Debate Recap

The debate in New Hampshire on 05 January sponsored by ABC-News and hosted by its prime-time anchor, Charlie Gibson, provided the best possible opportunity through both format and personnel to gain a feel for what the candidates think and stand for. Not only did the candidates within each party delineate themselves recognizably from each other, though there is little intra-party disagreement, but the vast difference between the collective mindsets driving each group was remarkably well drawn.

Physically, the democrats, except for Richardson, showed the extreme strain of having fought the weather and the schedules in Iowa for weeks on end, especially the last week. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama were “beat,” and this might account for their stumbling, sometimes bumbling performances. Their voices were sub-par and their testiness might have accrued to simple fatigue. The fact that they followed the republicans placed them at a later starting hour of 9:00 p.m., so by 11:00 p.m. they were more than ready for bed and would have been better off there.

By contrast, the republicans, who went at each other at 7:00 p.m., appeared for the most part to be fresh. This may be due to the fact that only Huckabee and Romney had sort of “left it all on the field of battle” in Iowa, while Thompson, Paul, McCain, and Giuliani had not particularly made that fight. Both Huckabee and Romney showed more fatigue, though each acquitted himself well. Huckabee is particularly articulate and adept at thinking on his feet.

Democrat Kucinich was not invited to the big show by ABC News, though Republican Paul was, and one wonders about this. The polls show that neither man has the proverbial Chinaman’s chance, so it may be that Paul was included on the basis of the multiple millions of dollars that flowed into his campaign just during the last month or so. Democrats Dodd and Biden had already taken themselves out of the fight for the golden ring, but, on the basis of the Kucinich rebuff, would not have been invited anyway. This is sad because either man is as good – if not superior – a candidate as any of the other democrats. Money talks but had no conversation for them, terribly poor fundraisers.

The magic word for the democrats was “change,” repeated by all four over and over, as if that isn’t the mantra in every election cycle. The democrats drove it into the ground this time around, however, almost seeming to repeat it because they had little else to say. The pollsters have sort of broken the “change-freaks” into two camps, those below age 50 and those above age 50, with the younger folks supporting Obama and the older gang, Clinton. Edwards practically made his prime knock-out pitch as a promise that he would attack corporate interests with a “take no prisoners” attitude and break them (another quadrennial mantra), though he did not mention that the corporations, for good or ill, provide the jobs that permit people to put food on the table and send their kids to college.

The democrats hammered on health-care, demanding a system that would take care of everyone in the nation without using the term “socialized medicine,” of course. They had less to say about Iraq than one would have supposed, though the reason seems quite definable, to wit, that things seem to be improving there. Clinton had already called General Petraeus a liar to his face in that infamous statement in the Senate hearing room last fall, had voted for the war in the first place, and was hammered again by Obama, who insisted that he was against it but did not mention that he had no vote on it and was reminded by Clinton that he voted consistently to fund it, thus thereby supporting it.

The republicans argued about the same things but, with the exception of libertarian Paul, were united in backing the Iraq action and staying the course, Giuliani and McCain, to their credit, citing the president as worthy of praise for his attempt for both beginning and then continuing to set things right with respect to national security. All the candidates argued their case on immigration and the war, with the democrats united in the matter of getting out of Iraq as soon as yesterday if possible. In the matter of health-care, the dems seem to want to soak the rich to pay for it and everything else, while both sides collectively seem at a loss as to actually what to do.

On balance, there’s no comparison between the democrats and republicans, collectively. Any republican (actually all but Paul) would be far better than any democrat. As a group, they showed a much firmer grasp of the issues and a much firmer stance in tackling them.

Though perhaps unfair to mention, none of the democrats “looks” presidential, while most of the republicans do. Obama looks and sounds like a college cheerleader; Edwards, complete with $400-haircut, is the glib lawyer bleeding for the middle-class and poor while living in a house that’s nearly two-thirds of an acre under roof; Richardson may be smart (though hopelessly out of his depth in international affairs) but relatively inarticulate; Clinton…the country simply isn’t ready.

John McCain has the military experience and age-structured savvy to put him ahead of the pack. Paul was a military doctor, but none of the rest of the candidates in either party have had any military experience. The rest look presidential enough, with Huckabee the best speaker. Giuliani, Thompson, and Romney make sense and look the part of smart men able to lead, with Romney the most articulate of that trio.