Since we don’t get network TV, the PowerBook was propped up on the dinner table playing the nice steady robust webvideofeed from New Hampshire’s WMUR; herewith some notes on the evening and the election. Up here in Canada, American politics are a spectator sport; never as good as a really great World Series but better than most Super Bowls. This time around the Democratic race has outstanding entertainment value; we don’t know yet about the November event, but sometimes the divisional playoffs are more fun than the final anyhow.
Good Debate · I have to say it was pretty darn polite and civilized. The cynics say this is in reaction to Iowa, where (positive & polite) Edwards charged while (angry) Dean slipped, but if what you really care about is winning the election, the controlled/smooth approach might be the way to go. I think most people have noticed that in the eternal left/right debate, the conservatives are having an attack of severe ongoing nastiness. Once you get past the Times’ David Brooks, it’s hard to find a conservative who’s mellow or reasonable or friendly; and any political movement that features slimy guttersnipes like Perle and Coulter has a PR problem.
So it might be a real good strategy for the Democrats to present a month or two of steady, measured, policy-centred debate with a steady rolling rhythm of polite polemic against the Bush deficit and the Bush diplomatic incompetence and the Bush environmental record. Mind you, if the economic uptick musters up some real job-creation mojo and holds on for two or three quarters and Wall Street gets happy, I suspect Dubya’s a shoo-in anyhow; but there are a lot of things that could go wrong for the White House between now and then.
But anyhow, the candidates all managed to look good, except for Kucinich’s Hawley-Smoot-esque tear-up-the-treaties drivel. Some individual notes. In alphabetical order:
Clark · Severe mojo deficit. He was good and crystal-clear on abortion, no waffling, which is rare in a politician. But if you want someone who has military exposure and seems to have foreign policy down cold, there’s Kerry, who has that stuff and who unlike Clark knows how to work the DC system; something that ought to be an advantage in a President.
Dean · First off, I’ve been negative on Dr. Howard since late last year when I had a talk with one of the Dean campaign insiders (hey, they’re Net geeks) and I said that while I was knocked out with the intelligent, inclusive Net-based grassroots groundswell, I wasn’t that crazy about some of the policy book. In particular I tend to be in general pro-free-trade and Dean has some protectionist leanings. Without missing a beat the insider said “Oh he’s a free-trader too, he’s just saying that to get the nomination.” OK, not for me.
Having said that, I thought Dean was OK on the night, and in particular it’s rare that you hear a politician say as he did “You just can’t have it all, the tax cuts and the war and the Medicare and so on.” Maybe I’m overoptimistic, but I think voters might respond well to that line of attack.
Edwards · The first time I’d had the benefit of exposure to his famous persona, and damn the guy’s good, there’s no doubt about it. I thought he had maybe the best line of the evening, on the gay-marriage thing when he said—remember, he’s the positive-upbeat-attitude guy—“Well, I just think the President is 100% wrong on that.” That kind of an attack might turn out to be more effective than any twenty-minute Howard Dean rant.
There’s a definite Bill Clinton feel about this man; for example, this little bit of theatre on a question about the candidates: “Let’s not talk about us, let’s talk about the people out there and the real problems they’re having.” Well, I thought we were here (partly) to learn about you. We’ll see whether he has the Clinton genius for campaigning.
Kerry · He’s never gonna go down in history as a great orator, but he sure does give the impression that he knows his stuff. He visibly roused himself though and got off one or two very effective—I thought—missiles aimed at the current Administration.
And when the reporter asked him the lame-ass question about having turned in his medals, did that ever turn out to be a soft straight one over the fat part of the plate. Kerry’s got a point; the current Iraq thing (the occupation, not the original war) totally has the potential to end up with veterans’ demonstrations on the steps of the Capitol unless the nation-building thing starts going better. I think Kerry ought to do more banging on that particular drum, could be a good one for him. Plus I thought he did the best job at waving the environment flag, which is still a vote-getter.
Lieberman · I was occasionally impressed by Lieberman when he was running with Gore four years ago, but he just didn’t do it for me this evening. He was razor sharp in turning the reporter’s attempt to get some dissension going into a joke on the reporter, and he’s obviously a really smart guy, and he’s probably right that he’s the hardest candidate to launch a smear campaign against, but he sure doesn’t raise the pulse rate.
If I Were American · I’d probably donate some money to the Kerry and Edwards campaigns and watch the fun. As it is, I’ll just watch the fun.