Debating the debate, complaining about complaining

In the fall, Clinton complained about the media and Obama was on the attack. Now, they've switched.

Published April 18, 2008 8:45PM (EDT)

Barack Obama seemed to take some pleasure yesterday in tapping into Democratic disappointment with the ABC News debate in Philadelphia on Wednesday. He emphasized, repeatedly, that the moderators didn't ask a single substantive question for over 45 minutes, which he argued was part of a systemic problem with the political world's "obsession" with "distractions." It was a fairly common sentiment in Democratic circles yesterday.

Interestingly, the Clinton campaign perceives this as an opportunity, not to hammer an irresponsible media, but to hammer Obama for talking about an irresponsible media.

Yesterday afternoon, Bill Clinton suggested Obama was "whining," adding, "If you don't want to play, keep your uniform off."

Today, Hillary Clinton picked up on a similar notion.

It seems to me there are two problems with this.

First, as far as I can tell, Obama didn't "complain" or "whine" about "hard questions." He took the moderators to task for asking trivial questions that are unrelated to actual public policies. I didn't get the sense that he was trying to "walk away" from tough scrutiny, and I wonder if the Clintons might be twisting his remarks a bit.

Second, what amazes me about this is the total role reversal between the two candidates.

Last month, for example, Clinton complained at some length about getting the first question instead of Obama. After an earlier debate, she accused her rivals of "piling on," and talked about the rough treatment she received at the hands of "the boys."

And, at the time, Obama was saying largely the same things about her than she's saying about him now.

It's funny how everyone changes sides, depending on new perspectives, isn't it?

By Steve Benen

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