Friday, April 27, 2007

The first debate, the day after

Some reflections on last night's Democratic debate, starting with the "front-runners" and moving on down the list.

Barack Obama: I though Obama was a mess. Let's count the ways:

  • He misspoke about the legal troubles of one of his supporters, saying "This donor engaged in some ethical behavior and I have denounced it." Had President Bush come out with that, he'd be roundly lampooned from coast to coast.

  • Obama couldn't name two allies of the US, coming up only with Japan and "the European Union as a whole." And I'm not sure the "European Union" is even an "ally." Britain is. And what about Canada and Mexico, our allies in NAFTA.

  • He Dukakis-ed the question about what he would do if America was attacked in another 9/11 style attack, talking about emergency responses, good intelligence and dialogue with the nations of the world or some such dispassionate wonky something-or-another. He tried to recover later, talking about "enemies out there that have to be hunted down" after a question about energy conservation, but he had already missed his chance.

  • Speaking of which, he blew that one too, talking about planting 3,000 trees when asked what he had "personally" done to make a better environment.
Obama's strength is his ability to inspire people to action and talk in grand themes. He'd better get a handle on the facts, however, or he is only going to get so far in this race.

Hillary Clinton: I keep reading and hearing today about how well she did. I didn't think she did badly, but I wasn't convinced that she believed that she could become president. Maybe I was getting too caught up on her specific words instead of her ideas, but the way she prefaced her answers and referred to the presidency belied a certain uneasiness. She often started her answers with "Let me start by saying" which sounds like she is seeking permission to go forward. She talked about what "we need to do" or what "I'm in favor of" but didn't talk about what "I will do as president." Maybe that's too semantic, but I want to know what she will do.

John Edwards: A strong performance, the best of the "top tier" of candidates. He could have done a better job with the question about his pricey haircuts (I didn't think he should apologize, it is what it is), but he did a nice job of turning that into his "son-of-a-millworker" story of being too poor to afford breakfast at a local restaurant. (As an aside, it looked like he had a few hairs out of place in the area where his hair was parted. I wondered if that was on purpose.)

I liked his specificity on health care and his willingness to acknowledge his error in authorizing the war in Iraq (Hillary Clinton should take notes on that one). Finally, discussing God, his wife, and his father in the context of who he considered his "moral leader" was fantastic and poignant.

Bill Richardson: I think his performance was a classic case of the candidate who sounds great on the radio, but doesn't seem so good on TV. His answers were full of specifics and seemed honest and sincere. He clearly has the best grasp of foreign policy issues. He presented nearly all of his views as specific items he would accomplish, as opposed to Hillary, who spoke of what she favored, not what she would do. I thought he sounded presidential.

But man, he sure didn't look it. To say he appeared awkward might be an understatement. He was the farthest from the moderator, and it was clear that he couldn't hear some of the questions well. he was caught on camera a couple of times leaning forward to hear with his mouth open, like a slack-jawed octogenarian who was missing his hearing aid. He also seemed jittery early. "The poor guy looks nervous," my wife noted. "Look at him shaking." I don't think Poor Guy was the impression he was hoping to give.

Joe Biden: If I had to pick a winner, it would be Senator Biden. I have always liked Biden: I think he is the smartest guy in the room most of the time. Like Richardson, he also has a good handle on foreign policy, and he was nearly as credible as Richardson on the subject.

But more than that, he appeared presidential. He hit the question about his propensity to over talk and make gaffes out of the park, and he continued to be succinct throughout the night. He didn't over talk and he didn't over explain. He appeared confident and in command of the issues. The only time I thought he slipped on that was when he clarified that he's owned a shotgun instead of a pistol (who cares?), but I thought his overall performance (substance + style) made him the winner of the night.

Chris Dodd: Senator Dodd was there. Nothing he said last night stood out to me, to the point that I had to go back to the debate transcript to get an idea of what he said, and even with that, none of it resonated. I've always thought of Dodd as a senator's senator. Nice with the oratory, I touch of insincerity that is ingrown through decades of talking and filibustering and talking some more. That is probably an unfair characterization of him, but nothing last night dissuaded me from that perception.

Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich is much improved from the 2004 cycle. He appears more confident, and doesn't appear nearly as far "out there" as he did in the last cycle, when the war with Iraq was still popular. He wasn't afraid to mix it up a little with the other candidates--especially Obama--and may have presented his positions as strongly as anyone. He's not going to win, but much like Grace Ross in the Massachusetts gubernatorial debates, he has the chance to move the debate to the left with is command and conviction. He needs to drop the props, however. And he and his young wife ought to leave the cuddling for the bedroom instead of the spin room.

Mike Gravel: Former Senator Gravel raised his standing from zero to crotchety old curmudgeon, so I guess he would also have to be listed among the winners. What did I learn tonight? First, it's not pronounced "GRA-vuhl"--as in crushed stone--it's "Gruh-VELLE" as in, um, French crushed stone? No? Beyond that, he is just sucking time away from the other candidates. He's entertaining, and he might get one of the higher-rated candidates to screw up if he can engage one of them, but he's really not helping.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment


No Drumlins Copyright © 2009 Premium Blogger Dashboard Designed by SAER