Democratic Debate VI: The Pugilism in Pennsylvania


One way or another I'll be blogging the Democratic debate tonight, which kicks off at 9 p.m. on MSNBC. I may not be able to put the posts up minute-by-minute, as I'm trying to shake the format up by heading to a Hillary Clinton-affiliated debate-watching party to see how Democrats react live! And in person! If the wireless conks out there, expect my update a bit after 10:30.

9:00: Funny story about that Hillary party: The law students who scheduled it booked a cafe smack in the middle of a Halloween block party in DC's gay district. The cafe was inaccessible. So: A different location.

9:02: Everyone was wrong, again. Obama, given a chance to whack Hillary, spools out mush about big change. He trips over his attack lines: Hillary's Iraq vote was "a war for diplomacy" (instead of "vote"), we have "rising health care" (instead of "rising health care costs"). Sweet Caesar, he can't even make a Rocky joke hit. In Philadelphia.

9:04: Hillary ducks the substance (such as it was) and pivots back to herself: Republicans are attacking her. They don't like her. "I have been standing against the Republicans, George Bush and Dick Cheney." Eighty-six more minutes of this.

9:06: John Edwards "The people of the United States deserve a president who will tell them the truth."

9:07: Hillary dodges again. "Anybody who's watched me for 35 years and my record of" etc, etc and etc. When someone attacks the issues, she pretends he ran over her dog.

9:08: A subtle move from Hillary to switch the subject to Social Security, which Obama has (as ever) obliquely started to talk about reforming. "Let's start taking the tax cuts away from the wealthy" before we "balance the budget on the backs of the elderly."

9:10: "Some may want a false choice [on Iran] between going to war and doing nothing. I prefer diplomacy." Unlike Obama, who was pilloried because he… wants diplomacy and was willing to meet with the new Axis of Evil.

9:12: Pity the anti-Hillary Democrats. The only one of them who's sure-footed discussing Iran (and how Hillary is gaming it) is the hopeless Chris Dodd. He points out that Hillary didn't learn from 2002's vote. I'm guessing she'll completely ignore this.

9:13: I correct myself: Biden sounds credible, too. He makes Hillary sound like a sock puppet for the administration. "All this talk of war, all this talk of declaring people terrorists" drove up the price of oil.

9:15: Obama jumps back onto the cliff with a good answer about "talking to our enemies." He blames some of the Iran frenzy on "the Republican debates."

9:17: Hillary wants diplomacy, too, but defines diplomacy less as meetings and more economic sanctions.

9:19: Edwards found his footing, too: the Kyl-Lieberman Iran resolution read like "it was written by the neocons. And: "Have you read this thing?" That sounds like a reference to Hillary's non-reading of the intelligence estimate. In cutaways, Hillary looks less worried and more "I'm leading you by 90 points, Breck Girl."

9:21: Richardson claims he's the only one who's negotiated with other countries and an off-camera Kucinich says "That's not true!" Alpha Centauri isn't a country, though, so point to Richardson.

9:23: Kucinich's anti-war rally speeches have started to sink in. "We need to challenge him on this war, we need to challenge it at its core."

9:24: I don't think you have to like Hillary to smirk as she bats away Russert's fantasyland Iran question.

9:25: Obama blunts the Iran nuke question by discoursing on the Barry Glassner-ish "politics of fear."

9:26: We're in Groundhog Day, people. Biden's never going to stop intimating that everyone else is a child who hasn't stared down Evil and lived to tell about it.

9:27: "Results matter! Experience matters!" It's a little sad how Dodd can't convince anyone he has more experience than a woman whose big commander-in-chief chit is "being on the Armed Services Committee."

9:31: Kucinich says nuclear power is "not sustainable." I think the nuclear lobby could kickstart the construction of 3 or 4 new plants by sending him around to argue this.

9:33: Clinton will bring in experienced hands to heal the post-Bush world, people like "Bill and Joe and Chris." Get it? Get it?

9:35: Obama makes it seem like the cornerstone of his Iraq plan is to "convene a meeting of the Muslim leaders." Hrm.

9:36: Edwards, who only weeks ago said he couldn't make promises about leaving Iraq, promises to pull out combat troops in a year.

9:37: Clinton doesn't know how you combat al Qaeda without fighting them, promises to have troops in Iraq to protect "our embassy"… basically talks right over the mud Edwards dumped on her podium.

First break: It's really not easy to shake the conventional wisdom. Hillary's taking slightly more heat and feeling none of it. Obama's attacks are falling flat. And so on.

9:43: How does Clinton blunt Giuliani's attacks? A big, cast-iron boilerplate.

9:45: And the old, bad Hillary arrives, utterly, unconvincingly dodging a question about opening the Clinton I archives. "The archive is moving about as rapidly as the archives move."

9:47: What the hell happened to Obama? He whacks this out of the park, tying Clinton's hidden records to Bush administration creepiness, earmarks, all that stuff. Republicans are attacking her because "that's a fight they're very comfortable having."

9:49: Supremely confident, Clinton doesn't even bother to attack Edwards and Obama directly. Changes the subject.

9:53: Shorter Bill Richardson: I want to be vice president.

[At this point I got kicked offline for a few minutes and lost one update.]

10:00: Tonight's soundbite. "A noun, a verb and 9/11."

10:01: More Biden: "I've been negotiating since you were still in Congress, man! I've been around too long, I'm forgetting all the wonderful things I've done." Somebody nudge him and point out that debate drinking games are not for people actually in the debate.

10:05: I'm confused: Why does Tim Russert insist on asking the Democrats about Social Security? They're all equally full of it and they're all basically committed to doing nothing. Hillary at least understands that saying the shortfall is a Republican frame is spanish fly for bloggers.

10:16: On the price of oil, it's the world's slowest lightning round! Dodd wants a windfall profits tax for oil companies, Biden wants people to take him seriously, Edwards wants to return to one of his mustiest applause line, Clinton wants a "serious move" toward energy conservation, Obama wants us to stop threatening people…

10:19: …as does Kucinich. Richardson wants an "Apollo program" for energy, which he's said before. There is no earthly way that was a 30 second answer.

10:23: I remember when I used to be able to laugh at Chris Dodd and rouse myself from my debate comas. No longer.

10:29: Nobody is going to defend Charlie Rangel's plan. No one. I talked to Republicans today who laughed at the way Rangel proposed it himself with no surrogates and no plan for rebutting Republicans beyond rasping and joking on CNBC.

10:30: This is spinal tap-level excruciating, so I'm reading other liveblogs. Marc Ambinder catches Edwards flopping like an electrocuted salmon about combat troops.

10:38: They're arguing about what the president should do about local education, and I'm praying for Ron Paul to burst through the wall behind the stage like the Kool-Aid man.

10:55: I had wondered whether Dodd was some kind of stalking horse for Hillary. Nope. He grabbed a clump of her hair and held her down while everyone else kicked the hell out of her for 1)endorsing Eliot Spitzer's plan for illegal alien driver's licenses and 2)not endorsing it.

10:57: Thank you, Tim Russert, for asking Dennis Kucinich about UFO sightings.

10:58: Wait, what? We'll shut down… all Chinese imports?

11:00: Jesus, how is anyone supposed to take this seriously? Obama completely whiffed the last question, but it was a question about what he'd wear for Halloween. He missed the opportunity to say "a good moderator."

WRAPUP: The circumstances around this debate were lousy: My plan to watch it with Hillary fans fell apart and the internet connection I found was spotty. Marc Ambinder and Jim Geraghty have the wrapups you want.