Deeth Debate Reax
Just back from watching the debate with JCDems chair Brian Flaherty who says, in chairmanly neutrality, that everyone did great and he wants to hear more health care. The rest of the thoughts are mine in blogger-ly snarkiness.
Joe Biden had a great night and Brian Williams knew it; by the end of the debate he was going to Biden more and more and Dodd and Richardson less. And in the post-debate interviews, Biden was in What I’ll Do As President mode (well, Secretary of State maybe) while Dodd was begging for consideration and Richardson (who looked disappointed) was giving the answer he should have given to one of the debate questions.
My favorite sequence was the “elephant in the room” round early in the debate when Williams asked about perceived weaknesses and character flaws. (Someone missed an opportunity to chuckle at the question with an air of "this is so ridiculous it's beneath me, but as you insist on asking, I have nothing to hide.") Edwards did well with his response to a $400 haircut question, which served as the launch pad for some Everyone Should Have The Opportunity I've Had and Son Of A Millworker stories including one I hadn’t heard before of having to leave a restaurant without ordering because his dad couldn’t afford anything on the menu.
Hillary was careful overall (speaking of first names, she was throwing “Barack” this and “John” that around and soon the others followed suit). To her credit she didn’t play identity politics at all, even when asked why Republicans hate her so much (rather than saying “because I’m a strong woman” she referred to it as “perverse flattery.”) Obama parried the slumlord question well. Richardson had identity politics thrust upon him in when asked about his delay in calling for Gonzales to resign “because he’s Hispanic.” Richardson said people appreciate candor and honesty, and that was how he felt (while adding that he later called for a resignation).
But Biden knocked it out of the park when asked, more or less, are you ever going to shut your big mouth. Biden obviously anticipated the question and said, “Yes.” And waited. And waited. And the laughs started. And he waited, until Williams had to laugh to and move on. Kucinich and Gravel were both asked "dude, wtf?" Mike Gravel made Dennis seem positively moderate; There were a few good lines and ideas that would have sounded fine in the calm measured voice of a George McGovern, but his overall tone through the debate seemed to be along the lines of Grandpa telling those darn kids to get the hell off my lawn, saying the other candidates “scared” him. Williams was verbally dismissing him by the end, and the post-debate commentators were reduced to Sanjaya-like terms such as “refreshing.”
Kucinich (who was anti-choice until he decided to run for president) dodged a choice question while Edwards used it as a way to subtly play the electability card and Obama moved it to his coming-together turf.
A Virginia Tech question got Hillary’s only Bill reference, while Richardson turned his Westerner pro-gun record into a call for mental health parity. Interesting raise o hands question: who’s owned a gun? The first tier three keep their hands down, the other five raise theirs.
Edwards is asked how he’s pay for health care and says repeal bush tax cuts, then goes into specifics while portraying himself as the Detail Guy. Hillary, Obama and Richardson are asked the same question and talk about health care without mentioning money. Edwards missed the opportunity to break format and challenge them on it.
Hillary dodged the illegal alien amnesty question (because it’s dynamite). Edwards gets the first mention of global warming, but probably kicked himself when Obama got the first mention of New Orleans. Kucinich, meanwhile, had rehearsed a “global warming and global warring” line, but it comes out “global warring” both times.
They’re all asked about their biggest mistake “of the last four years” Hillary and Biden criticize Bush, Edwards and Dodd cop to the war vote. Obama, interestingly, said he should have fought the Schaivo bill harder, and Richardson anticipated the question and makes his weaknesses a strength in classic interview style: “I’m impatient, I try to get too much done too fast.”
I may have missed a lot of the best lines; in my privileged status as an Iowan I’ve heard so many of them before like Edwards saying “it’s time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war.”
When asked who supported Kucinich’s move to impeach Dick Cheney, no hands were raised. Dennis, you get me so hot when you’re self-righteous.
Richardson was the only one to break format, rejecting the Cuba question he was asked for a war question he wasn’t. Too many questions that I wish everyone could have answered; everyone was supposed to get “what would you do the first day” but Richardson used all the time.
Obama’s best moment was in a late-debate exchange with Kucinich on the war where he patiently, thoughtfully, presidentially discusses Kucinich’s charge that Obama wanted to nuke Iran. Gravel tried to get in on it at the end but by that point Obama was commanding. Biden references it again at the end, dissing Gravel and Kucinich with the last line of the debate: “you guys can have your happy talk, this is real life.”
When asked, “who is your moral leader” Edwards thought a loooong time before answering “my Lord” (the correct South Carolina answer) “my wife” (the only brief Elizabeth reference) “and my father.” No one else got the question, unfortunate. Hillary tried to have it both ways on “is Wal-Mart a positive or negative” and missed the opportunity to score labor points.
Post-debate, all spouses present on stage except Mr. Clinton who was at Boris Yeltsin’s funeral; how did a little dweeb like Dennis Kucinich hook up with that tall redhead? Gravel was gesturing looking like he wanted to keep debating.
Biden scores the first interview, then Richardson, then as all but the hardest core political junkies drift off, Dodd. Gravel is Zell-Miller-like in arguing with Chris Matthews and insulting him; Matthews openly laughs. Cuts to Hillary’s spinner and Obama at a rally where he leads with health care. I give up as Dennis is interviewed in tandem with his spouse; they hold hands the whole time.