Televised presidential debates matter, even though most of them are initially watched by fewer people than watch miracle magic household cleanser infomercials.
They matter for numerous reasons, but largely because the remarkable moments from them — mostly the negative ones — are sliced, diced, dissected, played and replayed until they strike the consciousness of the larger public, either directly or obliquely.
In the extreme, there is not only the original encounter and the resulting echo chamber but the springboard for opponents and journalists who take the issue far down the field.
Hillary Clinton had one of those perception-changing encounters at the end of last week's Democratic presidential debate.
Trying as usual to have everything both ways so she can have everything her way, she flubbed the answer to whether she supports giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens. She flubbed the exchanges that followed. She flubbed the victim defense. Her husband flubbed the tag team victim defense. Her campaign flubbed the "clarifying statement" follow-ups.
Mrs. Clinton continues to flub, trying to extricate herself from an impossible situation. In a little-noted CNN interview, the champion of black hole big government seems to be uncharacteristically embracing federalism, saying that providing driver's licenses to illegal aliens should be left up to individual states.
That's not going to fly with the American people. In national polling conducted this week by Rasmussen Reports, 77 percent oppose driver's licenses for people who are in the country illegally. Rasmussen's poll breakdowns are even more remarkable: "Eighty-eight percent (88%) of Republicans oppose giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. So do 68% of Democrats and 75% of those not affiliated with either major political party. There is little difference along gender, age, or income levels."
The driver's license issue is but one glaring marker for all the consternations of the American people over government's decades-long failure to honestly, directly and fairly deal with illegal immigration.
Those who have followed the political war over illegal immigration well know where Mrs. Clinton stands, as we pointed out last week. By and large, the American people don't yet. But because of one debate flub that will ultimately prove to be devastating as it plays out, they soon will.
No amount of triangulation or dissembling can get Mrs. Clinton right with 77 percent of the American people on this. The "comprehensive immigration reform" euphemism for amnesty that Mrs. Clinton so loves will become a collar around her neck. Taking the position that she "generally" supports driver's licenses for illegal aliens because amnesty for illegal aliens, which she supported, failed, only digs her hole deeper.
There are many observers of political America, but only Michael Barone, the principal co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics," knows it precinct by precinct like the back of his hand. This week, Barone wrote, "October 2007 may turn out to be the month that immigration became a key issue in presidential politics."
Yes, one debate flub can do even that.November 7, 2007
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