I listened to the debate and read some commentary on various blogs. I don't know what people were expecting, but, given the format and number of candidates, I thought it was a reasonably good debate. Given their performance Thursday night, I have no doubt whatsoever that John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Christopher Dodd can handle the presidency.
The same is true of Bill Richardson but he seemed a little underprepared for the debate style; I excuse him because he is, after all, a working governor. Joe Biden is brilliant but one can see how he would need a full team of damage control specialists who would have to explain away his verbal gaffes; Biden won't change, he's used to letting it all hang out, warts and all, this late in his life, but he's still brilliant and gave some of the best answers of the night. Kucinich surprised me by being more articulate and thoughtful than I remember him being in 2004—I just have trouble taking him seriously as a presidential candidate. The next time a senate seat opens up in Ohio, though, it may be time for Kucinich to move up—the country needs more of him, not less, though I'm not sure Ohio voters can quite cross that bridge.
Actually, all the candidates save one, would be a considerable improvement over the current occupant of the White House and his paranoid vice president. The exception is the former senator from Alaska. The last time I saw Mike Gravel, he seemed less cranky and eccentric than he did tonight; it was one of the worst performances I've seen by a candidate but I have to say it also seems the moderators were giving him short shrift. I'd like to see the minutes for the debate because it seemed Hillary Clinton was given more opportunities to speak than anyone else but that may have been the rebuttal option that was offered.
I thought Hillary Clinton was probably the most prepared and probably gave the best performance of the candidates; I'm not sure she had the best answers. And I'm still puzzled by the funny way she handles her vote on Iraq. Dodd and Edwards simply say the vote was a mistake. Biden came close to taking what may be Hillary Clinton's position which seems to be nothing more than that Bush turned out to do an incompetent job. The Iraq debacle is about far more than just Bush's incompetence; there were willful lies and sheer arrogance in the way that Bush conceived and continues to conceive foreign policy. I want to hear Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden disavow the preemptive strike principle (at least they seem to be against unilateralism).
John Edwards gave the best answers of anyone in terms of details and what he's driving at but I found him to be somewhat subdued; it wouldn't hurt him for his answers to be a little more emphatic with some fresh material thrown in. I forget the exact wording but near the end of the debate, Edwards was asked who he looked to for moral guidance. The question seemed to surprise him, but he thought about it for a few seconds and gave a brilliant answer and pointed out that there really couldn't be just one source for moral guidance. I have to add something further here. A couple of blogs criticized him for taking so long to answer. But I remember when George W. Bush was asked a similar question about whether there was a philosopher he knew that gave him guidance and he quickly and glibly answered: Jesus Christ. It wasn't a bad answer, but there was a smugness and lack of thoughtfulness to the answer that seems so George W. Bush. Give me a president who actually thinks about things instead of simply shooting from the hip and not really understanding what it means to provide real leadership and not just some right wing Hollywood version suitable for photo ops.
The person who may have helped himself the most was Barack Obama. Although I didn't like his answers on Iran and on health care which I believe are issues he still catching up to, he did very well on most issues. I was impressed at how quickly Barack Obama could think on his feet. He's not just a lot of prepared statements and talking points with a literary flair; there's presidential material there and he'll do fine if he wins the nomination (still, think what a better candidate he would be in eight years!).
I've listened to Bill Richardson in interviews and they interviewed him after the debate; he always does well in interviews; so I was surprised that he didn't seem to be on his game during the debate (it's possible he just doesn't handle the clock very well). He even came across as mildly eccentric on some issues. If one of the leading candidates stumbles, Richardson is in a position to move up but he needs to give a more solid performance in his next debate. He sounded like a candidate who walked in without preparing himself.
Christopher Dodd isn't a flashy presidential candidate but he has a very sharp mind and he gave some of the wittiest lines in the debate. He needs to shed his senatorial style a bit and get into the presidential mode and the simplest way to do that is to start off with some of his wittiest lines or end with them. And his staffers should go back through his statements and highlight Dodd's gems and make sure they work their way into speeches here and there. I like how his mind works; he sometimes does a very good job of getting to the heart of a matter.
What can one say about Biden? He's amazing, and like Dodd, he gets to the heart of matters but with far more bluntness. Biden has probably the biggest ego of the whole bunch and you feel like he's doing a highwire act and doing it very well except you suspect he'll get too cocky and do something that occassionally sends him verbally off the wire hanging by one hand with a sheepish grin on his face. As brilliant as he is, I don't think he can win and he needs to be careful that he doesn't diminish the possibility of becoming the next secretary of state. We need him more than his verbal fireworks. Nevertheless, if this nation needs a cocky and arrogant president, it ought to be Joe Biden and certainly not another George W. Bush (that Giuliani leads in some polls makes my skin crawl; he's not presidential material).
I found Kucinich more likeable than usual and more thoughtful. I just don't think he has the pragmatism to be president. But Kucinich is no longer the fringe candidate. That honor now belongs to Mike Gravel.
I didn't find the debate boring. There are differences among the Democratic candidates but they're more united on progressive issues and the need for real change than the media seems willing to acknowledge. The mainstream media still acts like right wing Republicans still have something to offer our country. They've got to be kidding. No one should forget that in 2000 the media helped perpetuate the myth that there was no difference
between Al Gore and George W. Bush except character
. Bush lied to the American people about his real values and real political beliefs (I don't mean the dog and pony show the media drools over but the Bush as his terrible policies and reckless actions define him as). The reality is that we've got a good group of Democrats. Let's hope the voters agree in 2008.
Labels: 2008 presidential race