Friday, April 27, 2007

The First Democratic Debate

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I missed the first Democratic debate last night, so here is a round-up of blogger and media commentary:

The consensus seems to be that there was little divisiveness; for the most part, the candidates seemed to be on the same page about the issues.

MSNBC's Alex Johnson notes a confluence of dates:

The first debate of the 2008 campaign came on the same day that the Senate joined the House in voting to require the start of troop withdrawals by Oct. 1, setting Congress on the road to a showdown with President Bush, who has promised to veto the measure.

Although Big Tent Democrat did not watch, he agrees with Scott Lemieux that Bill Richardson's choice of Byron White as his ideal Supreme Court Justice is both odd and disqualifying.

Big Tent Democrat gives the "most interesting debate roundup" award to Ed Kilgore at New Donkey. What I most appreciated about Ed's analysis was that he did some extra digging to find the contradictions in some of the candidates' statements:

The format was unusual, with lots of questions demanding (unsuccessfully) short answers, with lots of jumping around on topics, and virtually no candidate interaction, other than that randomly forced by the questions. The two candidates that got occasionally annoying in defying the rules and talking too long were Bill Richardson and (this year's ultimate protest candidate) Mike Gravel.

And speaking of questions, they were occasionally framed and followed-up in ways that betrayed even the "gotcha" instincts of debate moderators. Joe Biden got a question on the Supreme Court's decision on the congressional "Partial-Birth Abortion" ban that didn't mention he voted for the ban in the Senate. Bill Richardson offered Whizzer White as a model for the nominees he'd put on the Supreme Court, and nobody noted that (aside from White's status as something less than a constitutional giant) the Whizzer was a dissenter in the original abortion rights decision, Roe v. Wade. And John Edwards was asked about his attitude towards hedge funds (a subject that most viewers probably knew little or nothing about) without any reference to his own employment by a hedge fund between his presidential runs.

The similarly named Donkey Rising was particularly impressed with Joe Biden's response to being asked about his worst failure:

The consensus in the blogs and rags seems to be that no candidate leap-frogged over the others and none destroyed their chances. There were no campaign-nuking one-liners like "Where's the beef?", or gaffes like Gerald Ford calling Poland a free country.

But there were some impressive sound-bites. Hard to imagine a better answer, for example, than Joe Biden's when asked what was his worst failure. Without missing a beat, he replied “overestimating the competence of this administration and underestimating the arrogance.” The other candidates should take note. This is a good example of the kind of eloquent brevity that scores in such formats.

Scarecrow has a very thought-provoking piece at Firedoglake about how basically useless televised debates are for determining which candidate has the kind of leadership qualities that we so desperately need right now:

The absurdity of using a debate as a means for picking presidents was illustrated by Howard Fineman’s analysis of the difference between Obama’s and Clinton’s responses to the terrorist attack question. Fineman observed that Obama didn’t use the word “retaliate” in his initial response, while Hillary did, so Obama spent the rest of the night trying to make up for not being “tough” enough. But Hillary’s response was ‘tough,” so Fineman concluded that she “settled the question about the Commander in Chief issue.” Buchanan would echo this analysis later. What gibberish. By this measure, George Bush and Dick Cheney, who have done more to undermine US influence, prestige and security interests than any Administration in our lifetimes, would obviously make a wonderful national security team.

A good answer is boring. What we need to know is how a candidate would analyze the nature of the threat and the efficacy and consequences of alternative response strategies. We’d want to know how he or she would harness the government to find and implement a wise answer while engaging the country in the conversation about the nature of the threat, what must be done about it, and what sacrifices that might entail. None of that happened after 9/11, but George and Dick sure sounded tough, and that, Howard, is why there have been 3300 US troops and scores of thousands of Iraqis killed in a senseless, brutal and unnecessary war. Of course, no televised debate is ever going to elicit such a response for fear of the mindless instant analysis by the nation’s media.

I’m generally distrustful of most presidential candidates. Almost by definition, they seem to have more ambition to win the presidency than they have wisdom to be president. I also have this quaint belief that people who are genuine leaders reveal their leadership qualities over time by how they go about doing what they do. They don’t announce they’re “leaders” or apply to be “leaders,” and running a campaign to convince people to vote for you is not a good way to prove you’re a leader. Instead, genuine leaders prove themselves by how they perform day in, day out. I’ve watched Nancy Pelosi and she comes across as a leader. That’s why the frightened right is making every effort to tear her down; a true leader that actually sounds reasonable and intelligent and mature and doesn’t scare the hell out of all of us is a threat to the Bush Presidency. If the American people saw her as a weak, ineffectual leader, the righties wouldn’t make such a fuss about her going to Syria. Kennedy has been an incredibly effective legislative leader for decades, but would we say the same of other Senators who’ve coveted the presidency? Feingold has proven himself a moral leader again and again, often standing alone only to be proved right later. Waxman and Leahy are showing real leadership skills in their oversight roles. Al Gore has become an international leader on a crucial issue of global importance, and when we needed a statesman to speak forcefully and clearly on the lawlessness of the Bush/Cheney regime, he rose to the occasion and we all cheered. We can easily see leadership qualities in these people. We saw some good Democrats on the stage last night, but do we see these candidates as our party’s true leaders?


gary said...

I missed the debates as well. Try this if you're looking for a way to compare the candidates on key issues...


merben said...

Interesting post. I noticed that people have different views on how the candidates performed on the debate. I also think that it will 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.