Last night's debate! Whoa! What a good time! And I'm not even talking about Kucinich saying he believes in UFOs.
Finally the gloves are off and we are having a real dialogue (well, all the dialogue a debate with Timmy Russert and Brian Not Brokaw Williams will allow). But seriously, it was the first time that Senator Obama has said to Clinton's face what he's been saying about her in interviews. It was yet another example of how Joe Biden is totally and eminently qualified to be President of the United States based on detailed grasp of policy nuance and history--but who remains unelectable for various intangible reasons I can't quite enumerate. Edwards came out swinging at Senator Clinton, precipitating the ensuing pile-on from the other candidates. And amen to that, quite frankly.
It's fashionable in certain circles to either hate Hillary and express disbelief that she should even be in this contest or to worship her as the rightful heir to the Clinton legacy--and a woman to boot! I'm in neither camp. She was, to be sure, under constant attack in last night's debate. But her performance was lackluster even if you give her points for being on the defensive. She didn't seem to FEEL anything she was saying, although I hesitate to say that because female candidates are always in a difficult position vis a vis showing emotion. She has to ride the line between being seen as caring too much, e.g,, weak, and being the shrew she's accused by many of being. So I don't want to ding her too much on that, but the fact remains that she didn't seem animated by anything in particular. She seemed to be playing the role of someone running for President, doing what she thinks that person is supposed to do.
Which is not to say that any of the candidates up there were somehow being "just folks" (well, except Dennis Kucinich and perhaps Joe Biden). They are all running for a job that requires them to speak and act in a particular manner. I get that. But Senator Clinton needs to step up the human side of things if she's going to disarm the other candidates' attacks on her. But, boy, did she completely not help herself in her flub of an answer to whether Spitzer's idea of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants in NY was good one. First she said yes then no then not really. It was a classic "maalox moment" for campaign staff, where you can just see the candidate coming undone on an answer that seems to the majority of people to be a simple yes or no. She will regret that exchange if she does win the nomination because the tape will be played over and over again by her Republican rival.
Edwards performed rather well, leading the charge to stop Senator Clinton's lead in the polls. I really like his message of two Americas and hope that there is a place for some of his ideas in the next administration. I'm just not sure he's the guy to run that administration.
Which brings us to Mr. #2 in the polls: Senator Barack Obama. He needed to show something in this debate to set himself apart, to give him an identity beyond being "the black candidate with the strange name." He did it. I especially liked his answer to the asinine question of whether he is bothered by other candidates "accidentally" calling him Osama. He said, "But there is no doubt that my background is not typical of a presidential candidate. I think everybody understands that, but that's part of what is so powerful about America is that it gives all of us the opportunity -- a woman, a Latino, myself -- the opportunity to run. And listen, when I was running for the United States Senate, everybody said, "Nobody's going to vote for a black guy named Barack Obama. They can't even pronounce it." And we ended up winning by 20 points in the primary and 30 points in the general election. The way to respond to swiftboating is to respond forcefully, rapidly and truthfully. And I have absolute confidence in the American people's capacity to absorb the truth as long as we are forceful in that presentation. And we are seeing it as we travel all across the country. We have received enormous support in states where, frankly, there aren't a lot of African Americans and there aren't a lot of Obamas."
It was a classy answer to an unclassy question. I also liked his periodic digs at Mitt Romney's two-facedness. That said, I'm still smarting from his recent tour with Donnie McClurkin the "recovering" gay minister. I want to hear more from Obama with regard to his beliefs about gay Americans before I can fully support him the way I want to.
All of which brings us to two final points:
1. Joe Biden is funny and seemingly lacking an internal monologue, which means all manner of debate hijinks for you and me. His assessment of Rudy Giuliani: “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11, I mean, there’s nothing else. And I mean it sincerely. He is genuinely not qualified to be president.”
2. When two candidates are still awaiting a single question after 15 minutes, you don't have a debate. You have a vanity project for Russert and Williams. Richardson and Kucinich are candidates in this race whether anyone thinks they can win or not. To simply ignore them in favor of the top three candidates is shoddy work on the part of "journalists." As we have seen time and time again in debates, the "lesser" candidates very often raise issues that force the front runners to respond where they otherwise would avoid the topic all together. Another sign (as if we needed one) that we cannot trust the media any more than we can trust the candidates to truly bring the democratic process to the American people.