More Debate Debate

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Feb. 14 2008 5:33 PM

More Debate Debate

At last, the rebuttal!

After Hillary Clinton began broadcasting a TV spot challenging Barack Obama to accept an invitation to debate her in Wisconsin, the question was whether Obama would dignify her with a response or give her the silent treatment.

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Apparently, he couldn’t let it go unremarked. Today, his campaign released a counterad : "After 18 debates, with two more coming, Hillary says Barack Obama is ducking debates? It’s the same old politics of phony charges and false attacks."

The presumption right now is that the two candidates are sticking to substance. At least that’s the impression Obama wanted to give at yesterday’s speech on the economy, when he promised to "take it down a notch. This is going to be a speech that’s a little more detailed. It’s going to be a little bit longer, not as many applause lines." He proceeded to outline an economic recovery plan, which Hillary claims pilfers her own ideas. The two have also been butting heads over NAFTA. Plus, they regularly come to fisticuffs whose health-care plan covers more people. Any more substance and our brains would be full .

But the subtext of Clinton’s debate charge is that Obama isn’t willing to talk substance. With the debate debate laying the groundwork, this could become the running story line of the coming weeks. Who has the wonkier memos? Who can dig up the most obscure statistics? Who pointedly delivers the fewest applause lines? It’s the kind of anti-narrative that can only emerge in a race that’s run over countless news-cycles with seemingly insatiable media coverage . This one certainly qualifies.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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