Final Analysis For Second Democratic Debate

Heya! I know you all have been waiting not so patiently to catch my final analysis of the debates held last night, but you know what they say, perfection takes time.

Before I get to the nitty gritty, I wanted to mention tomorrow night’s Republican debate. As of right now, I’m not exactly sure to what capacity we will be able to cover that debate in liveblogging form. For me personally, Tuesdays are a busy day for me, and I would be a fool to commit anytime before it actually began, and I haven’t been able to touch base on this with my colleagues here at Comments. The most I can tell you is keep your eyes peeled and if we can give our unique brand of debate coverage, we most certainly will.

On to the topic at hand. You can catch my pre debate tea leaves reading right here, and you can go back and read the blow by blow commentary here. I want to thank Mike and Mac who both joined me for the event, and helped make it a pleasure, and now is a good time to encourage everyone to participate. I noticed we kept getting visited by a couple of folks throughout, but no one left any comments. I say the more the merrier. I also wanted to thank Mrs. M who wrangled the little M’s last night; usually Sunday evening is Daddy M’s time to give the girls their baths and put them to bed.

Originally I was going to write this up as winners versus losers like so many other analysts out there, but even if you still believe there is such a thing as a winner and a loser in a debate of this ilk, the politics behind them can be so complex that to try and break everything down to a W and L column really would be inadequate to understand just what all went on. So instead I’m going to break things down for the most part candidate by candidate, where they won, and where they lost.

Hillary Clinton: Just browsing around, Hillary has definitely won the most ink spilled on saying she won the debate award. Truth be told, I personally think she did phenominally. Now keep in mind, I have been firm in the “Hillary is not electable” camp for some time now, but if that were to ever change, last night was the beginning. She was simply unflappable, sounding presidential on EVERY question that was tossed her way. Considering how heated the debate got, especially during the first hour, it was impressive to see how the Senator and former First Lady was able to keep a cool head, firm and strong when necessary without crossing over into hysterics. Also, and I’m not sure how much will be written about this part, but look for it to become prominent in the ongoing analysis of this event, Hillary also managed to not attack her fellow candidates on stage hardly if at all. Instead she did a marvelous job always bringing the onus of the nation’s woes back on Bush and the GOP. This not only put her above the fray, so to speak, but also created the image that she was the leader of the pack, that she spoke for everyone in attendance, and was in and of itself a very clever gambit to establish the fact and remind everyone that she is the frontrunner, she is the leader.

Throughout the debate, Hillary was virtually gaffe free except for possibly two things. One being that she did state that she felt that we are safer now, which initially kind of struck me as a little off note, and may play poorly to the base in days to come, possibly seeing as a kind of affirmation of Bush’s policies. The other possible debate I have yet to see anyone spill any ink on and that being the role her husband would play in her presidency.

Watching Hillary on the stump, she is definitely trying very hard to deal with the questions that may arise from her marriage and things in the past, and it looks like she is trying to largely ignore it, occasionally fend it off with vague and affable humor, and I get the idea that this is largely what she is doing here as well. When asked what Bill would do in her presidency, she with a smile said she would send him away as a roving ambassador, the titters in the audience kind of an affirmation to the not so private joke she was making. I admit that it is a difficult 500 pound gorilla in the room to deal with, and this may be the best way, but it’s really hard to say how this is going to play out, especially in a general election, until it comes.

Joe Biden: Oh man. As Mike and I continued to watch Joe, and keep in mind, he only had about half of the speaking time as the top three candidates, I think it is safe to say that we were both floored. Biden was on FIRE! He spoke with courage and conviction, he was dropping stat bombs like they were nothing, and he put forth an image of a man who believed in what he was doing, as well as putting forth an image that he knew what was going on. He railed about Darfur, putting forth a powerful and well detailed plan on how to stop the genocide occuring there, and he was concise and I believe largely correct on Iraq. In my personal favorite moment of his, when attacked by Gravel/Kucinich on the vote for the Iraq War Appropriations, he stood up and explained the political math behind the vote, the reason why it was the right vote, and did it well, even going into a pet project of his in funding the outfitting of military vehicles with the v-shaped hull which is supposed to make them more resistent to IED attack. He made it clear that he was not voting to continue the war, but instead to keep the troops there safe, and even went so far as to say that congressional Dems were “breakin [their] necks” to get this whole Iraq deal under control. Overall just a powerful performance, and I would say puts him about on par if not even a little better than Hillary’s showing. This all culminated in probably his best line of the night, “Some things are worth losing elections over!” That’s the kind of chutzpah that grabs voters.

But there are drawbacks to Biden’s showing last night. One is that he did get up in arms, he did raise his voice, and as some pundits say, people don’t like angry candidates. So it is tough to know how voters will respond to Joe’s answers; a toss up between pissed off or convicted.

Unfortunately, this is not the only problem Joltin’ Joe has coming out of this debate. He showed pretty strongly after the first debate as well, and yet he is still in the doldrums poll wise, and his fundraising is pretty bleak too. What this means is that if he is performing this well in the debates his campaign is failing him. They are, first, not spinning the debates his way properly given that the media is just handing them good press, and there has to be some organizational problems if you can’t take a good starting debate and turn it into increased polls. Ultimately, he had a helluva performance last night, and if we don’t see a bump of at least a couple points in the polls as a result, Joe needs to “reorganize” his campaign staff or he’s done.

Barak Obama: Before I had opted to do away with “winners” and “losers” I had really spent a lot of time trying to figure out which column I wanted to put him in. Now, understand that I am an Obama supporter, and yet at the end of the debate I initially wanted to put him as a loser. If you look at my predebate write up, you’ll find that I thought he needed to not just streamline his answers, but learn to cram that charisma of his into the sixty/thirty format. Well, he did streamline his answers, but as Mike accurately pointed out, he still sounded very rough, lots of uh’s and um’s in there, and, basically, he sounded more deliberate and senatorial than he did presidential.

But the problem with initially casting him off as a loser is that the actual event of the debates is only part of the equation. What is even more important, really, is the post debate spin and coverage, and here is where Obama pulls what was really a lackluster performance into a win.

The big deal is that Obama had count em three of the best lines of the night, one of which will be reported as the best overall.

1)The question was directed to Dennis Kucinich, and it was if you had a twenty minute window, would you take out Osama bin Laden even if there would be civillian casualties. Kucinich obviously said no, saying that we shouldn’t assassinate foreign leaders. Imagine this as a softball pitched straight to Obama’s sweetspot, and he swings for the fences. Obama came right back and said, “Osama bin Laden declared war on us, and as a combatant, yes you take him out.” It was a quick, well delivered, and gave Barak a much needed boost in the national defense arena following his rather lackluster response in the first debate.

2)A roll call question for hands only asked if English should be made the official language of the USA. Gravel was the only candidate on stage to raise his hand, and after explaining himself, Obama stepped in, and gave another crowd pleaser attacking the question, saying, “This is the kind of question meant to divide us.” Again, a big pop, and it reinforced Obama’s political philosophy and image as a uniter.

3)And this is the grand slam. Edwards going on the attack about the recent Iraq War Appropriations bill, curbed by the fact that Obama and Clinton both voted against it, went after them because they were too quiet about their votes, and weren’t leaders. Then Obama called Edwards out on the carpet and gave him a good ol’ fashion butt whoopin’. “John you are about four and a half years late on leadership on this issue.” This is the quote that will be in nearly every review of the debate you will read.

And all of this brings up an interesting disparity between what is written and what actually happened. Now, given I am a Barak supporter not in full spin mode yet, maybe I’m being a little more hard on the guy than others, but the fact was, he wasn’t stellar for the second time in a row. But if you didn’t watch the debate, and you read a good smattering of the articles written about it, the story you are going to get is that he improved much over his first performance (which he did, just not enough in my opinion) and that he had a great oneliner. If you are reading this and not watching this, you are most likely going to come away with the impression that he did better than he really did.

In truth, I think it is sinking in that debates are not his thing, and Mike had it right during the liveblogging, he might do better to avoid debates as much as he can. This may be true, but as it stands, he survived another debate, and even more interesting, most of the little online polls have him winning the debates over Hillary. Again, I know these things are very unscientific, but I like to look at them as a quick layman’s pulse taken, and somehow he manages to win out every time.

John Edwards: Johnny boy definitely came out of this debate worse for wear, and here’s why. People remembering him as the smiling, genial candidate of 04 might be wondering what happened to that candidate. He seems to be replaced by a more aggressive, meaner attack dog version, and this was very evident in the debates last night. Mike brought this up, asking if he looked pissed last night, and he did. But that’s only part of where he lost last night. The big problem and people know that I was not happy when he went on the aggressive particularly about the Iraq War funding vote, is that he went on the offensive early, but up until the debates, he got to enjoy attacking in a not face to face mode. As I predicted, he brought that game to the debate, but unfortunately for him, when confronted with the top two and Biden, he was severely out numbered, and was taken to task. Obama delivered the body blow, Biden came out with the more general defense, and Hillary’s even non acknowledgement was a backhand to the former Senator.

So John did a little damage to himself, taking a gamble on early attacks and finding them coming up short, but he didn’t do anything to critically injure his campaign. He still came off as smooth for much of the night, and well versed in the issues. So he’s going to suffer a dip from this debate, but nothing he can’t bounce back from with a little damage control.

(whew, four down, four to go)

Bill Richardson: Bill put up possibly the most disappointing performance in the debate, and this I think because he was starting to set the bar a little high for himself. This was due to a combination of some very innovative and effective ads he put up in early voting states, and word from his campaign that his poor performance in the first debate was a result of largely technical issues that prevented the New Mexico governor from hearing the questions properly.

As a result I think I’m not the only one that expected to see a better showing from the governor than what we got. Mind you, the man has experience and resume, but what killed him was style. Granted it was still an improvement over the first debate, but every single question his way followed a three part formula:

1) I was the governor of New Mexico (Thanks Bill, we got that the first dozen times you mentioned that).

2) This was what I did as GOVERNOR OF NEW MEXICO (in case you missed it).

3) Finally this is what I’m going to do.

I think Richardson definitely has an impressive resume, and he has some interesting ideas in some places while I think he’s weak in others. But this formula to his answers has several problems. The first is that it is too… young… green… what have you. It’s like he’s out there on the debate floor with training wheels on. Secondly, I understand that he wants to make sure that people know he’s the only executive out there, but relying so heavily on one’s resume almost points to a lack of confidence in self. What you have done in the past shouldn’t be a part of everything you are saying, and sometimes you just have to stand on yourself as a person and not your record. In this respect, the “I am an executive” deal repeated ad nauseum becomes a crutch, and can be a sign of weakness.

In the end, what could have been used as a springboard to get Bill up in the higher single digits became just another step in the quicksand of his campaign.

Chris Dodd: Dodd’s campaign put out on their website a complaint about the time each candidate got, pointing out that CNN was unfairly favoring the top tier candidates. To a degree this is true, especially considering that the format (which I’ll discuss later) was not as rigid as the earlier debates hosted by MSNBC and Foxnews. But here’s the problem with this complaint. Part of these debates is an opportunity for the lower tiered candidates to reach out and grab the spotlight. Joe B. got little more time than did Dodd, and yet he definitely made waves with the time he had. In fact, an argument could be made that Biden made better use of his time than Hillary or Barak. Dodd didn’t do this, and basically allowed himself to get manhandled by the format, essentially. He’s strong on the issues, but he really didn’t show the will to get in there and really mix it up, and this is kind of sad as I’ve read several pundits say that he probably knows the issues better than the rest of the candidates combined.

But look, there have been 43 presidents of the United States in human history. This is a VERY exclusive club, and this is what we mean by “presidential.” It’s something other than just having a firm grasp on the issues and being in command and control. There is an “it” quality that you have to have to make you a part of that unique and elite group, and Dodd doesn’t have it. He and Biden were largely in the same boat, both senators with a decent chunk of experience in a strong Democratic field and low polling numbers, but if he had “it” he would have fought for that spotlight, and claimed it for his. Biden proved he had it, by demanding it. Obama seems to have “it” thrusted upon him no matter how bad he screws up, and Hillary owned “it” in her performance, acting almost as though she was the only one that belonged on that stage and everyone else was there merely by her good graces. This isn’t a disparragement on the man himself, I’m not demeaning him and I’m sure he’s a great senator, but he’s not the president, nor will he ever be.

Dennis Kucinich: Last night also marked the beginning of the sinking of the good ship USS Kucinich. Now, I gave Dennis overall positive marks for his performance in the first debate, but the second debate showed a much more combative and less gregarious left wing alternative to the front runners. To this regard, Kucinich pretty much just showed that he will also be ranked among those who will not be nominated for the Presidency. I know there are people who don’t want to hear this either, but he is also someone I would like to not see no longer in the debates. I’m not trying to shut him up, but here’s the deal, these debates are the biggest political events of the primary season, and right now we are only getting about 8 or so minutes per candidate per debate. I agree with a lot of what Dennis has to say, and I disagree with a lot of it, but the fact is, he’s not picking up the nom, he too will never be president, and he needs to make way for those that may be.

Before I get whacked on the head by Dennis supporters and such, I don’t want to shut him up. I think he’s got some points to make, and he should make them, but not would his continued presence in the Democratic debates be a detriment to the debates, but they would be also to his message because anything further and he’s going to be relegated to comic relief along with Senator Gravel… see below.

Mike Gravel: Mike Gravel was already relegated to comic relief in the first debate, and now he has just fallen to plain old sad. He begins the debate introducing himself as someone who is running for president “for real”. And it doesn’t get better after that… no… only worse. Gone were the few ingratiating quips from the first debate leaving only what looked to be a very grumpy angry man who had only one thing to talk about, and talk about it he did. There’s such a thing as being a one trick pony, then there is such a thing as beating a dead horse, then there’s such a thing as beating a dead horse until you have made glue, and at this point, Gravel could be a very very grumpy glue manufacturer.

While I sort of apologized for asking Dennis to give up the ghost, I’m not going to apologize for asking Mr. Gravel to do the same. He’s not adding anything to the debate, he’s just getting up there and screaming and pointing fingers, and really, he needs to go.

Everything else: CNN gets a mixed vote on the format and conduct of the debate. They should be applauded because the first hour especially was probably the best debate we’ve seen of this primary cycle. There was no set time limits, candidates were allowed to address each other freely, and often did, and I think we got to see a lot more than we would in any other type of debate. On the negative, I think Wolf wasn’t the best of moderators, interjecting himself a little where it wasn’t necessary, and softballing the questions, or, handing candidates the questions that they would be best at fielding; Edwards gets healthcare, Biden gets Darfur, that kind of thing.

On the plus again, big thanks to CNN for flashing up Comments at least on the pipeline pregame show. I was pretty excited about that. I don’t have cable, so I have no idea if Comments got flashed there too, but for those who were watching on pipeline like myself, in the half hour leading up to the debates, when they started talking about blogs, particularly those that would be liveblogging, Comments was the first blog shown, so thanks!

And of course, the real winners, and this is cheesy, but really, the real winners were the voters, especially the Dems. It really amazes me the field that we have. Republicans right now are clamoring over Fred Thompson because right now they are dealing with a bunch of “lesser of evils” in their current field. We on the other hand have just got this really great field that mixes everything from experience to vitality, and you know that’s just great. My favorite part of the debate aside from the one liners, was when Wolf asked a roll call question following up Biden on Darfur, asking if the rest of the field if they would favor military action there as well. There wasn’t any sheeping, there wasn’t hands up or hands down, it was what you would expect from a group of people who take the decisions that mold the world seriously. They wanted clarification, they wanted to discuss, they wanted to make sure that something so important to the future of the world and America’s role in it wasn’t pushed down to a simple hand raising exibition.

This is how world leaders are supposed to act.

Clinton/Obama 08?: One last hit before I take my leave. I have no factual or tip off info to back this up at all, but notice how much Clinton and Obama DON’T go after each other? With the two candidates the most likely to take the nomination by a wide margin, it would almost seem as though they would be in their own little battle amid the field, but we have seen the opposite. Aside from a couple minor quibbles, and I mean minor, they almost kind of just glance by each other, which I just find odd.

And I got this gut feeling last night that when Edwards went on the attack, it was Obama who put him down, and Hillary cleaned up. It was almost tag-team-esque. Obama smacks down the threat, and Hillary ties it up, and puts it in a big picture scope ( Obama”four and a half years late, John”. Hillary “Bush’s war”).

Which makes me wonder if the two of them aren’t already reading the tea leaves. I don’t think Hillary is ignorant to the fact that so many people see her as unelectable and that Obama is more successful in the general elections. Likewise, I think Obama might be seeing how big a deficit he has under Hillary, and realize that his campaign staff are not going to be able to overrun the Clinton machine.

So, here’s just my quirky little tinfoil hat observation and conspiracy theory. You think Hillary and Obama already have maybe a little Survivor-esque alliance going on? Something to the order of, let the best candidate win, but we’ll be hands off of each other so we can be running mates later on down the road?

Gotta admit, Hillary’s experience would make up for Obama’s junior status, and Obama could turn some of those votes going against Hillary if he were to join the ticket.

I’m just saying.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch yall later.

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