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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tuesday morning quarterbacking the debate
Posted by Jill | 6:55 AM
Alas, I haven't seen the whole thing yet, but I did manage to watch a good chunk of last night's debate. I thought the format was great. Having questions asked by real people gave the whole thing a populist feel that the insular environment of conventional debates just doesn't have. Some of the more gimmicky questions, such as the tax singer, seemed designed more to try and get their creators on television than to elicit information from the candidates, but combined with Anderson Cooper's obvious and laudable efforts to stay in the realm of Actual Journalism, I give the format a B+.

Overall imperssions:

Mike Gravel: Who is he working for, anyway? I don't adhere to the "Never speak ill of a Democrat" rule, but his "All of these people are terrible and scary" rant is getting just a bit old already. He's absolutely right about following the money, and I like that he's there to hold the viable candidates' feet to the fire, but I can't shake the nagging feeling that he's being paid by the Republicans.

Chris Dodd and Joe Biden: Symbols of how Washington turns perfectly good and smart men into hacks. These are two of the smartest, most knowledgeable guys in the Senate -- and I can't see myself voting for either one of them. These are not times to be clapping the opposition on the back and going out for steaks and martinis and cigars. Tip O'Neill could pal around with Republicans, because in O'Neill's day, it wasn't all about crushing the opposition and stomping on its corpse. Those days are long gone, and both of these guys have Beltway written all over them. It's a shame, too, because in the absence of this sense of both of them being, as Stephen King would say, "glad-handing sacks of shit", either of them could be a fine president.

Dennis Kucinich: Sorry, folks, but he's not serious either. He's fun to listen to at these debates, but talking about the Kucinich zen utopia is a waste of time, even for someone like me, who's had it with the Democrats' "go along to get along" tactics. His relentless self-promotion at these debates makes him seem more like an infomercial pitchman than a candidate. Maybe he's necessary to keep the others honest, but this has to be his last go-round. If he does this again, he becomes Harold Stassen.

Bill Richardson: Awful. Just bloody awful. It's a shame, too, because Richardson is arguably the best candidate to handle the mess into which the Bush Administration has turned our relations with the rest of the world. Once again, he seems unprepared, and it comes across not as natural, but as disorganized. Combined with his rumpled appearance and distracting resemblance to actor Paul Sorvino, it's the kiss of death.

John Edwards: Confession: So far I'm leaning towards voting for Edwards. This isn't because of any moment similar to the one when I first saw Howard Dean on Press the Meat and said, "YES!! This is the guy!" It's because of the things he's talking about this time. And yet, I keep having this feeling that I'm being played, because this John Edwards isn't the same one we saw in 2004. And that's the problem. He did everything right in this debate. He was passionate, he spoke eloquently about poverty, he seemed, well, REAL. And that's the problem, is that we KNOW that he's GOOD at seeming, well, real. I have no doubt that he's a good guy. A man that good-looking who is still crazy about his wife even though she's no longer young gets major good-guy points. But I still have a nagging skepticism.

Barack Obama: With every debate, Obama looks more like he should be the president on a TV show. He's got poise, presence, and fabulous suits. But in every debate, there's a cautiousness about him that makes me think the Republicans and the Mean Grrlz in the media are going to eat him for lunch if he's the nominee. Whether it's from having been teamed up with Holy Joe Lieberman as his mentor in his early months in the Senate or from a true belief that bipartisanship is possible with this bunch, he seems to be tilting at windmills with his talk of changing the way politics is done in Washington. It already has changed. It was changed by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove -- and there's no going back. Obama made his splash by showing passion and fire at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Since then it's been all caution. That kind of tentativeness is not what I'm looking for in a candidate.

Hillary Clinton: At last we get to the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. It's really a shame that Clinton has been such a warhawk, and it's even more of a shame that the prospect of Chris Matthews and Congressional Republicans who have their own closet skeletons sniffing around her underwear drawer for another 4-8 years is so ghastly. Because damn it if she didn't LOOK like a president last night, and it would be wonderful to be able to work for a woman candidate with enthusiasm. The bright orange jacket stood out against the sea of grey suits, her makeup was just enough, she spoke authoritatively but without the shrill stridency she tends to show when she's excited. She's still far too studied, and the Clinton Triangulation is still in full flower. I can't support her on policy, and I absolutely will not support her on the war, but if these early debates are a contest of First Impressions, I think she had the biggest balls in the room last night. Damn it all.


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