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Senate candidates beg to differ

September 2, 2010 | 12:02 pm

Civics-bookish as it may sound, the voters of California were well served by Wednesday's debatebetween Senate candidates Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer. (Video clips here.)

Yes, there were cheap shots. Really, what is the relevance to a legislative position of Boxer's crack that Fiorina "made her name as a CEO in Hewlett-Packard laying thousands and thousands of workers off, shipping their jobs overseas, making no sacrifice while she was doing it, taking $100 million." Only slightly more to the point was Fiorina's complaint that "after 18 long years in the Senate, 28 years [in Congress, Boxer] only has four relatively insignificant bills with her name on them." Even if Fiorina is right (and some fact-checkers quibble with the number), success as a senator is about more than affixing your name to reams of bills.

But much of the debate was dominated by clashes over real issues: abortion,  taxes, economic stimulus and gun control. Never mind that the candidates' respective positions mirrored those of their parties. Elections should provide voters, as Barry Goldwater  liked to say, "a choice, not an echo." This debate was anything but an echo chamber. If you support abortion rights, Boxer made the right noises. If you want Roe vs. Wade to be repealed, Fiorina is your candidate. A ban on assault weapons: Boxer for, Fiorina against.  Support gay marriage: Boxer says yes, Fiorina would stop at civil unions. And so on.

It's not exactly novel for a Republican candidate to support tax cuts and less government regulation, or for a Democrat to defend an activist federal government. But the point of an election campaign isn't entertainment; it's elucidation. By that measure, the Boxer-Fiorina debate was a success.

 -- Michael McGough

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