As with most presidential candidate debates, the real loser was the audience. The winner was probably Al Sharpton, who didn't show up.
It was interesting (read: appalling, boring, etc) to see how the candidates, struggling to differentiate themselves from Bush and from each other, mostly offered up echoes of Bush rather than real alternatives (surprise, surprise in an age of broad consensus about governing).
One development that will bear watching is the evolution of front-runner Howard Dean into a standard-issue Dem circa 1979. His hook from the beginning was that he was an odd, "refreshing" duck–a supposed fiscal conservative who liked guns but wanted government health, etc.
Last night Dean, something of a free trader while governor of Vermont, threw a massive sop to the Dem union base by insisting, "We ought not to be in the business of having free and open borders with countries that don't have the same environmental, labor and human rights standards."
I won't be surprised if a Dem takes the White House in '04, but these folks may be even duller than the seven dwarves back in 1988.
The worst news is that last night's debate was the first of six to occur over the next several weeks. At the very least, they could add a Survivor element to it and vote one person off each round.