The Democrats held their first all-presidential candidate debate tonight in South Carolina. I wasn't there, but an MSNBC web camera was, and it beamed the debate into the comfort of Reason HQ in DC. My impressions:
– Joe Biden underperformed. He's been plotting this run for 20 years and when naming the Supreme Court justices he doesn't like he calls Clarence Thomas (before he corrected himself) "that other guy." To be fair, he had the best joke of the night. When Brian Williams asked whether voters could trust a possibly-racist motormouth to represent them on the world stage, Biden said "Yes." Then he just smiled as time expired.
– John Edwards underperformed, too. If you've seen him campaign (or read about it afterwards) this year, you've seen a righteously angry bulldog whaling the shit out of Hillary and Obama. The guy who showed up onstage was as lightweight as ever. He tried to rebut a comment about his wealth by telling a rambling story about his family going to a restaurant (when he was a boy) and leaving when they saw the prices on the menu. That stuff sounds hollow after 59 million people vote to make a guy vice president, doesn't it? You only get one chance to be Tiny Tim.
– HILLARY CLINTON IS, BY ALL APPEARENCES, UNABLE TO SPEAK IN ANYTHING BELOW A YELP.
– Barack Obama had the biggest gaffe of the night by not naming Israel as one of our biggest allies until being prompted. It's lucky for him—another sign, possibly, of his messiah status—that the Jewish vote won't matter until after Iowa and New Hampshire.
– Can Obama have had the biggest gaffe and still won? Probably. Having watched a lot of his recent speeches I was expected a lot of umming and awwing, but that was minimal. He flagged towards the end of the debate before Dennis Kucinich made a remark about him wanting military action on Iran. In the following confrontation, where Obama expressed a sort of generic Albrightian foreign policy, I saw a flash of Reagan—the same kind of ballsiness and economy of language, if obviously not the substance. Any Republican who things he's going to fade out or implode is, frankly, delusional.
– Check out the lefty blogs, especially MyDD. They think Mike Gravel—whose brain I think I heard rattling around his skull—won. These people are different from you and me.
– Bill Richardson largely lived up to his reputation as the Democrat who induces the faintest gag reflex in libertarians. When moderator Williams pointed out that Richardson had the best NRA rating of any Democratic candidate, Richardson said "The vast, vast majority of gun owners are law abiding" and explained how Westerners live with guns. After Edwards proposed tax increases to pay for health care, a Social Security fix, and (I think) Mars colonization, Richardson muttered "As Democrats, I hope that we don't just think of new taxes to pay for programs."