Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Public weighs in on Clinton/Obama debate

A new national poll by Rasmussen Reports took a look at where people stood on last week's mini-debate between Clinton and Obama. If you recall, the question asked at the CNN/Youtube debate was whether Obama or Clinton would meet with world leaders of rogue nations during his/her first year without setting any preconditions. Media commentators (and others, like myself) thought that Clinton had landed a blow by highlighting her experience with the answer to the question last week. After Obama said that he would meet with these world leaders, Clinton voiced the following reply:

CLINTON: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.
I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.
And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.
And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.

Later in the week, Clinton called Obama's promise to meet with these leaders without preconditions "irresponsible and frankly naive."

The immediate perception was that Clinton had successfully used the question to highlight the difference between her experience and that of Obama. Yet, this latest survey suggests that more Americans side with Obama on this one. When asked whether the next president should meet with leaders of nations like Syria, North Korea, and Iran "without setting any preconditions," 42% agreed with the statement, 34% disagreed, and 24% were not sure. Support for Obama's position is even more significant among Democrats (55% of Democrats agreed). Give Obama credit, he did not really back down from what he said at the debate. In fact, he criticized Clinton's position as not being very distinct from the current policy favored by the Bush White House. And if this latest survey is correct, his willingness to stick to what he said at the debate may have been the right choice (politically, at least; no judgement here on whether it would make for good foreign policy).

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