Obama: America 'has to talk to its enemies'
John Byrne
Published: Thursday February 21, 2008

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Clinton says Obama supporter couldn't name single accomplishment on TV; Crowd boos comment about plagiarism

As the Democratic CNN/Univision debate kicked off Thursday night, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) faced off over Cuba, with Obama reiterating his position that America "has to talk with its enemies," with Clinton holding to an earlier position that no president should meet with Cuba's new leader unless conditions are met.

"I would not meet with him until change has happened," Clinton said, with regard to Cuba's new leader, Raul Castro. "I believe we should have full diplomatic engagement where appropriate but a presidential visit should... not be offered unless" conditions are met.

Obama said he'd be willing to meet with the new leader in Cuba, presumably Castro's brother, Raul Castro. "I would meet without preconditions, though senator Clinton is right there has to be preparation."

America "has to talk to its enemies," Obama said to applause.

Obama continued extolling his message of change: "Washington is the place where good ideas go to die. I'm running because I want America to be as good as its promise."

He also quietly tried to link himself to former President John F. Kennedy, quoting the fallen president: "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."

Both candidates made routine attacks on President George W. Bush. By thirty minutes into the debate, Clinton had mentioned Bush by name three times and alluded to him in a fourth remark.

"I want to end George Bush's war on science," Clinton said to applause.

CNN moderator John King noted Sen. Clinton supported a border fence in the Senate along the Mexican border, and asked her directly if she would support completing the fence. She declined to answer directly.

"Well, you know, both Senator Obama and I voted for that," she said. "There may be places where this is appropriate. I think when both of us voted for it, there is a [place] where it would make sense."

"I would have a review," she added. "I would listen to the people that live along the border."

"This is an area where Senator Clinton and I completely agree," Obama replied, when asked for his response. "There may be some areas where it may be [suitable] to have some fencing."

The moderator did not note that Obama voted for the proposed 700-mile fence in the Senate.

Crowd boos Clinton quip on plagiarism

CNN's moderator also tried to get Sen. Clinton to attack Obama, asking her if she thought he was "all hat and no cattle." Clinton didn't take the bait.

"There are differences between us," she said. "I do offer solutions. That's what I believe in and what I have done... Working to get kids healthcare, working to expand legal services for the poor, working to register voters."

"I have to confess I was somewhat amused the other night when on one of the TV shows someone was asked to name an accomplishment of Senator Obama and he couldn't," she continued.

"Actions," she added, "speak louder than words."

Obama agreed. He noted that he'd been endorsed by every major paper in Texas.

CNN moderator Campbell Brown asked Obama about an alleged plagiarism charge, where he used language similar to Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.

"The notion that I had plagiarized from one of my national co-chairs who gave me the line and suggested that I use it is silly," he replied. "This is where we start to get into silly season in politics and I think people start getting discouraged about it."

The Illinois senator, smiling, went on to praise his own speeches.

"And I gotta admit, some of them are pretty good," he said.

Brown asked Clinton: 'Senator Clinton, is it the silly season?"

"If your campaign is going to be about words, then they should be about words," Clinton said. "Lifting whole passages is not change you can believe in, its change you can Xerox."

Obama interrupted, saying, "That's not what happened."

The crowd booed.

Soon thereafter, the junior New York senator reiterated her differences with Obama on health care. Clinton seeks to require every American to have health care coverage. "I am tired of health care companies deciding who will live and die in America," she said.

'Experience to be commander in chief'

Questioned about his ability to be commander-in-chief, Obama found a way to turn the tables on Clinton.

"What I believe on the single most important policy decision of this generation... I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief," he said, referring to his stated opposition, before being elected to the senate, to give President Bush the authority to send troops into Iraq, "and I think Sen. Clinton was wrong on that. That has significant consequences because it has diverted attention from Afghanistan."

In closing, both candidates focused on their similarities, saying whoever the Democratic nominee was, the party would come together strong and win the election.

"I have no doubt that the Democratic party as its best can summon a sense of common purpose, a higher purpose" Obama said. The American people "want their government back and that's what I intend to provide them."

Asked what was his most formative and trying experience, Obama noted his background.

"Learning to take responsibility for my own actions... working as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago... then working as a civil rights attorney and rejecting a job on Wall Street to fight for people who'd been discriminated against on the job...It's the reason that I'm determined to get a government that is worthy of their decency and their generosity."

In her response, Clinton focused on the challenges of working Americans.

"Well I think everybody here knows I've lived through some crises and some challenging moments in my life," Clinton said to laughter from the crowd. "And I am grateful for the support and the prayers of countless Americans. But people often ask me, how do you do it, how to do you keep going, and I just have to shake my head in wonderment... they are nothing [compared to that] which have happened in the lives of Americans today."

Clinton focused on others, saying she'd been "blessed" and called by "faith."

"That's what gets me up in the morning," she added. "That's what motivates me. No matter what happens in this contest. And I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored. Whatever happens, we're gonna be fine. We have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about."

This video is from CNN, broadcast February 21, 2008.

(Editor's note: Article originally erroneously referred to Obama's voting against the Iraq resolution, which was before his November, 2004 election to the senate)