It took CNN’s Wolf Blitzer a few minutes to bring it under control, but the near-shouting-match that developed among candidates Clinton, Obama, and Edwards at the beginning of the latest debate, held in Las Vegas on 15 November, was great theater, especially in a state that went republican in the last two presidential elections. The seven combatants (Gravel apparently permanently eased out by the media-types) managed to give the administration a few licks along the way, but each mostly attempted to show that her/his opponents, if not clearly unfit, were at least not as fit, respectively, as her/him for the job, the upshot logically being that each was declared somewhat unfit…period.
The most engaging and pleasant surprise came in the “question” period when Senator Dodd launched into a conversation in fluent Spanish with a questioner, both enjoying the exchange, with Dodd explaining to the audience that he had done a tour in the Peace Corps long ago in the Dominican Republic. The most amazing statement was made by Governor Richardson when he reckoned that human rights trumped national security if push should come to shove. He was turned around almost immediately on that weird assertion by Dodd. Obama handled the subject by hemming and hawing, as he did regarding the issuing of driver-licenses to illegal immigrants.
As usual, Richardson and Representative Kucinich were included in the discussion quite a while after the three front-runners (at least as accounted in Iowa) had hogged the spotlight for the first considerable segment of time. This was probably because the moderators chose to focus on them, perhaps with their own agenda, but it was unfair, especially since the frontrunners showed no more expertise than the rest. Indeed, it was galling when Senator Clinton spoke of her 35 years of experience. She was elected in New York in 2000 (having bought herself a Senate-seat in the manner of Robert Kennedy back in the 60s), so she’s had seven years of experience in government, compared to the multiple decades of some of the others. The fact that she happened to be the wife of an office-holder in Arkansas and the U.S. counts for nothing.
Senator Biden stayed a bit above the fray, as usual, and provided a bit of humor along the way, such as when he answered the question of whether or not he would support the democrat nominee in the general election by saying “Hell no…not these people” (or something like that) before laughing through an affirmation that he would. This reminded of his characterization earlier this year in an interview that anything John Edwards said was “fluffernutter.” Actually, Biden showed a better grasp of the issues and problems than any of the others, with the possible exception of Dodd.
The demeanors of the candidates change with each session, but the substance varies very little. There was some mudslinging this time around and there will be more. Obama and Edwards have obviously decided that they have the proper tools for attacking Clinton – flip-flopping (outright lying) and a flawed health plan, respectively. The positions on the war on terror and what to do about Pakistan were wildly different among the candidates, with Richardson and Kucinich on the “let’s get the troops home by yesterday never mind the fallout,” side and the others holding varying views about how to sensibly get out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama, Kucinich, and Richardson seemed to think or have espoused the theory before that this country can just call a peace conference among all the Muslim nations and end all the problems. Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Syria’s Assad must laugh themselves silly when they hear that. Biden, Dodd, and Clinton, with varying views, take a more realistic position that solving the Middle East mess is not that easy. Edwards and the others had “plans” (not detailed, of course) to do things, but one is distracted anyway by noticing his haircut and trying to figure out how it could ever have cost $400 to fashion it.
There was much huffing and puffing about Pakistan and Musharraf’s “emergency suspension of the Constitution” (led to Richardson’s obvious gaffe), but one of the candidates (believe it was Biden) finally noted the vitally important fact that Pakistan is the route into Afghanistan, thus making the deserting of Musharraf a moot point, not to mention the nuclear ramifications if the Islamic fascists get their collective finger on the button. I think it was Edwards who mentioned that Musharraf has not done the necessary military thing against the Taliban in northwest Pakistan, where Osama is probably hiding in luxury, but he may not realize that those mountains are nothing like the ones in western North Carolina.
Blitzer (and perhaps most of the attendees) seemed to be Hillary-supporters. One wonders who hands out the tickets to these affairs. She was probably glad since Tim Russert had driven her to the wall in the last clambake, held in Philadelphia. The gender subject was much in evidence, and Clinton always seems to bask in the glow. The two candidates who by far seemed to be the most competent were Biden and Dodd, and the democrats could do well to have them both on the ticket, despite the failure of the two senators – Kerry and Edwards – in 2004.