Politics

Democratic Debate VII: The Theomachy at the Thomas and Mack Center

|

The Democrats debate again tonight at 8 p.m. ET on CNN. Wolf Blitzer moderates.

Before the debate begins, it's already over: Lou Dobbs is mulling a presidential bid.

8:00: We're going to meet the candidates one by one!

8:04: And now we're going to talk to our team of pundits! And next we're going to sit back and whittle with Rick Sanchez, while you watch!

8:05: A man in white hair runs on stage and I fear that Mike Gravel has broken Bruce Banner-like past the security dogs. No, it's just some debate organizer.

8:09: Oh, I forgot: This Wolf Blitzer Thanksgiving Special features a debate with the Democratic candidates. Hillary opens with a joke: "This pants suit, it's asbestos." So it's poisonous? And you expect your pants to be fire?

8:10: Obama attacks and I've noticed that when he gets nervous doing so he says "as I travel the state" or "as I travel this country"--hey, I don't want to be saying this, but the people are in need and they beseech it from me.

8:11: Hillary finally attacks and million laptops glow with the sound of reporters cliche-ing. Mine, too! She's decided to attack his leadership over… not the Kyl Amendment, which I expected, but health care. His health care plan is somewhat lacking.

8:12: Obama argues that it is not, in fact, lacking.

8:14: A heckler rattles Obama as he tries to wrap up his answer: He wants to make health care cheaper, she wants to force people to buy expensive coverage.

8:15: Shut up, John Edwards.

8:16: "Shut up, John Edwards," says Hillary. (I'm paraphrasing.) "We need to put forward a positive agenda for America" by kneecapping pretty boys.

8:19: This might be because I'm from Delaware, but I adore Joe Biden's "wiseass statesman" persona. He mocks Blitzer when he calls on him: "Oooh, please, don't make me talk!" He argues that he will fix our foreign policy with his awesome experience and telephone-dialing skills, and then Blitzer cuts him off. "Oh, you're right."

8:21: Why did CNN import Jerry Springer's audience to this? I'm as digusted by John Edwards as the next carbon-base life form, but I don't need Nevadans grunting at him.

8:24: Chris Dodd slaps around Edwards, who doesn't understand that Americans want to know whether Washington is looking out for them. I was wondering whether Chris Dodd was thinking about me: Now I know!

8:25: Blitzer asks if everyone will support the eventual nominee after the gridlocked Democratic Convention nominates Lou Doggs. "Is that a planted question?" jokes Edwards. No one laughs, because John Edwards is awful.

8:28: Obama gets an immigration question, which he should be vulnerable on, since he's for drivers licenses. He'll "get tough on the border." Why hasn't anyone thought of this?

8:30: As the conspiracists hoped, Blitzer is saving Hillary's ass. He asks everyone about illegal alien licenses and they dish out the same poisonous gruel that Hillary did last time. No one can say "yes" or "no." Except for Hillary, who says "no" and smiles like she just took your house in a poker game.

8:35: For the first time in a long time, an education question: Merit pay. Chris Dodd… oh, hell, I'm trying to pay attention to the issue, but Dodd pivots to hitting No Child Left Behind and actually says "kids are 1/10 of the population but they're 100 percent of our future!"

8:37: Kucinich has to think about an issue he disagrees with unions on: Drilling in Alaska. Indeed, why do it when we can power our schools with dilithium crystals.

8:39: I actually like it better when the Democrats use the education rounds to swing over to their top issues. When they hungrily talk about the ways they'll micromanage rural schools, I get queasy.

8:42: Biden talks to people. Does he dick around and joke with Musharaff the way he does with Blitzer? All of a sudden I'm for tapping international calls.

8:44: Biden: "I'm sorry for answering the question. I know you're not supposed to answer the question." We get it. You have testicles.

8:45: Richardson will prioritize our values over our… security? That's no way to run for vice president.

8:47: The Onion sends out an article called "Americans Announce They're Dropping Out Of Presidential Race," with this graphic. I dig it.

8:49: Obama ricochets off Richardson's Pakistan answer, saying human rights and security are complementary

8:51: What 9/11 is to Rudy, "the Bush administration" (as in "it's the Bush administration's fault") is to Hillary. It's a safety blanket to drape over the base voters who don't trust her.

8:54: Richardson's just melting into incoherence: We need to defend human rights everywhere but Iraq isn't worth one American life? What, and Darfur is?

8:56: A very pissy Dennis Kucinich defends "strength through peace."

8:58: Campbell Brown: "As a magical elf, what do you think we should do about poisoned Chinese toys?"

9:00: Edwards: "All those trade deals I used to support were actually totally awful. But I can fix it!"

9:02: Clinton's a little more honest about trade.

9:04: Dodd's angry about it, probably because we're not trading with Cuba.

9:05: Obama shows off a little and says we need to rip off Japan's Chinese goods-inspection policy.

9:07: Obama wants nuclear power as "part of our energy mix." In a Democratic primary, that's still pretty bold.

9:09: Richardson wants to… turn Yucca Mountain into a national laboratory. I guess?

9:11: Hillary Clinton has a bunch of canned lines about gender and goddamn it she's going to use them all.

9:12: She's not playing the gender card, but wouldn't it be great to have a woman president? Give it up! Woo! USA! USA!

9:20: We're back with questions from central casting Democratic voters ordinary people. Iraq's up first.

9:24: I miss Biden's answer, but I'm going to guess he'll talk to people and it'll be awesome.

9:26: Hillary on Iran: "I've tried to oppose a rush to war." By doing… what? By blaming Bush for screwing it up.

9:28: Ugh, more Edwards. We can stop an Iran War with a surge of backbones.

9:30: Remember Obama's answer from the YouTube debate about meeting with fiendish foreign leaders? He's still owning it, using it as evidence that he'll fix our Middle East policy.

9:34: Heroes Health Card? The hell?

9:36: OK, he's oilier than an Alaskan beach, but Edwards has a good riff on torture: "I can't believe we're having a debate in America about what kind of torture we'll have."

9:38: Biden gets up after Kucinich blames the PATRIOT Act for profiling and demands Congress attack the White House with torches and trebuchets. "Nothing in the PATRIOT Act allows profiling." Kucinich looks like someone stole his lollipop.

9:44: I'm checking other blogs and Ben Smith is right about why the drivers license issue, functionally kaput, is still so dangerous: the Dobbs of the world have linked illegal immigration with Snidely Whiplashes sneaking nukes over the border.

9:48: Thank you, Tim Russert, for another Social Security round. (He keeps needling the Democrats about this, they keep generating mistakes that the other candidates to attack.) Clinton and Obama basically agree (bi-partisan commission, no privatization) in a combative-yet-dull manner until Obama whacks her for saying he'd raise taxes on the "middle class." That's something Mitt Romney would say, you awful woman!

9:54: Commercial's over, and we're on SCOTUS nominees.

9:56: Hnh, Biden stomps some dirt on Robert Bork's grave. He wants SCOTUS judges who've lived life, not who "want an intellectual feast." Remember that?

9:58: Ramesh Ponnuru nails Biden and Kucinich pretty good here. Kucinich really has zero credibility on abortion.

10:00: We're entering the third hour with a question about how Democrats will bring us together. Obama will convene a permanent multinational something-something. God, I wish Mike Gravel was here to answer it.

10:06: Biden really makes mincemeat out of the dopey unity question: Everybody hates Bush and GOP foreign policy already, and everybody loves Joe Biden. "Folks, this isn't going to be that hard."

10:09: And with the stupidest question ever asked by anyone, we're out!

It's over! Who won?

The American people lost, but you knew that. I'm with Matt Yglesias: It's incredibly frustrating watching smart people like Wolf Blitzer pretend drivers licenses for illegal immigrants are going to take up the first 99 days of the next president's term. Or, for that matter, pretend that an answer of multiple syllables from Barack Obama was a debate-losing gaffe. Hillary Clinton's people have a lot to spin, but I think they're asking for a mulligan for botching the last debate.

So, Edwards lost. We saw a real-life example of what's happening in Iowa when he pounced on Hillary (including one real dud of a joke about her planted questions) and the zoo-ish audience booed him. It's almost too bad: Insofar as he's interesting at all, it's because he's making a sustained critique of Hillary Clinton and the kind of administration she'd run. He's simply not credible making that critique, though, and getting ever less so.

Clinton
and Obama both won. If the opening of the debate and the Social Security section set the tone of the race, it's one of the more substantive frontrunner-insurgent match-ups in a while. Neither's attacking the other one personally, both have subtly different domestic policies and slightly more disparite foreign policies, and all of that stuff gets hashed out. Clinton's still got the better spinners, though: No one with a regular command of English could confuse her incoherent answer on drivers licenses with Obama's "Yes, here's why" answer. (I guess you're not allowed to say "but" in debates?) Neither one comes away with a clip that networks and Republicans can pound again and again vis-a-vis the last debate's license answer. Both look like they can handle an eventual Republican nominee.

Oh, Jesus, did Bill Richardson ever lose. There's so much I like about him but he's compensating for a stall in the polls by promising crazy things that he couldn't achieve if somebody chucked Aladdin's lamp in his lap.

Some other guys did okay.