Friday, February 01, 2008

The (Non) Great Debate

I may be in the minority here, but I found last night's Democrat debate very difficult to watch. Part of that is because it was a very dense policy debate that was more or less a repitition of previously discussed issues. But another part lies squarely at the feet of Hillary Clinton. There were a number of times in which HRC just rambled on and on, clearly dodging questions. I lost her on several of those rambles (especially when she talked about launching a PR campaign for health care reform - at least I think that's what she was suggesting) and I thought she suffered from a classic debate syndrome - trying to fill space when a short, succint answer would serve better. On the other hand, Obama was relatively short and sweet a number of times and I liked that. Especially when asked stupid questions (like the, Romney says he'll be the CEO of the US but you don't have business experience so how can you be an effective CEO? - that was pure idiocy and Obama and HRC were both great at slapping the question back at Wolf).

In fact, I though Hillary was much, much sharper on the policy issues in South Carolina. I would not rate last night as one of her finer debates. HRC is at her best when she has tightly worded policy points and doesn't go off script. That's what happened in SC. Last night, she just went off the plot more often than not to the point that I was confused and annoyed in that she wasn't making much sense and she wasn't answering the questions (see answer to the political dynasty question, for ex).

Not only that, I think that Obama pretty much controlled or pushed the agenda (at least in the 2nd half). He pushed the McCain card and the Iraq card which I think are devestating to Hillary (she can't really position herself as the anti-war alternative in the general since she voted for the war, Obama can, and that's a key selling point. With Hillary, the distinction between the two candidates is muddy). Hillary was reactive to those points, going so far as to suggest that her vote in '02 made sense at the time, but that Bush screwed it up. Obama beat her back on that point as well with his, "everyone knew the day after the vote we were going to war." I know I felt that way after the vote and I found HRC's response to that question to be, politely, awful. (I'm not the only one.)

I also thought that Hillary rambled on in terms of Immigration. She didn't have a particularly coherent answer and while Obama didn't get down into the policy options, he sold his commitment to the issue and his commitment to not scapegoating which I know will sell well in California. By contrast, Hillary laundry listed things that she was in favor of, things like fines for illegals, waiting lists, etc. and I thought that to be a mistake. You don't court the immigrant/latino vote by suggesting you're going to levy fines against illegals who want to stay, even if that is what you are going to end up doing in reality (sometimes in politics it's better to talk in a general way and this is one of those issue). I thought Obama routed her on immigration.

That being said, I don't pretend to pass on these points as anything other than my own. Going back to 2001 my opinions and predictions for American politics haven't exactly been spot on. I also admit to being in the Obama corner and that undoubtedly influences my views on these issues. There's no telling how this debate will effect the elections on Tuesday but I thought that Obama, in general, won the debate because 1) he proved that he could be a policy wonk and 2) he hammered away his message that he was the best suited candidate to tackle John McCain. Hillary, by contrast, merely reiterated her policy wonkery, less effectively than before, while essentially had no answer to the electability question and Iraq.

On a final note, some people have suggested that Obama could join Hillary's ticket. I will politely suggest that there's no F-ing way that's going to happen. Obama's entire campaign speil has been based on a different, above the fray politics. He CAN'T join up with Hillary without proving that speil a total lie and fabrication. She stands for the type of politics he is against, so, all wishful thinking aside, it's EITHER/OR not Either/and.

(As a real final note, compared to the GOP "debate" the other day, this debate was infinitely more interesting. The GOP debate took place in the most bizarre of surrounding and failed to generate enthusiasm even with the GOP audience. The Dem debate was in a packed house in LA that, even with a number of Hollywood stars, still managed to rock and sway like a rock concert. This bodes well. GOP - Party of old, white, rich men. Dems - Party of diversity, youth, enthusiasm, and participatory democracy.)



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