Several things from last night's debate stood out for me. One, I agree with Ezra that Hillary Clinton's answer on driver's licenses was on the right track, though she did try to tiptoe around directly supporting Elliot Spitzer's plan in New York. While others have criticized it, I think she gave a decent response to what was posed as a "gotcha" question. It would be hard – catastrophic even – for Clinton to come right out and say that she wants all illegal immigrants to have drivers' licenses. Her "It makes a lot of sense" response helped spin it to a way to point out the gross failures of immigration reform and the burden it puts on states and municipalities to deal with some very real problems. One of them is the drivers' license issue. She was right on target in pointing out the safety and identification concerns related to having millions of unlicensed drivers on the road, drivers who aren't familiar with driving laws here, who are afraid of the police, who are often unregistered and uninsured because they can't be without a license, and who lack basic identification to make it possible for police to prosecute them if/when they commit traffic offenses. Anyone who has lived in an area with a high volume of immigrants is familiar with these concerns, and it does "make a lot of sense" to try to come up with ways to address them in the absence of a federal plan.
Of course, Dodd's answer that a drivers' license "is a privilege" will appeal to many, as everyone expects there to be things that are available to citizens of the United States that aren't available to everyone else. But the problem is, regardless of who has that "privilege," people who are here illegally will be on the roads. Spitzer, and Clinton, are attempting to address that reality, at least until federal action fills the void. It's a pragmatic move, not ideological.
The other stand out last night was how poorly Richardson came off. His answers were bumbling and long-winded. It seems that he's trying to position himself for a vice-presidential spot at this point in the campaign, and if that's what he's going for, he should probably try to cut down on the rambling at these debates. He was also doing some serious sucking up to Clinton last night. "You know what I'm hearing here, I'm hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton," Richardson said at one point. "That is bothering me because it's pretty close to personal attacks that we don't need." He also urged everyone to "save the ammunition for the Republicans."