Friday, April 27, 2007

Democratic debate: South Carolina

I've been busy, busy, busy, with the day job, and that's a good thing. However it does mean I tend to watch major events at 11:00 PM on dvr than live. So it was with the first Democratic presidential debate from South Carolina.

(New York Times debate transcript)

I've purposely avoided much commentary on the debate as to leave my first impressions as unspun as possible, and I'll be interested to see how others viewed the affair.

So, off the cuff, and in no discernible order, my thoughts...

First, and foremost, damn these folks are good, and so vastly superior to chimpy that I am tempted to wish for Adam Sandler's fast-forward remote. January 2009 can't come to soon.

Hillary wasn't smarmy. In fact when discussing specific policy issues she came off as nothing less than extremely competent.

Best response: wearing Republican antipathy as a badge of honor. I don't know how that would play with independents, but given the level of contempt with which Democrats view the current corporate-Christianist iteration of the GOP, that thought should play well with the base. It played well with me. She's still not my first choice, but she certainly didn't hurt herself.

Obama struck me as a bit flat, but I have to wonder, given the accounts of his soaring oratory, whether my expectations were a bit high. From reading press accounts one expects to hear Martin Luther King channeling Abraham Lincoln whenever he opens his mouth.

On the other hand he also didn't strike me as light on specifics (his main criticism to date). I wonder if his tendency to re-frame specific issues within their wider context (a good thing to my mind) tends to muddy his reactions among some viewers and the press.

Edwards won points in my book for not taking an obvious cheap swipe at Hillary, though he was mightily tempted by host Brian Williams. One hopes he would would be a little more willing to do so when debating Republicans.

He also has made great use of his time since 2004 to study issues and develop specific ideas on where the US should be going and the steps needed to get us there. He clearly seems the most wholly formed of the candidates.

Richardson also seemed to have some quite specific views on how best to deal with the challenges America faces, and though a little workmanlike, I've always been fond of the step 1, step 2, step 3 format for laying out policy objectives. It's a little dull, but it's also very clear.

Perhaps he was a little limited by the rapid-fire nature of the debate format, but I think Richardson still needs to find a way to use these opportunities to highlight the strongest overall resume among the field. He did manage to refer to his executive experience, but I think he needs to elucidate why that's so important, especially now given all the recent revelations as to how our MBA president is currently mis-managing the government.

Biden clearly gave the best response of the night by responding to Williams' question about his legendary loquacity and penchant for gaffes and whether he could provide sufficient focus for the American people to trust him with the presidency, answered with a simple "yes".

In fact it occurred to me, as it did with Kerry 3 years ago, that Biden would greatly benefit if his staff could arrange for a 30 second clock whenever the senator opens his mouth. Certainly his responses tonight, short and to the point, and clearly demonstrating his years of experience, were all the more impressive for their unaccustomed brevity.

Chris Dodd also was very strong on policy, though I found myself in agreement with most of his policy stances, I have to wonder, to be blunt, whether the country is really interested in electing another old white male as president this time around. I know how superficial that sounds, but there you go.

In times past I might have supported him as an older, mentor-type veep for a younger, more charismatic, though more inexperienced president. I suspect the results of the Bush/Cheney model have, however, poisoned that idea for some time to come.

Mike Gravel seemed to be working on sewing up the crotchety old man vote, which is too bad because I agree with his further left of center stances more than I do the more moderate front-runners.

But this is politics and presentation matters and coming off as the kind of guy who yells a kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk only plays into the "angry left" meme so well developed by the GOPers.

Dennis Kucinich seems to be solidifying his place as the Ralph Nader of the Democratic party: the guy you know is right about the issues, but who you also know will never be elected in this country in a million years.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. CaliBlogger, who is rather further left than yours truly liked him the most from a policy perspective.

My final thought for the moment is that while it was great to get the opportunity to hear from folks I never get to hear from, Dodd, Gravel, and Kucinich, and Biden greatly benefits from that 30 second clock thing, none of them (except maybe Biden) gave me an excuse to support them over the top tier candidates. And while it is early still, I find myself looking forward to smaller forums where the candidates can more fully explore the challenges this country faces after years of Republican corruption.

Bottom line though, I am now more than ever confidant that whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be worthy of my full support.

And that's a good feeling to have.


merben said...

The debate was certainly entertaining. I hope we'll see more of these as we approach the election. I think it would also be interesting to see if this debate has any impact on the recent election 2008 polls. After all, this debate was supposed to help the voters decide on who to vote for at the election.

Citizen Kang said...

Thanks for your comment.

I'm curious myself as to whether the debate will affect poll standings. I don't foresee much immediate change among the top tier candidates. I suppose it's possible that Biden and Dodd will join Richardson as the solid second tier, while asterisks Kucinich and Gravel did little more than solidify their positions as footnotes.