Liveblogging the debate

8:08 Hillary is looking chipper and trim; she's clearly one of those people who thrives on soul-crushing defeat. Her speech, however, sets my teeth on edge. She compares being uninsured to being racially discriminated against. Having diabetes is all kinds of awful--but not the same kind of awful as being a black kid in Selma ca. 1946. Nor are the remedies even remotely similar. One can make racial discrimination illegal; how is she planning to end "discrimination" against people on the basis of health? Being sick will still suck, and the government will, like insurance companies, deny some sick people treatment because it's too expensive to provide

8:17 Obama comes out with bold, transgressive statment: not so much liberty in Cuba

8:18 All right, Obama is suggesting ending the travel ban. Not quite bold and transgressive, but refreshingly sensible.

8:21 Vader in a pantsuit: this is how one of my debateblogging companions just described Hillary's look. Yes, it's not fair that she gets her clothes commented on and the guys don't. So might I point out that Obama is suggesting reconciliation with Cuba while wearing a red tie?

8:27 Anchor sensibly asks Hillary if, as she says, she is ready to take charge day one, what she would do differently on day one from Obama. Her answer is a litany of silliness, showcasing her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mortgage plan.

8:30 Hillary also apparently wants to end the Republican war on science. I say a winner never quits and a quitter never wins. What we need is not an end to the war, but an Iraq style surge.

8:32 Clinton is calling for "comprehensive" immigration reform. Comprehensive is, in Texas, apparently a code word for cracking down on employers while easing up on the workers.

8:33 For the second time tonight, a candidate opens up by acknowledging that he essentially agrees in most respects with his opponent on policy, before diving into some niggling details where they differ. This underscores, for me, how little daylight there has been between candidates on either side of this race on the major issues; until we get to the general election, the question is personality, not policy.

8:37 The candidates are on the spot: moderator asks flat out whether they would finish the fence or undo it. Hillary tries to dodge by changing the topic to Canada. No, seriously. The Canadian hordes with their ice guns and their exaggerated "oo" sounds will not violate the territoriality of this great nation on Hillary Clinton's watch. 54°40' or fight!

Anyone who might have thought that Hillary Clinton had, like, voted for the fence was mistaken. She was voting for possibly considering the fence.

8:40 Once again, Obama agrees with HIllary. Why is he running against her again?

He goes on, however, to make a sensible point. There are just too many people here to deport.

8:50 Hillary breaks out the "all hat and no cattle line" first deployed so successfully by Ann Richards against George Bush's father in 1988, IIRC.

8:53 DC journalistic establishment consensus, based on a completely unscientific sample of two journalists in my livingroom plus some internet chatter: this debate is boring. Surprisingly so, considering that you've got Hillary Clinton, a pretty formidable debater, in a fight for her life.

8:55 Barack Obama complains that earmarks and other wasteful spending are sucking up money that could be spent on things like early childhood education. This is a nice sentiment, but it is not really true. Early childhood education costs a lot of money to get relatively small, if worthy, gains; earmarks, while repulsive, aren't actually that big a fiscal drain. They're offensive because they perpetuate a political culture of special interests and insiderism, not because they'd put tons of extra money in our pockets. Most government spending goes for things that give money to a whole lot of voters, like Social Security.

9:03 Is it just me or does Obama look like he's trying to let down Hillary gently? He doesn't seem like he's really desperate to defeat her.

9:04 Hillary criticizes Barack Obama's plan because it will leave out fifteen million people. Not mentioned: the difference she is talking about is that Barack Obama's plan has no mandate. In other words, what he's "leaving them out" of is forcing them to buy health insurance in order to subsidize older and sicker people.

9:07 A journalist who has just returned to these shores asks why they're sitting next to each other, rather than standing at podiums. I hadn't registered the change, but it does take some of the charge out of the debating.

9:10 Why is the food talking? This is how one of my companions describes the way Hillary is looking at Obama when he talks.

9:14 Dan Drezner, via Google Chat: "Jesus, shouldn't it scare people that her political idol is LBJ?" To be sure, "Mistress of the Senate" doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?

9:16 Best line of the night so far comes form the very nice, very frustrated moderator sent by Univision: "Let me try again, and not in Spanish, okay?"

9:17 Hillary seems to be blaming George Bush for Kosovar independence and the resulting riots. Am fascinated to ponder what she might have done to stop the Kosovars from voting to separate . . .

9:20 A huge portion of this debate has consisted of Hillary bashing Obama about the lack of a mandate in his health care plan. As readers know, I don't want more government involvement in the health care system. Nonetheless, even if you do, it's worth pointing out that, as Austan Goolsbee explained to me a while back, the mandate just doesn't matter that much. Barack Obama has arguably the best health care economist in the country on his team; if David Cutler doesn't think that mandates are necessary or useful, then it's probably not worth spending a ton of time debating.

9:22 Unscientific sample indicates that international relations community also thinks this debate is boring. If you've lost the journalists, and you've lost the wonks, who's watching this thing?

9:24 Hillary says that she will start withdrawing troops within 60 days. One of the journalists in the room looks puzzled "Can you move a brigade in a month?" Another journalist suggests a follow-up question: "How many troops in a brigade?"

9:32 Moderator asks Obama how come, if he's so against earmarks, he still provides them; he is near the bottom of the pack, in terms of earmarked funds, but still, if you think they're a bad idea, surely the number should be zero (as it is for McCain). I'm slightly flabbergasted that he manages to ask this without mentioning that HIllary is near the head of the pack, with about $350 million in earmarks, compared to Obama's sub-$100 million figure. (Update: he just asked her). This is a good question. Obama's defense: he'll be happy to provide the details of his earmark programs to anyone who cares. This is a silly answer, but brilliant, because I'm betting that no one in America cares enough about Obama's earmarks to actually get off the couch and risk spraining a finger dialing the Obama campaign.

9:35 Someone in the room says the two candidates look suspiciously healthy. Where are the husky voices and haggard brows? Could it be . . . steroids? And if so, should whoever wins get an asterisk after their name on the presidential roster?

9:37 Another IM from Dan Drezner: Tax cuts = wasteful speding????!!!!

Well . . . have you seen the crap some people buy?

9:42 Dan again: I swear to God, did she just plagiarize Primary Colors???!!!!

9:43 Is she gonna cry? Is she?

9:44 No. That was a nice little speech Hillary gave, saying that whoever gets elected, "we'll" be fine. I suspect that the folks inside Hillary's campaign who were pushing for a new "likeability" strategy won a big argument this afternoon.

9:51 David Gergen calls that last Hillary speech the most effective moment of her campaign in a long while. I agree . . . but I suspect that it came way too late. It felt more valedictory than like a reasonable attempt at a comeback.

10:11 Friend points out that Chuck Hagel's name has been spelled "Chuck Hagen" on the CNN newscrawl for about twenty minutes. Less philosophy, more ice cream. That's a platform we can all get behind . . .