Live from the Presidential Debate at the Kodak Theater

JUST ABOVE SUNSET is one of the credentialed bloggers for the final primary debate, Obama versus Clinton, Thursday, January 31, 2008, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

What’s happening, in reverse chronological order –

WRAP – 7:11 PM


That was a debate?  They gave their positions, which were not that far apart, and there was not much point-counterpoint.  American politicians don’t debate – high school students do that and the Oxford Debating Society and so on.  This was a conversation, for PR purposes.  It was campaigning.  Each did well enough.  Sigh.  Leave a comment if you think this was a big deal.


And “hot” reporting is fine, but JUST ABOUT SUNSET will now return to extended analysis.  It’s a personal preference, for stepping back and considering things in detail.  It was, however, fun.


6:53 PM


The Hollywood question – too much sex and violence in movies and on television?  Obama – as president, offer tools to parents, but it’s not the government’s job to censor stuff, and the industry can be better in their marketing.  No big deal.  Obama has a six-year-old girl and a nine-year-old girl, but he doesn’t think hammering Hollywood is a good idea.  That plays well here.


Hillary is asked about Bill.  She says she’s proud of him, but it’s her gig.  Same as she’s said all week.  That flies, or it doesn’t.


The kicker – would they run on a ticket together?  BIG cheers.  They dance around it.  Obama says he wants people in his cabinet who inspire people.  She agrees.  It’s a bit premature, and silly.  And it runs out.


So much for the big debate.


6:38 PM


Iraq – review of positions.  Specific end date for the war or not?  A review of positions, and you’ve heard it all elsewhere.  Did we expect anything new?  There’s nothing new here.  Need another soda, need to smoke – and this is pretty much “filler” – we all know these two don’t disagree much.


But then, Obama harps on how he was against the war from the start, and the mindset that started it, and Wolf says to Hillary “that’s a clear swipe at you.”  Hillary laughs – she refuses to engage and talks about what we do now.  The past is past.  She’s not going to speak about her voting for everything Bush wanted, to look tough.  Now she says it’s time to stand up to Bush.  Whatever.


Questions about her voting history.  If I had only known then – not much of an answer.  But she says it’s time to think about the future.  Her judgment and credentials are just fine, now.  She says SHE has gravitas and judgment.  Will Obama leap on that?  They don’t give him the chance.  He’s asked about the surge.  He says the surge is working fine, just not doing much good in any larger context.


He jumps on it.  She had bad judgment, he didn’t.  Wolf asks her why she just won’t say she was wrong.  She won’t go there – and says she was right, but Bush didn’t understand what she and others really wanted, coercive diplomacy.  Yeah, and no reaction from the audience.  It’s just embarrassing.


Wolf asks if she was just naïve and trusting.  Boos, cheers.  She says “nice try, Wolf.”  But it was.  She says it wasn’t an open and shut case, and she was lied to – so there.  Obama nails her.  She voted for an “authorization to use military force in Iraq” – duh.  He gets cheers for it’s not just enough for the new president to be ready on Day One, they should be right on Day one.


And off to commercials.


6:13 PM


Question from a viewer – if America is a business, neither of you has run one, so how can you run America – dismissed by both.  It’s not a business.  We have an MBA president.  That didn’t work out so well.  Obama – Mitt Romney isn’t getting much ROI, is he?  Everyone here laughs.  It was a stupid question.


On to endorsements and fans and enthusiasm – and we get the expected.  Inspirational drivel follows.  Hillary is asked about the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynasty thing – and rambles.  There is no answer.  But she gets out the line – it takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush.  Old line.  Gets the biggest cheers of the night, but not in this press room.


6:02 PM


Commercial Break – they cut the sound and video feed.


Fine – and now onto experience, and Obama says he has real and good experience, and many agree – the conventional wisdom is wrong.  His skill-set is better, if you will – achieving consensus and all that.


Hillary is asked what the heck kind of experience is “being first lady” experience.  She says she’s done lots more – we get a list.  Her fans beam, all others yawn.  A bit on women’s rights – she gets all oratorical and gets cheers.


5:46 PM


Normal party stuff on taxes – earn more than a quarter million a year and you go back to the old rates.  But be more efficient, and that followed by specifics.  Preaching to the choir.  The only odd thing is Clinton says lets go back to the tax rates in her husband’s administration – times were good back then.  Some thought she wasn’t going to run a back-to-future campaign, or let’s go back to the Golden Age of My Bill.  It’s explicit.


Immigration – Obama – illegal immigrants aren’t hurting black people, that’s scapegoating.  It really is the economy, not them.  The line about scapegoats – just picking on the Hispanics for everything is wrong – causes the room of bloggers here to cheer.  Everyone here seems to think the “villain of the month” stuff is crap.


Hillary gives a wonk answer, but recovers a bit.  Who gets drivers licenses?  It’s unclear.  Obama says let’s be decent and sensible.  What’s the big deal?


Hillary trots out her labor and Hispanic credentials – not a bad defense.  But not to the point.  It’s just history.


5:34 PM


Now there’s something – decide on healthcare issues in an open forum.  Hillary way back when met in secret with the lobbyists.  Obama likes things to be out in the open.  Wolf asks if it’s an attack on Hillary.  Obama says no, just a good idea.


Actually this gets to the big difference – Obama, we’re all in this together and let’s do things in the open and make sure everyone understands what’s going on.  Hillary says, essentially, politics in complicated and she knows the ins and out – the secret handshakes and the hidden stuff you don’t really want to know about? – and she implies he’s wrong as political progress is only for professionals, like her.  Interesting.


5:20 PM


The discussion of policy differences – on healthcare in particular, not much difference.  It’s wonk stuff.  This is going nowhere, but for talk of regulating the mortgage industry.  That works out here.  And she likes working with lobbyists and he thinks they’re evil, or something.


Then onto the war – Barack saying he was right from the beginning, and you talk with the bad guys, as diplomacy is fine with him.  No news.


Drill down to healthcare mandate detail.  Not that useful to either of these two.


5:11 PM


Opening statements – Obama, Hillary and I will always be friends, and Edwards is a fine guy, and let’s look forward, not back – Hillary, Bush is leaving us a mess, and I’m qualified to clean it up, and no comment on Obama.  So she’ll rag on Bush and talk about solutions.  No fight?


5:00 PM


Here we go.  Pan the audience, for the stars.  It’s Hollywood.  Wolf does the “this is a big deal” intro – and here the candidates come.  Hillary didn’t wear red.  No fighting?  They both applaud the audience.  The audience applauds back.  It’s Hollywood.  Celebrities love each other.


4:55 PM


Bliltzer done, doing question and answer.  His favorite movie?  Ferris Beuller’s Day Off – Geez.  Just crap.  And now dead air – but with a final “this will be history.”


4:47 PM


Ten minutes to go.  This is the biggest thing since the Lincoln Douglas debates?  History being made – a black man and a woman, facing off, and one will likely be an historic president, changing everything.  This room is full of people chatting, although things just feel silent.  CNN switched to the raw feed.  The host, Blitzer, makes a Hollywood joke, warming up the audience saying he always wanted to say – “…and the Oscar goes to…”


Whatever – he’s thrilled because he grew up in Buffalo.  Ah, he’s switched to the “historic event” thing.  Here we go.


4:13 PM

Finally settled in, with the mole people – on the fifth floor balcony at the Kodak Theater, but not exactly in the balcony. It’s the broad mezzanine outside the hall, so there’s no seeing the debate live. Here on the fifth floor it’s the rows of tables with black cloths and power strips, big CNN monitors all over, with giants speakers, blaring what anyone in America gets at home. In the half-dark there are hundreds of journalists and bloggers in front of glowing screens, typing away. Grabbed a corner in the back, behind the two guys who run Crooks and Liars – the video site. The print journalists are up front – AFP and the Financial Times and all the rest.

Hey!  Free coffee and soft drinks, and a box lunch – cool. The LA Times is handing out this and that – LA Times mints in a metal box, fancy notepads, lots of printer things.  It’s the big time, sort of.

Picked up the press credentials at ten in the morning, grabbed the camera and wandered the streets with my press pass. Those shots will be posted tomorrow at the photography site.  It was wild – Hollywood Boulevard closed and filled with satellite trucks, every local and the majors doing live remotes, and Wolf Blitzer doing his show from a set at the edge of the sidewalk, under the arches at the Kodak. The Obama people outnumbered the Clinton folks about four to one – but that’s unofficial.  There was a Clinton rally nearby, on Yucca, but she wasn’t there.  The Obama people had a rally at 2:00 – but that was incremental.  They’d flooded the streets already.  Tomorrow’s photos will show that.

So now to get a sense of the buzz in the room – or the back of it, with all the online folk.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Clinton, Hillary and Bill, Obama, Presidential Hopefuls, Press Notes, The Primaries. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Live from the Presidential Debate at the Kodak Theater

  1. Rick (from Atlanta) says:

    “Leave a comment if you think this was a big deal.”

    I mostly disagree with you.

    It’s that Chinese curse thing about living in interesting times — yes, it was largely boring (and I did find that the novelty of having no white guy on stage wore off pretty quickly) but I found the nice-nice between the two a lot more refreshing, and maybe even more useful, than the usual stuff that goes on between them.

    Of course they’re going to say the same things they always say. Most of us wouldn’t want, or expect, the candidates to change their positions in these debates, just to keep you news-media types awake. You can’t look for news in these things; we voters can only hope they each explain their case as convincingly as they can. Which they largely did.

    But I do agree with you about one thing: I think what you, Alan, do on a daily basis is probably more interesting and satisfying than doing a minute-by-minute, play-by-play recap. In your regular work, you need only comment if something noteworthy happens, while here, you are just about forced to react simply because somebody said anything at all, no matter how innocuous.


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