AFL-CIO Democratic Forum Final Analysis: An Evening Of Moments

Last night Democratic presidential candidates duked it out in Soldier’s Field, home of the Chicago Bears in the AFL-CIO Democratic Forum. As always we here at Comments liveblogged the event, and we had the complete pleasure of being joined by Tracey-Kay Caldwell, columnist for both Bella Online, and Iraqslogger who offered some fascinating bits and nuggets of information and insight.

They say what really makes the difference in debates are the moments, the gaffes and the inspiring one liners, the sighs and grimaces, and last night was no exception. Moderated by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann who did a great job adding levity where it needed to be, and kept the forum moving along, the real star of the show event last night appeared to be the Union laden crowd who made it clear that they would not hesitate to let you know when you were doing well, and when you screwed up.

On the other hand, we were also subjected to what I think the primary flaw is with forums that are focused towards one specific group and that’s pandering. Much of last night was spent in a hard fought battle of one upsmanship over who was more pro union, who was more working class, who walked more picket lines and when, and it is, really this kind of politics I think that people get cynical about. If you are a union worker, then yeah, this stuff is great to hear, but if you are outside that sphere, and you watch a bunch of candidates brag over how many picket lines they have walked, it looks an awful lot like the Republicans and their mandatory five minutes of “I’m more conservative than you” skit in every debate.

So I have certain ideological divides here, but that’s not what this is about, this is about who made the cut last night and who didn’t, let’s take a look.

Didn’t Make The Cut:

Joe Biden: As I mentioned earlier, debates and forums are about moments, and if it weren’t for a single moment, Joltin’ Joe would probably be deep in winner’s field. But the thing is, the rest of his debate performance will not survive the echo chambers, particularly the Right Wing echo chambers, nearly as well as what will undoubtedly be referred to as something like the “Ignore the Widow” moment. The moment came in the second segment, the widow of one of the miners who had died last year had wanted to know what the candidates intended to do to counteract the rollbacks on safety regulations and make the work place a safer place. After a perfunctory expression of condolences, Biden ignored the question and attempted to leap back into the fray on an earlier foreign policy question.

He wasn’t even half way through before the audience started to show their displeasure.

If it’s not in the political rule book yet, this moment alone should force the following to be etched into the rule book permaently in blood: Do not ignore the question of a widow. That is just dumb.

Richardson/Dodd: Here’s the problem with both these guys; they’re smart, and I’m sure they are brilliant local and state politicians, but they just don’t have it. Again last night neither managed to make anything of a splash, and with Dodd, the single biggest moment of the night for him ended in disaster as I will point out later.

Dennis Kucinich: Dennis knows how to throw red meat out to a Democratic crowd, there’s no doubt there, and to be completely honest he did perform relatively well last night. But there’s a difference between red meat and actual substative policy stances that have 1) the possibility of passage and 2) validity when applied to the real world. The truth is, Dennis is too buried in his own ideology, and in a way I almost liken him to a kind of Liberal George Bush. Policy stances like an immediate and total pullout of Iraq, for instance, sounds GREAT as a bit of red meat, but as a policy stance requires an extreme oversimplification of the situation in Iraq, of our place in Iraq, of military logistics and mobility, etc.

Style wise, I just have a hard time trusting Dennis, and last night specifically, I kept getting the weird and creepy feeling that he was trying to sell me a used car. That is not, just to be clear, the kind of persona you want to be putting out there when trying to run for president. And towards the end it was getting ridiculous, I thought the guy was going to break out in song and dance.

Who Made The Cut:

Clinton: Hillary’s overall performance was solid and polished as is expected from the former first lady, but she put herself in severe danger during a joint attack launched at Senator Obama over the Pakistan issue, which, again, I will cover in more depth later on. What was most significant though was what I believe to be a gaffe that has the potential of being dissected ad nauseum over the next two days.

The actual quote was, “You can think big, but remember, you shouldn’t always say everything you think if you’re running for president, because they could have consequences.” This drew sharp boos from the animated audience, but worse, it does nothing to help Hillary’s image in the slightest.

During our running commentary, Tracey pointed out thatsome voters may respect what was essentially a call to prudence, which is true. But the fault here is that Hillary’s point is a self proving one, yeah you shouldn’t say what you’re thinking all the time, especially that. This is particularly true for the polarizing Hillary Clinton whose biggest obstacle in the road to the White House is a widely held sentiment of cynicism and skepticism towards the Presidential hopeful. People feel she’s too ambitious, too conniving, and to be fair I think at least some of the detractors are taking things a little too far, but a soundbite like this only fans that particular flame.

Whether this hurts her or not in the long run will have to rely mainly upon how far and wide that gaffe will go, but it was a definite mistake on the Senator’s part and one she can ill afford to make as we get closer to Super Tuesday.

Edwards: Senator John Edwards wins and loses last night. He gets ranked so high because he didn’t commit any major gaffes which really dropped the ranking of Clinton and Biden, but at the same time the important thing to note was that considering that his principle issue has become labor and the middle class and working poor, last night should have been a stunning and solid victory for him. No one on that stage should have come close to him, but this was far from the truth.

Even his claim to have walked 200 picket lines ended up falling short to Biden’s criticism of the fact. Biden, pointed out that these picket walks occured after Edwards had left the Senate and lost his bid for the Vice Presidency, pointing to the idea that it was just a tactic to make himself look good for the Presidential campaign.

Also, he managed to pull the cleft pallett story from the previous debate here, but totally out of context, and it seemed like he was plucking it out of thin air (or perhaps out of somewhere less pleasant to think about). Still, overall, he was solid on substance played well to the crowd, and had some good applause lines.

Obama: I remember back in the first debate, when Barack Obama was attacked by both Kucinich and Gravel, making the statement that while his debate performance was lackluster, he is brilliant at countering attacks. Senator Obama last night again proved this in magnificent form making one thing clear; attack him at your own peril.

Outside of this, he was again smooth and shown he’s in the groove at these debates, though he was not quite as polished as he was for the last one, occasionally stumbling over himself and in one instance answering fifteen seconds after he should have stopped (I don’t mean the time limits, I mean he had a perfect answer, andthen kept talking which diminished the effect).

But when Olbermann asked Senator Dodd to follow up on comments he made against the Illinois senator regarding his comments on Pakistan, that began a long three way exchange that saw Obama standing as the victor. You can read the entire exchange here(it carries on for three pages) but I want to leave for you his final words on the matter:

I did not say that we would immediately go in unilaterally. What I said was that we have to work with Musharraf, because the biggest threat to American security right now are in the northwest provinces of Pakistan and that we should continue to give him military aid contingent on him doing something about that.

But the fact of the matter is that when we don’t talk to the American people — we’re debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have a right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that — (cheers, applause) — are part of the debate that has to take place with respect to how we’re going to shift our foreign policy. This is a seminal question.

That, boys and girls, is what you call nailing the dismount. By the end of the exchange, Dodd looked to be the one naive, and Hillary had garnered the boos and ire of the audience.

All in all, I give a clear and decisive win to Obama, making it his second in a row, capping off a brilliant two weeks for his campaign in general.

As for the audience and forum itself. I love Keith Olbermann, and think he did the best he could last night, and despite the rigidity of the red light yellow light format, allowed for plenty of direct interraction. The questions from the audience were good and heartfelt and if you go back and read the liveblogging comments, as Mike points out, they are also highly indicative of the state of the union. As for the crowd itself, they were brilliant, making themselves a participant, and playing referee better than any moderator could.

Finally, one last note, the debate was an even bigger winner as a result of the marked absence of Senator Gravel. Thank God I wasn’t subjected to listening to his ramblings. But just in case you did miss the surly former senator from Alaska, here you go. Thanks, and see ya next time:

Michael Tedesco
My 2 cents. I am not trying to beat a dead horse but I just want to say once more that the questions from the audience were really the highlight of last night’s debate.

4 Responses to “AFL-CIO Democratic Forum Final Analysis: An Evening Of Moments”

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    Hi! I just found this forum and it looks really cool.

    Now, I gotta run off and read some posts. 🙂

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