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The candidates take a seat, and tempers cool

January 21, 2008 |  9:49 pm

It's usually harder to sustain heated arguments seated than while standing up. And that was rarely more evident than at Monday night's debate among the Democratic presidential aspirants.

The fur flew during the first part of the forum in South Carolina, when the three candidates -- Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards -- were on their feet, behind a podium. Obama was in the middle, literally and figuratively.

He got a lecture from Clinton about not being willing to take responsibility for his legislative record (he disagreed, of course), and took grief from both her and Edwards for offering a health-care plan that is not as far-reaching as theirs (he argued it is more realistic).

But the combatants dialed it down considerably when they settled into chairs for the debate's second half.

Obama, for instance, had a chance to ignite ...

some new sparks when he was asked to comment on author Toni Morrison's famed formulation that Bill Clinton should be viewed as America's first black president. But instead of using the occasion to revisit his complaints about the attack-dog role the now-ex-president his playing for his wife's campaign, Obama decided to first be gracious and then offer a quip.

Bill Clinton, Obama allowed, "did have enormous affinity" with African-Americans. But he added that he would need "to investigate Bill's dancing abilities before I could accurately judge whether he's a brother."

Still, it was hard not to note that as he sat on the stage, he was often tight-lipped as Hillary Clinton and Edwards spoke. Someday, perhaps, we'll learn what really was going through his mind at those moments.

A CNN debate transcript is available here.

-- Don Frederick