Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Going to the Candidates' Debates...

That line of course comes from Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," but from now on, it will also apply to Infinite Regress, where I'll be reviewing each and every Presidential debate on television...

Hey, it's television...

Later tonight, I'll be back with my review of the Third Republican Presidential debate on CNN. But now, here are my takes on the debates so far, from my postings on another one of blogs...

Second Democratic Debate (CNN): Edwards' Leap Forward - June 3, 2007

John Edwards was the clear winner in tonight's Democratic Presidential debate, with Barack Obama doing well, too.

Hillary Clinton commanded the last debate, establishing her creds on the issues and her Presidential style. She's was fine tonight, but gave us nothing in addition to her strong opening performance.

In contrast, Edwards was weak in the first debate. Tonight, he challenged both Clinton and Obama on not their vote against the recent war funding bill, which both voted against, but on their failure to lead a charge against it. It was a powerful, appealing moment for Edwards. At very least, it saved his campaign, and may have even propelled him into second place and ultimately better.

Obama was also not that vibrant in the first debate, and also much stronger tonight. But because he was neither as weak as Edwards in the opener, nor as dynamic as Edwards tonight, Obama had a good but not a great night. Still, he did what he needed to do - at very least stay in the top 3.

As for the rest, Gravel continued to provide comic relief - not because of what he said (which I mostly agree with) but because of his delivery - replete with unexpected volume modulations. Biden was not as funny as the first time, but still pretty strong, and I'm thinking he'll be a tough guy to beat for the VP nomination, if he wants it.

CNN's moderation - mainly from Wolf Blitzer - was ok.

But, like the other debates so far - still the lame show-of-hands gambit.

One of Obama's finest moments was when said to Hillary that he didn't like raising his hand. He's right. Candidates have mouths, with which they can speak and explain.

Let's save the hands for emphasis.


Second Republican Debate (Fox): Ron Paul v. Rudy Giuliani - May 15, 2007

You could have slept through the first 60 minutes of the 90-minute GOP Presidential debate in South Carolina tonight, broadcast on Fox, and not missed much - with the exception of Representative Ron Paul, who spoke cogently as always on the need for declarations of war - on the need for us to follow our own Constitution. For when we don't, as Ron Paul correctly pointed out, we get involved in wars with no clear conclusion.

And then the debate took an unexpected turn.

Ron Paul, again discussing the need for adhering to our own Constitution, added a point which is really separate from the Constitutional issue. It is true that our Founding Fathers urged a non-interventionist policy, but that was a general attitude, not by any means an explicit part of the Constitution. Dr. Paul subscribes to that policy, and said so. And he then offered the view that we were attacked on September 11 because we did not follow that policy - in particular, because we had been bombing Iraq.

Rudy Giuliani broke in and vigorously objected that this was not the reason we were attacked - we were attacked because Islamic extremists hate our way of life. Giuliani called upon Paul to retract his statement. Paul stood his ground.

Giuliani asked for more time to respond to Paul on this point. Wendell Goler - who was asking the questions at this point - refused, and went on instead to ask John McCain about the Confederate flag flying in South Carolina....

And so ended what was easily the most significant few minutes in this debate, and in fact of both Republican debates thus far.

Where do the Republicans stand now?

1. I think Ron Paul hurt his cause. The error of our involvement in Iraq need not be pinned to a general non-interventionist policy. It is enough to say the American people were misled about WMD, and we went to war illegally, without the required Declaration of War. Saying that the attacks on New York and Washington, and what happened in Pennsylvania, were all provoked by our policy is wrong, and offensive. (It's ok to be offensive, it's even admirable, if what you are saying is true. Wrong and offensive is not a place you want to be.)

2. Rudy Giuliani was able to come out swinging on this point. He doesn't own 911 as a campaign issue, but he certainly is associated with New York City and its response. He couldn't have asked for a better opportunity, and made the most of it. He cut a far clearer image than he did last week.

3. And as for the rest of the Republicans ... no surprises, no great moments, no gaffes, no raising of hands about not believing in evolution....

And one last point, about how Fox moderated this debate: There were other candidates on the stage who wanted to say something about the Giuliani-Paul exchange. Next time, don't be so rigid and wedded to your schedule. Let the candidates speak - that's what the American people want.

Unexpected, unregulated moments. That's what the best of debates are about.


First Republican Debate (MSNBC): The Top Three Are Still in the Lead - But Three Others Don't Believe in Evolution! - May 3, 2007

And now to the Republican debate on MSNBC tonight, for which I want to give the same kind of performance analysis as I did for the Democratic debate last week - that is, how presidentially the candidates presented themselves, as distinct from whether or not I agree with their positions.

Except - I just have to say - did you see that three Republicans raised their hands to signify that they did not believe in evolution? And, once again, the camera did not move in close enough. From what I could see, it wasn't Giuliani or McCain and I'm pretty sure it wasn't Romney at the other end. But three others Republican candidates did raise their hands. (Matt Caverill notes in a comment to this post that a site has identified the three as Sen. Sam Brownback, Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Rep. Tom Tancredo.) The mind boggles - I thought for a second I was watching The Tudors, except that is more entertaining...

But as for the rest of the debate: the three frontrunners - Giuliani, McCain, and Romney (currently in the descending order in the polls) - did fine. There were no real upsets there. Giuliani could have been a little more dynamic, and perhaps lost a bit of ground to McCain. Mitt Romney certainly looked and sounded the best, in terms of the Democratic JFK standard. But if I had to pick a winner, I'd say McCain by a hair over Giuliani, with Romney very impressive.

My admiration for the constitutionality of Ron Paul has been stated often in this blog, and it was a pleasure to hear him talk about need for declarations of war tonight, and the importance he places on freedom of expression. But he's not a dynamic speaker, and I think the best we can hope for regarding Dr. Paul is that whoever is next President of the United States appoint Ron Paul to some important cabinet position where he can remind us, more effectively than as Congressman, of the need for our goverment to follow the Constitution.

And a last point about the media, and in particular its presentation of this debate: although I like Chris Matthews as an interviewer on his Hardball show, I was annoyed with the way he cut off so many of the candidates' answers. The American people would have been better served by a debate that ran a few minutes longer, in which every candidate was allowed to have a little more say.


First Democratic Debate (MSNBC): Hillary Commands - April 26, 2007

Debates in politics always strike me as paradoxical. On the one hand, everyone knows that what a candidate says in a debate has little to do with actual performance in office. On the other hand, it does provide us, the voters, with a sense of who the candidate is. And, often, this sense comes less from what the candidate says and more from how the candidate says it.

By that criterion, I'd say Hillary was the clear victor in tonight's Democratic debate on MSNBC. She seemed comfortable, clear, and in control. Not that anyone else seemed out of control - with the exception of former Senator Gravel - but Hillary Clinton projected the most Presidential tone.

Barack Obama and John Edwards were ok, but not as assured and incisive as Hillary. Since Hilary is the front-runner, this is not good news for either man.

As for the rest, Joe Biden gets creds for the best one-word answer - "Yes" - in response to a question about whether he could keep his verbosity in check. And his praise of Hillary may have won him a place on the ticket as VP, if Hilllary gets the nomination.

It's still early days, and a lot can go right or wrong for any of the candidates. But Hillary came across as cogent and even dynamic in a tough field tonight, in which a misstep could have boosted the prospects of Obama or Edwards. If she keeps this up, she'll be hard to beat in the primaries next February.

Later debates...

June 6, 2007: Third Republican Debate: Romney's Null Set

and see also Something New: Supporting the Best Candidates in Both Parties
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