Monday, June 04, 2007

Scoring the NH Debate

Most of the punditocracy tends to focus on analyzing debates using the “big score/big gaffe” method – did someone have a great moment or say something that he’ll have to explain for the next week. Then they add in points for style and composure and declare a winner. In reality, style is damn near everything. In the famous Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960, those who listened on radio thought Nixon won, those who watched on TV thought Kennedy did. JFK’s look, especially when contrasted to the sallow and sweaty Nixon, won the day, combined with an authoritativeness which made him seem Presidential. So for this debate, my grades are based on “is this a President?”, with a nod to issues as well.
Candidates listed in general order of polling, with my perceived theme for their campaigns in parentheses.

Hillary Clinton – A – (Ready From Day One) – Looked strong and Presidential, in command of the stage. Shot down Wolf whenever he tried to ask a “theoretical” question, lecturing him on what goes into being a President (she knows, she was there.) No one is hurt by attacking the media to its face. Was able to reinforce her “we’re all basically the same on the war” theme, emphasizing the differences with the Republicans. She was helped on that by the peanut gallery. Wants to eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax – this is her “I’m not a doctrinaire liberal” issue. Led the charge in the curious battle for the gay and lesbian vote – if they’re all going after that, why not just ignore the religious right altogether?

Barack Obama – A - (New Leadership From a New Generation) – In command, countered Edwards’ attacks effectively, although his health care excuse was sort of lame, he sounded good giving it. Also told off Wolf, which can’t hurt. He sounded like a President, and nothing is more important in establishing himself as a credible alternative to Hillary. By the way, all the candidates referred to each other by their last names except for Hillary, who was never called Senator Clinton. Was this a bit of condescension, or just an attempt to not use the sainted (to their audience) name Clinton?

John Edwards – B- -- (?) – He’s a trial lawyer, he’s run this course before, you’d think he’d be better at this. He looked like no one prepped him – attacked Hillary and Obama to their face on not leading the fight against funding, just showing up late to vote. He talked a lot about leadership and honesty, but you need to talk to the audience, the TV audience, to get those elements across. Just accusing someone doesn’t work, you need to emphasize that “I” am not afraid to lead, that “I” have the honesty to admit mistakes when I make them. Who is running this campaign anyway? He was strong on the issues, honestly talking about health care, but if Hillary was helped by the fringe guys, he was hurt. And who the hell told him that endorsing the possibility of an Olympic boycott was not the stupidest idea ever?

Bill Richardson – C – (Been Everywhere, Done Everything) – Okay, he sounded better than last time. But every time he talked about being a Governor and all the things he’s done for New Mexico, I wanted to scream. It’s not that he shouldn’t be talking about it, it just starts to grate on you. Then he launched into his “pro-business Democrat” spiel, which included a Balanced Budget Amendment, Line Item Veto, and eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax. On Darfur, he wants to send in NATO troops and force the Chinese into helping, boycotting the Beijing Olympics if necessary. Please go away, far far away.

Joe Biden – A —(The Smartest Guy In The Room) – Opened with a strong defense of his Yes vote on Iraq funding. Strong, decisive, sounds like he knows whereof he speaks, sounds like a President. A debate format, with a clock which limits his bloviation, is perfect for him. Also tried the “we all want to end the war” tack, which may hold water with a lot of people. Now if I only believed for a second that he would end it, he would have a better shot.

Chris Dodd – B – (The Smartest Guy In The Room Who Is Clearly Against the War) – Seemed comfortable, knew what he was talking about, emphasized his experience. Also brought up the erosion of our constitutional liberties and said the first thing he would do is restore our rights – well said. Not as intimidating as Biden, but while I think Dodd might be more pleasant to discuss the issues with, Biden’s strength served him better in this format.

Dennis Kucinich – D - (My World Would Be a Better One) – Is in favor of ending the war today, single payer health care, and world peace – and who wouldn’t want those things (health insurers excepted)? He also is in favor of pulling out of the WTO and NAFTA, going for bilateral trade agreements instead. Incredibly, if you eliminate his “kumbaya” moments regarding the world, most Democrats would probably support him on those issues. His doctrinaire position on the war, reminding everyone that compared to him the others have all voted wrong or failed to be aggressive enough concerning the war and ending it, helps Hillary immensely, as does his health care position, which lumped everyone else into a “preserving the insurance companies profits” model. Both of those truly ignore the differences between the other candidates, demeans the specificity of both Edwards and Obama, and gives Hillary the free pass she needs on the issues.

Mike Gravel – F – (Who Am I, What Am I Doing Here?) – There must be a way to have a debate without this senile old fart. You can be sure Hillary would like to keep him around as long as possible, since he uses up time and also attacks everyone equally on the war and everything else, whitewashing the differences between them on key issues and programs.

Of course, many on TV liked Edwards performance more than I did, mostly because they like anyone who starts trouble. You’ll notice that I have no theme for Edwards. I consider that a big problem for him and he has to get one. If you go to his web site, you’ll see some things like “Tomorrow Begins Today” and “Honesty”, but nothing which gives people something to rally around. I’ll talk more about this later.


Blogger sam.gurka5 said...

Boy, you saw pretty much the same debate as I did with some minor differences.

It must drive Biden and Dodd nuts to see 3 junior senators, all of whom have far less experience (with the exception of one having slept with a President - at least one would assume) commanding the center of the stage and the best of the poll numbers.

Hillary certainly does seem to be positioning herself above the fray. There is a real possibility that she may be the smartest and savviest of the bunch and impossible to catch, much to my regret as I don't think she would make the best candidate.

I was less impressed with Obama. He has an almost Hamletian quality, unwilling to say something with conviction.

I agree about Richardson. Boycott the Olympics? Is he serious? This is where his year's of experience in the diplomatic circles leads him? Is it me or were he and Hillary throwing enough bouquets at each other to suggest a future ticket?

Biden was the best. If not for his bankruptcy vote, I suspect you would be more supportive as well. He is clearly the most presidential. Dodd would have been best in show if not for Biden.

Kucinich is a kind of old time religion liberal. His nonsense about Nafta and WTO (that's my word, I understand) may have some appeal to the lower middle class employees, or former employees, in smoke stack industries but, I would suggest, they are more likely to be Reagan democrats than social or economic liberals. When I go to my local Target (which I have been to 5 or 6 times), I'm reminded of the signs in english and spanish and am surrounded by middle and lower middle class shoppers who seem to be thriving with the opportunity to buy cheaper goods made in Mexico, China and Vietnam.

11:50 AM  

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