It wasn't the most substantive debate. But those character issue questions matter to a lot of voters, especially conservative voters. And Obama handled them poorly. If those questions are really distractions, then he should be able to transcend them. He has a national stage and plenty of time to talk.
Obama is a poor uniter. The essential Obama move is to say "Let's all rise above our petty differences to agree with me." Which is why those tough questions are "distractions". If you disagree with him or challenge him, you are choosing to focus on things that don't matter. Your voice doesn't merit inclusion in our democracy.
His fanbase is less eloquent but equally intolerant of dissent. Go read a progressive blog's comments - Hillary's a monster, Hillary's a Republican. Of course, "Republican" is synonymous with "monster" to the supporter of unity candidate Obama. Even the name bloggers willingly dehumanize Hillary Clinton, reviving the old attacks of the 90's while hoping to say "goodbye to all that." Hillary Clinton continues to pull 40-45% of Democratic support, and the antipathy that progressives have for so many fellow progressives is astounding.
One can only imagine what will happen in the general, when the voices in opposition really confront him. Last night was not a good sign. Ultimately, Obama has been unable to unify the Democratic party around progressive ideals. How will he unify the nation?
This is a pro-Clinton partisan post script about TPM. I must warn you - it is bitter! TPM has been coyly probama, and is now joining the "fuck hillary" crowd, saying things like Mark Penn's been "gelded." It's racist to say "fairy tale", but calling Hillary a castrating bitch - nothing offensive to progressive values there.
Most obnoxious lately - the TPM response to the Obama "cling" gaffe. Marshall quotes a letter from Theda Skocpol accusing Hillary Clinton of hypocrisy because Skocpol sat in on meetings with Clinton "where very clinical things were said about ... working class voters". Who said them? Dunno. What were they? Dunno, except that those words were far more offensive than Obama's "humanly sympathetic observations" (which paralleled religious belief and racism).
Were the comments offensive? Well, if the Harvard sociologist and editor of Marxist Inquiries: Studies of Labor, Class, and States thinks Obama's comments about the working class were sympathetic, how could the little people be offended? Skocpol makes it her career to study the working class, surely she must understand how their puny minds work. Marshall would then go on a couple of days later to explain how hilarious it was to see the tv elites opine about whether the comments were offensive to average Americans. He's amused because they're elites opining on the reaction of the working class.
This TPM post incited Matthew Yglesias to blog to let everyone know the he went to Harvard. You know, in case you were wondering.