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MSNBC debate starts with a whimper

January 15, 2008 |  7:19 pm

Imagine a Fourth of July celebration where a rainstorm has drenched the fireworks, turning it into a non-pyrotechnic gathering.

That, essentially, was what happened at the start of tonight's MSNBC debate in Las Vegas among the Democratic presidential candidates.

The opening question obviously was going to concern the racially charged bickering over the last few days between the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns. And so it was, with co-moderator Brian Williams asking simply, "How did we get here?"

Problem was, Obama and Clinton had mutually agreed late Monday that it was time to call a truce. Some of their surrogates may not have fully gotten the message, but the two candidates were not going to reengage on the subject. The only question was: Who was going to get the first crack at taking the high ground?

Williams decided it would be Clinton. She predictably ...

stressed the positive, saying that she and Obama had agreed that "neither race nor gender should be part of this campaign." And then it was time for bromides (e.g. "We're all family in the Democratic Party.").

Obama and John Edwards were left to echo Clinton. "Well, I think Hillary said it well," was Obama's first comment. And Edwards stressed that, because he was the only one of the trio raised in the South when segregation was still in full force, he felt "enormous personal responsibility to continue to move forward" on racial issues.

Williams' co-host, Tim Russert, pursued a few follow-up questions, but it was clear Obama and Clinton were going to say nothing remotely incendiary on the topic.

-- Don Frederick