his minimal-debate strategy.

  19. Laura

    There have been enough debates. The differences between Clinton and Obama on most issues are marginal, and debates magnify these differences and make the Democrats look divided at a time when the Republicans are coalescing around a nominee. There is a reason the DNC only sanctioned a certain number of debates. Obama needs to spend the time campaigning, since he is less well known to most voters than his opponent.

  20. JayR

    Funny – I decided to vote for Hillary the afternoon of the primaries (and then didn’t get a chance to get to the polls). I think (at least for me) the frontloading of the primaries isn’t helping the electorate make a decision. I’m used to having several weeks or months of watching candidates run the marathon – debates, tripups whatever. Now we have two weeks of seeing little more than soundbites as the candidates try to make appearances in 22 states – not much substance going on. So given the relative lack of information, my choice would be to go with the known over the unknown. Maybe in a month or so, my choice would be different, but I don’t feel like I have enough to go on, and the way things are heading, it doesn’t look like we’re going to hear much more until after the convention.I also found the Kennedy-waving a little amusing and off-putting, and not very convincing. It’s hard to go through a Democratic primary campaign without someone trying to recapture the Kennedy myth (although admittedly it is unusual to see so many family members come out this early). Youth, enthusiasm, ideals, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, JFK had served three congressional terms and more than a full Senate term when he was elected. Obama has a couple of terms in the Illinois state legislature and half of one Senate term. Maybe I’ll get there eventually, but I’m not there yet.

    1. ErikSchwartz

      The thing I find specious about the experience argument is that the Democrats already decided that this nomination was not about experience when they showed essentially zero support for Richardson and Biden.Obama doesn’t have a lot of experience, Clinton only has marginally more, combined they have less than Biden. So if this debate isn’t about experience, what is it about?

    2. jaredran

      JayR if you feel like you don’t have enough information to make a decision, you have no one to blame but yourself. Each of the candidates’ web sites has loads of position papers and speech videos. You Tube has hours of debate footage. If you don’t want to take the candidates’ words for it, you can visit one of dozens of media outlets from to The Huffington Post, which have written hundreds of articles about the primaries. If you’re on Fred’s blog, you’re internet savvy enough to get the information you desire.

  21. Jeff Judge

    I’d like to seem more debates (or rather a conversation on the way forward) as well. I was listening to NPR’s follow-up coverage of Super Tuesday yesterday and several callers felt that, although they really like Obama, they don’t have a grasp on his policies. I’d like to understand each candidate’s game plan upon taking office.

  22. Andrew

    Clinton asking Obama to agree to a debate a week is like the Giants asking the Patriots to play without Tom… I mean it’s like the Patriots asking the Giants to play without Eli Manning. She knows that the debate forum is the only one where she out-performs him, and her campaign is apparently low on funds, while his is setting records for fund raising, making her desperate to get free airtime. If Obama actually agreed to negate his advantages at this critical stage in the race, it would show that he doesn’t have the political judgment needed to be President. The fact that he’s declined Clinton’s request thus far is simply a sound political decision.

  23. Groucho

    Of course, what you’re asking for from the debate is NOT what Clinton wants. You’ve obviously been watching, you know their machine. A debate for her is yet another place to sling muddy lies. I wish the Clintons hadn’t shown that side of themselves in this campaign. I had respect for them. But in the Democratic Party, they embody what’s wrong. Besides, if Hillary is elected and serves two terms, then we will have a member from two families in or near the highest office in the land for nearly 40 YEARS! That doesn’t seem like democracy to me.

    1. Groucho

      I forgot to say that I too would like more debates, but I agree with what others have said here. Hillary narrowly outperforms Obama in debates, and they would constitute a little free-ish publicity for her sinking campaign.Conversely, I do NOT want to see more debates in the same format as the previous ones. I believe now that we’re down to two candidates, the debate format should evolve. Make each debate about a specific issue. All other issues are off the table for that night. Give each candidate 20-30 minutes on the stage alone to lay out their respective plans about that particular issue. After both candidates have presented plans, have a 30-minute back-and-forth debate between the two.If voters watch such a debate, they will not have the “I don’t really know where the candidate stands” excuse. Part of the reason people feel like they don’t know the candidates now is because they’re too lazy to pay attention. With this enhanced debate format, voters show up knowing what’s going to be covered and they can keep score as they see fit.Debate sponsors (and their media venues) need to realize that changing the candidates from standing to sitting is only a change of scenery. I don’t learn any more about Clinton or Obama by seeing them sit down. If the debates were executed in the way I just outlined, I believe the ratings (which is all the media really cares about anyway) would go up, becuase would show up knowing what to expect.

      1. fredwilson

        GrouchoGreat ideas here. I love them.fred

  24. siberia9

    The problem with more debates is this: voters don’t actually get to meet the candidate. It takes a lot of time to prepare for a debate, which means less time actually hearing from the people directly. You can’t tell me that – given a choice between a town hall meeting and a televised debate – a voter wouldn’t opt for the former. The reason is simple: a televised debate gives a canned picture of who the candidate is and what he/she is like.If you go back to all the 18 debates the candidates have had so far – not much has changed. Their responses are generally the same on issues. So I can’t really see a reason for *another* debate. They will have debates. The Obama camp has already said that there will definitely be a couple in the future; they just haven’t finalized their calendar yet. But to have 1 every week for the next 4 weeks? That’s a little extreme don’t you think?It’s strategy, not substance. Hillary is trying to prevent Obama from meeting people in the states that are having primaries for the rest of the month because all polls have shown that once people get to meet Obama and ask him questions directly, they end up liking him because he can connect with voters on issues in a way that Hillary has trouble doing herself. Obama doesn’t mind out-of-left-field questions. Hillary excels when she’s able to put voters at some distance from herself because there’s less opportunity for surprise questions.It might also be good to note: debates aren’t really telling of the skills necessary for running the country. Obama and Hillary are both good at them – they both have substance on issues and both of them are certainly eloquent. But the Presidency demands other skills: 1) creative intelligence 2) managerial skills 3) intellectual openness 4) knowledge of pertinent issues.I would say this: don’t base your decisions on debates. If you really want to know a candidate’s position and a candidate’s leadership abilities, read – a lot. And read all different news services because most of the papers and writers have biases. Learn to dissect what is truth from what is spin.And may I add: this campaign season is also telling of how Obama and Hillary differ. Obama has been able to manage an enormous campaign workforce from the grassroots level. He runs a “tight” operation as most newspeople have admitted. And on top of that, he’s been able to raise phenomenal amounts of money from a broad swathe of people. All while inspiring people. Hillary gathers most of her donors from the highest-income bracket and from large industrial/PAC donors. This is why her campaign is running into financial troubles. The reason for this is because she consistently doesn’t really connect with the masses – at least not enough for them to donate to her campaign. And well, if you remember the Clinton years, then you should also remember Travelgate – when Hillary fired all of the staff that typically handles travel bookings because, in an internal memo, she wanted to get all “her people” in the offices (look up Travelgate on google).The past is instructive of the present and the future. It’s well-known in DC that the Clintons fire or ask people to leave if the people disagree with them or aren’t part of an inner circle. Obama didn’t want to say this directly to the people in the LA debate because he didn’t want to attack Clinton in a way that could be construed as a low-blow. He was trying to be subtle when he said that if he were in the White House, he would welcome opposing opinions and he wouldn’t want “Yes” people. The only way you could have understood that point is if you were to remember not just how George Bush currently runs the Presidency (yes people all over), but also the Clintons (high Cabinet staff left in droves over the Clinton years because the Clintons didn’t agree with these people — and these people were well-respected).We can’t forget the past. These small details are signs of what might be around the corner. And to tell you the truth, the last thing I want is someone who brings emotional drama into the White House offices — all while dampening down on the creative intelligence of the staff. That’s not how good Presidencies are run. And a Presidency – like children – “takes a village” to foster.

  25. bobngu

    Sadly politics is cynical. The general voting public is fed half-truths and sometimes completely erroneous sound bite ads designed specifically to distort the opponent’s image. There are so many of these type of ads because politicians know they work, so in some way, we (the voters) are to be blamed because we buy into them. It’s all well and good that the candidates have nicely laid out plans and intentions but I much rather judge them on their outcome once they get into the white house. Ultimately it’s the results that count.

  26. jdbos

    The primary criticism that one hears of Obama is that, while he inspires, he lacks substance. Refusing further debates will only reinforce this perception. Strategic mistake.

    1. siberia9

      yes but again – they’ve agreed to have more, just not the insane “1 per week” clinton is asking for (which is ridiculous by all stretches of any imagination). they simply haven’t figured out their schedule yet.folding to clinton’s plot would also be a strategic mistake. a compromise is what the obama camp is looking for — something more typical of past presidential cycles; also something more achievable within the bounds of human energy. they still have a lot of campaigning to do and that’s extraordinarily tiring.I would say: expect a debate either in Ohio or Texas, if not both. and possibly one more – maybe in the DC area.

      1. jdbos

        Understood. And yet at the same time, as Clinton knows full well that this perception of Obama exists (partly because she herself has helped to foster it), by suggesting further debates, she is able to reinforce her willingness and ability to promote specific policy proposals. Conversely, while seeking to limit debate might make sense if Obama was the clear frontrunner, as someone who is in a virtual dead heat for the nomination, I don’t think it is helpful to be seen as wanting to avoid challenging political situations. Perception isn’t everything in politics. But it accounts for a lot.

        1. siberia9

          Update:…As I called it, Obama’s going to do 2 more debates. I don’t think he ever expected not to do any. He’s not a bad debater and he’s begun to improve with each debate. He wouldn’t reject the opportunity to do a debate out of fear of tarnishing his image.But again, I’m wary of people gathering their info about a candidate from debates (as I wrote in a long comment earlier today). As I always say, an informed voter reads reads reads – and from every source imaginable. And they need to go back and do archival research. No source is truly credible — objectivity about a candidate comes from an average estimate of all the stuff you’ve read over time.Debates, especially the ones lately, are pretty canned – with a few exceptions, there really aren’t any surprises, especially in terms of policy. We all ought to know by now that issues aren’t really the issue.You want someone who knows how to lead; you also want someone who will *win* against McCain.It’s really hard for me to believe that the Republican party and Independents + some moderate, disgruntled Democrats won’t ban together and vote for McCain if Hillary runs. They truly don’t like her. And they don’t like what the Clintons brought into the White House. A number of polls and articles from both wings of the political spectrum have pointed this out.The only way Hillary can win – and even then the chance is so slight – is if the economy tanks so bad that more scores of people become homeless and jobless.And I think we would have to be really heartless to have to wish for that to happen… especially when we have Obama, who is every bit as knowledgable and experienced (let’s not forget his 8+ years of being in elected office, unlike Hillary who’s only been in the Senate for what 2-3 years? – or his years spent as a community organizer – evidenced by his well-organized campaign, or his work as a constitutional law professor and civil rights lawyer). Moreover, he actually inspires people to become active in the political process while appealing to Independents and moderate Republicans.Why are people balking at this guy? He’s certainly not dirtier than the Clintons in terms of politicking and he’s actually worked to clean politics up. He’s well-known for his skill as a politician. He’s got a civil rights lawyer’s mind for details and strategy when it comes to litigation. Plus, he can fight hard, even against Clinton swiftboating tactics. And he hopes to bring people out of political apathy.Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think he’s God. He’s made mistakes certainly – but more than Hillary and Bill? The Clintons have more dirt on them than a mudpit. And the Republicans will use it all so that Hillary won’t get elected.He’s got the best chance to win against McCain now that Edwards is gone. Why aren’t people getting that? I’m truly puzzled about this.

          1. fredwilson

            I have learned more from reading the comments to my political posts than anywhere else this yearI want to thank everyone for spending the time to educate me and everyone elseFred

  27. Jeff

    I think the larger question for Democrats everywhere is not about which candidate would be more effective in a debate, but rather which candidate is more electable in November. Mention the name Clinton to any Republican and they will spit their coffee at you. Not so for Obama, who is swaying the moderate Republican vote across the country, and has demonstrated at least some chance of winning what in our last three or four elections have been red states. Clinton simply can’t do this, especially against a moderate like McCain (who, as of this writing, appears to have locked up his party’s nomination). For Obama to take the nomination, then he needs to do what he does best- get out face to face in the states that are left so people can identify with him and hear him for themselves (as opposed to hearing him through the filter of a televised debate). He’s making the right call for his campaign, his party and, I believe, the country.

  28. Chris Yeh

    While I agree that more debate is better, this is politics 101. Obama’s campaign realizes that they have a massive financial advantage over Clinton. Agreeing to debates is like giving Clinton free airtime–especially when Obama lures in most of the viewers.By sticking to the paid air war (where his fundraising prowess gives him a big advantage) and the ground war (the retail politics at which he excels), Obama maximizes his relative advantage. In contrast, debating with Hillary Clinton plays to her strengths in policy and overall experience.It’s an uneven playing field, but then again, the playing field is uneven in Clinton’s favor in other ways, so I can’t really blame the campaign for their strategy.

  29. Shinons

    Ug. Debates are awful. No more. If you can find out the “substance” from 90 second quips on policies they both agree with, fine. But it’s just competitive ballroom dancing.

    1. gary

      I agree with Sam from a few hours ago…The presidency is more about leadership, inspiration and ethical thought from a trulyy intelligent person. Congress makes the laws and the Court upholds them. We need our President to make us feel good about America, and to do the same throughout the world. We also need to believe that our Presisent is telling us what he/she truly believes and not what would “play” well or be a savvy political move.This is why I see no comparison between B and H. Barach is the clear victor on ALL of these counts. I want to feel good again – I do not see how she can do this, nor, frankly, how he can fail at it.

  30. Cranky Kate

    As a recently undecided voter, I got frustrated with the moderators’ and networks’ ideas of what a debate should be and finally went to educate myself. For months I’d heard that on policy, Obama and Clinton were virtually indistinguishable. My goodness, I now beg to differ!Their goals are similar, but the means to the end for each of them reveals a critical ideological difference – whether enduring change can be found by treating the symptom vs. the cause.Take the example of healthcare. The end state for both of them is broad, quality coverage for all Americans. But Clinton’s plan mandates coverage for everyone. Obama believes that people are rational, and that if his policy clears the path for them, they will act in their own self interests – i.e., if he makes insurance affordable, they will buy it. It’s a matter of behavioral economics, and it runs through all of his policies – if you create a system that removes obstacles and rewards people for acting in their own self interests, they will. Think of it like this – I’m pro-choice, but there’s still a fundamental difference in legislation that either (a) increases funding for abortions or (b) increases funding for birth control & sex ed. One is a band-aid, the other creates lasting behavioral change (and is also harder to dismantle in 4 or 8 years).Now, tell me how he’s going to get this across to the average American in the current debate format, and I’ll be happy to advocate for more debates (even if it does get free airtime for Hillary). It’s unfortunate that the difference between them is relatively nuanced and complex, particularly for the casual voter, but the difference IS there, and it’s an important one. It’s also a critical difference in being able to pull in independents and centrist Republicans – the nanny-state approach is a turn-off, even for moderates.Oh, and @ Jeff, you’re absolutely right about most Republicans’ reaction to Clinton. As a recent transplant to the west coast from the “reddest” part of southwest Missouri (Ashcroft country), I could give you hours of insight into the thinking of true R’s in a bellweather state. Clinton is their only hope for uniting their own party in November. I’ve had no less than 15 family members, all of whom are disappointed in all Republican options to-date, tell me how much they’re looking forward to voting against Hillary – so much so that they voted FOR her on Tuesday. The irrational groundswell of venom toward the Clintons is hard to truly comprehend unless you’ve lived with it. Not a singular reason to choose Obama over Clinton, but with two qualified candidates, it’s not something we should ignore either.

  31. GingerG

    We’ve had 18 debates so far. Enough already. It is so phony. No body answers the questions, just filibusters to make the points they want to. Make the candidates get all and campaign with US — the voters!

  32. Robin Wolaner

    For someone who says he is running a new kind of campaign, the denial of debates is pure old politics and very disappointing to me as an Obama (and Clinton) supporter.

  33. Mark Hall

    Really? You voted for Hillary because you thought she was more substantive in the debate?I’d strongly encourage you (and anyone else who thinks this) to re-read the transcript of the debate, available here:…Really, take a minute to carefully read the health care portion of the debate. Was she really more substantive on health care, her supposed advantage?Then read the section about Iraq. Did she explain adequately her vote on Iraq? Or against the Levin Amendment? (And if she’s so substantive, why didn’t she read the NIE before her Iraq vote — the most important decision of her career?)And where exactly in the debate did Hillary define “exactly what [she’d] do to fix the big issues”?It’s funny, people complain the Obama is all show and no substance because he is such a good orator. But one of the shallowest and most superficial conceits of this campaign is the notion that Hillary is somehow more “substantive.” I’d encourage you and others who have this view to dig a little deeper. What substantive legislation has she championed? Compare her record to Obama’s, both in the US Senate and Illinois State legislature and I think you’ll be surprised.

  34. Farid

    “For me, a big part of my decision was the substance she showed “What substance? to allow W to murder more than a million Iraqis? or to bend over backwards to apease AIPAC? which substances are we talking about here?She’s a warmonger. If you are into that kind of substance, then you got your man.

    1. jdbos

      Wooooop. Wooooop. Moonbat Alert.

    2. fredwilson


  35. Mosblech

    OBama knows he cannot win a debate with Hillary; and that is why he does not want to debate

    1. siberia9

      oh right – which is why he just said he would do 2 more? my god, it’s thursday – 2 days after super tuesday. and they have months ahead. hillary was pressing for something that was going to happen anyway. she was just trying to show how tough she could be while getting more free is she smarter? how is she better?do you not remember Travelgate? or how she urged bill to sign NAFTA for political expediency (to palliate a Republican Congress) – NAFTA which helped establish the exportation of jobs? or how she voted for war *without* reading the NIE? and how she whipped up support for the war on the Senate floor even though she didn’t read the NIE? or how she recently called Iran’s national army a terrorist organization – widely viewed as a pugnacious, warlike stance towards Iran and roundly denounced by many Democrats? or how she backed off of immigration reform when she realized the Governor of NY was getting a lot of heat and she didn’t want that kind of heat to spillover to her while she was preparing for a presidential campaign?Not to mention – on moral grounds – the Clintons’ use of race as a divisive strategy within the Democratic party last month;and the fact that she backed out of her own pledge to the Democratic party and to her opponents by attempting to change the rules re: delegates for MI and FL?my god. if that’s what “smart” and “better” is… then I don’t want it.

  36. Mosblech

    OBama knows Hillary will win a debate. She is smarter and better.

  37. Mosblech

    Hillary has plenty of money. She raised 5 mil in 24 hours.

    1. fnazeeri

      Money is like delegates…it’s relative.

  38. stone

    I’ve been saying this from the beginning that Obama isn’t qualified to be president. My guess is that he’s afraid that his lack of substance will clome through the more he’s exposed on a national stage. Is this who you want for president? A guy we don’t know very well shying away from us? He’s done well so far and still might win this but this isn’t a great way to win us independents over for the general election. I’m still voting for Mccain unless somethign changes my mind. Obama *hiding* puts him behind McCain & Hillary at this point.

  39. Guest

    :))) Fred, this is professional deformation, my friend. Not every voter feels a need to do exhaustive due dilligence. For some it is enough to see that a person is smart, honest and independent to trust them that he/she would make the right decisions when needed. I myself am torn here. On one hand I see nothing wrong with flushing down as much as possible about the candidates, full transperency is very important. On the other hand, you know, the issues change. Hillary may be better prepared to debate the issues that are current now, (by outworking him, for example), but does that guarantee that when new issues arise she will have the right answer? He has shown better judgement in the past…

  40. Scott

    I am in TOTAL agreement with the writer of article “Please Barack – Don’t Stop Debating” … I think the reason he doesn’t like to debate is that in fact he doesn’t really have anything behind all the speeches he gives…. I can even point out a few tidbits where he’s contradicted himself on his own “plans for the future”. Such as mispeaking about his health care initiative. He clearly has no clue as to what he is going to do once he gets there. He’s only driven on getting there at this point in time. I am sort of curious with all the “CHANGE” he preaches in his speeches as to why he hasn’t initated much if not any legislation in the past, almost 4, Senate years. I understand while the Democrats have been up against the GOP, he could still put himself out there and put a bill, or two, toward his vision of change on the table. I think he is afraid of debating, and it has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton… although she is much more prepared during the debates and I think it makes him look a little silly at times. Maybe there’s your answer as to why he doesn’t want to debate! He has nothing to debate but ideas from his speeches!

  41. Yb927

    Fred- I agree that substance is the issue. It’s easy to get swept away by the tidal wave of enthusiasm that Obama’s candidacy has created. But much of it is a result of a media build up that seems like a self fulfilling prophecy. He definitely has charisma, but does he have depth. Two things stand out to me as bothersome: obama seems to never give a big speech without teleprompters and two. in the one on one interviews that I have seen him give – away from the crowds and the teleprompters – he has been very light on the ability to argue points with substantive detail off the top of his head. All that gives me the feel that we are looking at something slightly manufactured and that scares me. The last thing we want in the White House is a person without substance and depth of knowledge who even as intelligent, impressive and charismatic as he is, would have to learn on the job. Anyone who has ever run anything in their life knows that there is NOTHING like experience. And if experience doesn’t dampen enthusiasm (as it seems to not have with Hillary) than I vote for experience over charisma, substance over style any day. When the hype will subside. There is a going to be some very difficult work to do and decisions to make. I think you made a wise choice on election day.

  42. outdoor1s

    Debates have a certain appeal as theater and continue to serve as a valuable mechanism for forcing the candidates to address issues they may otherwise not address completely or honestly as part of their standard campaign process. But Barack is right — there have been 18 debates so far and there certainly will be more but in some sense debates are so passe. In the Nixon-Kennedy campaign the debates were determinative of the outcome, no doubt. In each succeeding campaign they have declined in value.

  43. outdoor1s

    Extending my comments now that I’ve read your full post. Those who are voting on “the issues” or on “the substance” are, to my mind, missing an essential point about presidential politics. Are issues and positions important? Of course. But the absolutely wrong way — in my humble opinion — to select a President is to focus on policy. If I were voting for Chief Political Science Professor Hillary Clinton possibly would get my vote. But we are electing a Chief EXECUTIVE. The qualities we want (the qualities we NEED) in a chief executive extend well beyond policy. For me, I want a President who can paint a picture for the American people of the world he wants them to live in and has a plausible program for taking us there; a program communicated simply and clearly that resonates with ALL. That’s why, as much as I disagreed with many of his policies — and I’m arguing against myself to some extent here because I did not vote for him — I think that Ronald Reagan exemplified the qualities we want in a President to a greater degree than any other President since Kennedy. I think Bill Clinton did a very good job, but for him it was more power of personality and charisma than articulation of vision.

  44. Hockeydino

    Neither one has showed any susbtance, and neither one can provide this country on the right track. More debates from these two would be a complete waste of time.It’s an American Idol contest now.

    1. Farid

      “t’s an American Idol contest now.”Absofreakinglutely!Wat bugs me is that Fred doesn’t say it as it is: I am a money maniuplator and- -> I <– would be better off with a corportist Clinton or Obama.

  45. Luke Archer

    Fred let’s not forgetten that politicians NEVER follow throgh on what they promise during their campaigns…remeber all those promises from Bush? From where I am sitting, I can’t morally vote for Hilary. She is just as evil as Bush and Cheney. She feeds on the norm- i.e. special interest money and war as a policy. Violence escelates violence. We are worse off now because of her voting record and will be worse off if she is elected president. Yes, we had economic prosperity when the other Clinton was in the whitehouse, but it was built on a fantasy and hype about the internet and technology. Meanwhile American jobs are shipped over seas, China (A COMMUNIST COUNTRY) is now the leading economic power, the constitutional principles that I believe in are being stomped on, and we are moving closer and closer to a one world government where the elite rule and everyone else are stooges. I think you would understand my view point a lot better if like many Americans you were living month to month knowing that any upset in the economy means welfare or complete economic ruin. We need change. We need to return to the principles this country was founded apon. We need to empower the individual and reclaim our government.

  46. RG

    Full disclosure: I am an Obama supporter and voted for him in the NY primaryObama sees his lesser “brand recognition” of sorts as his main weakness to Hillary Clintons widely recognized name (albeit for better or worse).To this end, he is making a concerted effort to maximize his time spent with voters in the states where primary voting is imminent. Hillary’s reasons are twofold. 1) she is clearly strapped for cash now with sr. advisors having to work without pay, etc., but more importantly 2) Hillary’s team feels like she really performs well in debates and comes across as a stronger leader who knows how to get the country back on track (their words, not mine).With the next few primary states, Obama clearly has the momentum having pulled off an effective “tie” with pledged delegates in Super Tuesday and his po. Obama’s camp thinks its a smarter move for him to focus on getting his message out there to voters in specific primary states Vs playing to a national cable audience of 9mm (best case scenario) viewers (less than 200k viewers in each state on avg).

  47. stone

    I notice that no Obama supporter ever wants to tackle the substance issue. It’s ok to vote for someone because you like their personality. It’s ok to vote against someone because you don’t. What I dislike is the rationalization that takes place in order to justify your vote. Just say that you’re very liberal and Obama’s very liberal and that’s why you’re voting for him and stop trying to rationalize his experience because he has an *unremarkable* background.

  48. alexander

    You can’t have a debate when they both agree on every issue.Their solution to every problem is more government intervention (i.e. soft fascism), which is the root of the problem.

  49. DaienS

    I’m commenting late, but…I agree with your assessment that Obama needs to show more substance if he is going to pull Dem voters in November. Southern Democrats(notoriously conservative) will favor McCain.I will be voting for Hillary in the primaries mainly because I do believe she is the better candidate; I came of age in the Clinton years and remember prosperity and good relations-going abroad now is nothing like it was then. I remember starting on stock trading at the age of 19 in 1997, and just how amazed I was at the results; social responsibility was brimming at the local levels; being cheered and greeted generously as an American-abroad, and I’m amazed at how a few bad things could overshadow so much positive.Obama bothers me as aside from substance, he lacks experience(which probably lends to his lack of substance), drastically. If he had shown more initiative to show his own voice in his brief, brief Senate career I might think differently. I explained the latter to a younger cousin like this: It’s like enjoying running, but not wanting to do anything else in P.E. class(bear with me, she’s 12 lol). So you participate on the days when you can run, but when Dodgeball or Field Hockey is on the day’s agenda you just raise your hand for roll call and take a failing grade for the day by sitting out of the class participation. Given that, Obama is failing gym class.(oh, his Farrakhan connection doesn’t sit well either…)

  50. stone

    Exactly what I mean when I talk about Obama’s lack of substance equals lack of experience. They are one in the same to me when it comes to politicians. You can best judge them when youvre seen them in action for some period of time. This is precisely why McCain is in the lead right now and why Romney is not. Romney is unknown. Romney tried to act like a conservative. I think the republican electorate just said with their votes: go prove over the next 4-8 years that you are a great conservative and we’ll save a spot for you down the line.The least well known of all the candidates is Obama. I even knew of Mike Huckabee long before his run for the presidency because of him amazing weight loss and because of his approach to fitness in his state — I was impressed by him. As for Hillary, i’ve always been impressed by her intellect and discipline. I don’t think she’s a particularly nice person but i’m quite sure that she’s very capable.Now we get to Obama. His web site and positions are meaningless at this stage because shit happens and stuff will change. How will he react? His experience is so thin that it’s almost comical. Are people really peddling his state representative stint as experience? If so, save the jokes for your friends and relatives. This is the real world. He has *zero* experience. What does he have? Good, solid liberal positions. His position on the war has a real constituency. He gives a great speech. He uses ‘inclusive’ language. Does he have a choice? I don’t think so.Anyway, as I said many times, this is a great country with lots of amazing people. I’m almost always proud of who we elect. George Bush has been terrible. Clinton’s “Monica” issue was also terrible. We can do better. And, I think experience does matter which is why I’m supporting McCain. Obama has no credentials — that’s just a fact. He hasn’t done great things in the private sector. He hasn’t done great things in the public sector. He hasn’t done anything as Senator aside from running for president. Strip away his Harvard degree and I doubt we’d know Mr. Obama today. Facts sometimes hurt.

  51. jason

    Fred, many think Obama is stronger on tech policy than Hillary– do you agree? To me that’s a number 1 policy issue.

    1. fredwilson

      I think he’s stronger but I haven’t dug into his positions on things likenet neutrality, copyright, H1 visas, etcfred

      1. jason

        In his piece on You Tube Lessig argues that Obama is way ahead of Hillary in tech policy I know the LA Times endorsed Obama largely on those grounds as well…

  52. bernardlunn

    i think the tv debates are a lousy way to understand the candidates. i like candidates@google – enough time and smart questions. obama, mcain and bloomberg all shone in this format. thanks for the lessig video, very articulate and i agree.

  53. Geoff Judge

    Of course there should be more debates. The ability to give great speeches doesn’t translate to being effective in gov’t. Both candidates need to be grilled on what they’ve accomplished. The NY Times story on 2/3 on Obama’s ineffectiveness at passing legislation in the Congress was very enlightening. Nuclear Leaks and Response Tested Obama in Senate…While many of us like what we hear from Obama to date, he has accomplished very little on the national stage. For the past 7 years we’ve had a president that had accomplished very little prior to his presidency. Best to not repeat this mistake. I for one am looking for more substance come this November. That is why I am supporting Hillary.