Friday, July 27, 2007

The You Tube Debate

This week featured the latest in an endless series of debates by an endless collection of Democratic candidates, although this was the first “official” one, as it was sanctioned by the party – like anyone cared. This was also special because the questions were asked by the public. Or at least that part of the public with the time, the wherewithal, and the interest in making a video for You Tube to pass CNN’s screening process and appear on a giant screen at the debate. CNN, in an orgasm of self-congratulations, proclaimed it revolutionary and historic. It was neither, although the videos were often amusing, sometimes poignant, and in one instance, just a little scary – the guy with the gun who referred to it as “my baby”, should be checked into immediately. They also made it easier to ask pointed questions which the candidates couldn’t duck completely, although Hillary did effectively dodge the “can’t we do better than Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton for 28 years?” question, even getting off a good joke of her own in response. I liked it, since the questioners seemed less self-conscious than the usually bunch of reporter types and more coherent than the nitwits who ask questions from the audience in town meeting style formats. It seemed to elicit good answers and a genuine spirit of liveliness that helped things move along. The only problem is that the most recent events couldn’t be dealt with, like the Gonzalez testimony and the Senate sleepover nonsense. Nothing is perfect, except John Edwards’ hair.
Speaking of Edwards hair, they also showed a series of You Tube ads put together by the campaigns. Some, like Chris Dodd’s, were wonderful, both funny and informative. Edwards used the musical background of Hair to show a series of quick issues and his positions, a wonderful contrast of the substance of his campaign with the news media’s ridiculous fascination with nonsense. Dennis Kucinich had the worst ad, in which he told people they could end the war by sending a text message to Congress – seriously. What planet does he live on?
All in all, most of the candidates have gotten better at the process, somewhat ameliorating Hillary’s big debate advantage. Edwards, in particular, seemed a much more commanding presence on stage, which is something he needed badly. Still, the crowd of candidates makes real dialogue next to impossible. Every time Joe Biden proclaims that he is the only candidate who really understands Iraq and that he is the only candidate with an actual plan to get us out of there, I just want to scream. Why can’t Edwards just follow that up by saying that having a plan (three states) with virtually no support within Iraq is fairly useless and then ask Biden what he would do if this plan he wishes to impose from outside is rejected by the Iraqis? Just once I’d like to see Mr. Expert-on-everything have to answer a tough question. I know the media has no interest in cutting him off, since they see no point in it, irrelevant as he is, but it would be illuminative. Without the threat of our leaving at a specific point, nothing will get done there. Kudos to Chris Dodd for coming around to the “we have to set a date certain” position. Of course, Edwards wants us to get out in six months, Kucinich in six days, and Gravel wants us to get out in 1966 – but I’m tired of the “realistic” positions on this issue and we need to see this brought out.
The big realism moment actually seems to have had a life beyond the debate itself. That was when the candidates were asked if they would meet personally with the leaders of N. Korea, Iran, etc., unlike Bush. Obama said he would, but Hillary said she would be willing to, but only after the groundwork had been laid and we knew what would be discussed, that doing otherwise would be giving them a public relations boon and gaining us nothing. I think she was right, but apparently much of the public disagreed. Obama has seized on the focus group reaction to attack the Clinton position, actually comparing her to Bush and Cheney on this. While I’m all in favor of confronting Hillary, this seems like a weird issue to choose. It may signal a change in the nature of the campaign and bears watching on that level.
Other highlights and lowlights: when Obama was asked whether he was black enough, he actually was quick enough to give the same answer I would have (which always impresses me, of course), to the effect that he still would have trouble catching a cab in Manhattan. He also was very good when someone asked if the candidates would be willing to work for minimum wage if elected. Obama said “we can work for minimum wage, we have money – not Mitt Romney money, but enough.” Obama also had the best bumper sticker line – “The world is not the world as it has to be.”
The candidates were asked to tell one thing they liked and one thing they disliked about the candidate to their left. None would say something they didn’t like (except for Edwards having a problem with Hillary’s jacket), but Joe Biden really liked Dennis Kucinich’s wife. When Kucinich pointed out he had no one to his left, Anderson Cooper commented that “we couldn’t find anyone to your left.”
The lowpoints involved Kucinich’s call for reparations for slavery – seriously, he said that. There was a question asked about whether there was a Republican they could run with as their VP. Joe Biden jumped right in and said Chuck Hagel. Edwards sort of said Hagel was okay, then went on to talk about other stuff. Not one person pointed out the ridiculous nature of Biden’s answer. Hagel, is anti-abortion, anti gay right, in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy – in fact, except for Iraq, he is a perfect conservative. The correct answer is that if you can show me a Republican who is pro-choice. pro gay rights, pro stem cell research, against the war in Iraq, in favor of a fair tax system, and pro worker’s rights, I might consider him or her – but that’s what makes them Republicans and us Democrats and the people need to remember that on election day.

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