Friday, April 27, 2007

Snap Judgement: Democrats in South Carolina

Last night, I was among a tiny minority of people who saw the first Democratic debate. Not including the folks in the crowd, accredited journalists, and South Carolinians looking for Simpson's reruns or Wheel of Fortune, I might have been the only person who watched the proceedings. So I should probably pass along what I witnessed:

First and foremost, eight candidates is way too many for a debate. With that many participants, it ceases to be a debate at all. Instead it was series of inconsistent, and somewhat unbalanced, questions to the candidates.

Much of Brian Williams's moderation annoyed me. At times it was like he wanted to put the candidates through an obstacle course, rather than let them introduce themselves and their policies. I was especially bothered when he asked how they would respond if two US cities were destroyed by nuclear devices. That's quite a question, so early. I think, in this weeding out process, the electorate would be better to served to learn what the candidates would do if one US city was leveled by a nuke. I worry this kind of escalation means when we get to the presidential debates next year there will be questions like "what would you do if the entire West Coast was swallowed by a tsunami and you find yourself caught in a bear trap?"

That being said, all the top and middle tier candidates did fairly well. Of the big three Hillary was the best prepared and offered the most thoughtful answers. Though she does have a legitimate problem with her voice. The word "grating" is tossed around a lot. Part of it has do with her being a woman and we (men and women) aren't used to hearing a higher pitched female voice in a position of authority. And part of it is her particular female voice can be particularly grating.

Hillary is able to control her pitch most of the time -- which only makes the screechy flare ups that much starker. I've been hearing a lot of about a Southern accent she keeps in her back pocket. Maybe she should try it out full-time and see if it works.

Edwards and Obama were solid. Edwards did almost choke on the softball question of "who's your moral compass," and anyone coming in the with impression Obama was the next great orator would have been disappointed in his middling performance .

I've noticed a lot written this morning about how well the second-tier guys, Biden, Dodd and Richardson, presented themselves. I do agree on Dodd, who comes off as competent and smart, and Biden, who seems likeable and innovative. Richardson was more of a mixed bag. He did a good job of separating himself from the others on guns and taxes, and was able to stress his foreign policy experience, but he appeared uncomfortable and sweaty on stage, and was the candidate most likely to run long, or not really answer the question asked.

Then there was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. He's funny in an old-guy-who-sounds-like-he's-about-to-hit-you way. That humor only goes so far. The Democrats, if their desire is to be taken seriously, would be wise not to invite him to any more debates.

Nothing changed last night. Because of the crowded stage, there were fewer opportunities for one of the campaign damaging gaffes the candidates were trying, above all else, to avoid. A mission each was able to accomplish.


Anonymous said...

They needed Al Sharpton.

JT said...

Seeing how much the other candidates "scared" Gravel, I can only imagine the fear Sharpton would have put into him. Any man that frightened, even an old, kooky one, would have been a danger to everyone in the theater.