The fallout from the Democratic debate

After contentious event, Stephanopoulos on the defensive, Obama on the offensive.

By Steve Benen

Published April 17, 2008 9:24PM (EDT)

At this point, it's probably safe to say the most memorable aspect of the Democratic debate in Philadelphia was the response it garnered.

This afternoon in North Carolina, for example, Barack Obama seemed to take great pleasure in mocking what transpired last night. (This may also have been the first-ever example of a hip-hop dog-whistle in the history of presidential politics.) is on the case as well.

George Stephanopoulos, meanwhile, spoke with Greg Sargent this afternoon, and did his best to defend what transpired.

In an interview with me moments ago, Stephanopoulos strongly defended his handling of the debate. He dismissed criticism that it had focused too heavily on "gotcha" questions, arguing that they had gone to the heart of the "electability" that, he said, is forefront in the minds of voters evaluating the two Dems. "Overall, the questions were tough, fair, relevant, and appropriate," Stephanopoulos argued. [...]

Asked why we should presume that electability, rather than issues, was the dominant concern of many Dems right now, Stephanopoulos argued that it was a frequent topic of discussion on the campaign trail.

"People also take into candidates handle controversy," he said. "That's what campaigns are about, as well."

I've heard that a few times today from people defending the debate -- the first 45 minutes of the debate served an important purpose, because the public wanted to hear at least as much about the controversies as the issues.

But we know this isn't true, precisely because the public has already said so. Too Sense noted: "Keep in mind those aren't just 'pressing' issues, in the sense that they are affecting all of our lives...those are the issue the voters have identified as important to them, according to Gallup's poll in March, the top four issues being the Economy, Iraq, healthcare, and fuel prices."

It's not like public priorities are some kind of mystery. ABC News conducts polls on it all the time. Presumably, Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson have read the results on the air.

Where do you suppose flag pins rank on the list?

Steve Benen

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