First, let me acknowledge that the title of this blog was inspired by an insightful piece July 27 in The Washington Post by Charles Krauthammer. Titled “Strike Two,” Krauthammer’s column examines Barack Obama’s response in the South Carolina “You Tube” debate in which Obama said he would meet with the leaders of Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba in his first year as president.

Hillary Clinton paused perhaps a nanosecond before pouncing on Obama, saying she would never meet with those tyrants during her first year, because it would furnish them with valuable propaganda. “You need to know their intentions,” Hillary said, because it would open the door to discussions with such despots as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in the past has denied that the Holocaust ever took place. The next day, in Davenport, Iowa, Hillary piled on even more, saying Obama’s statement was “irresponsible and naive.”

Krauthammer notes this is the second time that Obama has displayed more than a bit of impetuosity, the first instance occurring in April, when Obama was asked what response he would order if al-Qaeda made another attack on an America city. Obama answered the first thing he would do is make certain the U.S. had an effective emergency response and not repeat the Hurricane Katrina debacle. “Asked to be commander in chief, Obama could only play first-responder in chief,” wrote Krauthammer. Obama and his handlers spent much of the following day explaining what he really meant.

In the past, notes John Mercurio of The National Journal, Hillary has repeatedly been criticized as wooden and impersonal. Obama has been portrayed as “puppy like” in his enthusiasm. Former senator John Edwards even managed to wade into the conflict. “If you’re looking for what’s wrong with Washington, why the system is broken, one perfect example is two good people, democratic candidates for president, who’ve spent their time attacking each other instead of attacking the problems facing our country,” Edwards said.

Obama disaffirmed Hillary’s barb, declaring this it was she who was “irresponsible and naive” when she voted for Bush’s war in Iraq, now felt by many to be one of the worst mistakes in U.S. history. But Obama’s retort came too little and too late, since it was two days removed from the original gaffe. By comparison, Hillary’s performance during and after the South Carolina debate was considered by many, even her critics, as smooth and unflappable.

Frank James, writing for The Chicago Tribune, called Obama’s South Carolina performance “a turning point in the presidential race.” And as for Hillary’s presentation: “Any time the leader in the polls comes out of a debate unscathed, she or he is the winner by definition.” By contrast, Obama’s answer to the question seemed to bolster the criticisms that he is inexperienced and unpracticed when it comes to foreign policy. Referring one final time to Charles Krauthammer’s analysis, he concludes: “These mistakes lead to one of two conclusions: (1) Obama is inexplicably unable to think on his feet while standing on South Carolina soil, or (2) Obama is not ready to be a wartime president.”

Roland Martin, a contributor to CNN News, wonders whether all of this is fascinating to political hacks, but irrelevant to the voting public. The two front runners, Clinton and Obama, will eventually lock their sights on each other and hopefully provide a glimpse of which one has the necessary qualities and temperament for the job. But Election Day 2008 is still many months away – far too early for the candidates to start throwing real punches and thus begin the true slugfest. Even if the South Carolina encounter accurately portrayed Obama as a tenderfoot in international affairs, will the public remember in November?- Chase.Hamil

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