You would have thought I learned my lesson yesterday, but I actually sat down and watched the entire 90 minutes of the Democratic candidates debate sponsored by The Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television.
Same moderator. Same format. The only thing that was missing was Carolyn Washburn’s inane attempt to get all the candidates to raise their hand. Oh, the dumb questions were still there. For some reason, she asked Senator Chris Dodd if he was running for President because his father was censured for stealing campaign money, or something like that. And then there was that final question about New Year’s Resolution; here’s a memo Carolyn, we don’t care what Hillary Clinton’s New Year’s Resolution might be (now her resolution back in 1998 might have been interesting, but that’s another story).
As with the Republican debate, I think its fair to say that little of substance came out of this debate and that it served mostly as an opportunity for each of the candidates to repeat their stump speeches ad nauseum.
So, without further adieu and in no particular order, here we go:
Barack Obama: For all the talk about Obama being a breath of fresh air and the voice of a new generation, he really doesn’t say anything that Democrats haven’t been saying for ten years or more. From the budget to education to trade to farm subsidies, there’s nothing that Barack Obama would do that any other Democrat wouldn’t do.
That said, I can understand why he’s caught on in Iowa and elsewhere. He’s an extremely effective speaker and projects a far more pleasant image for the party than, say, Hillary does. In today’s debate, he was helped by the fact that there were no real questions of substance on foreign policy directed to him; that’s one area where he seems to be fairly weak and inexperienced.
John Edwards: If you closed your eyes when Edwards was talking, it was like you were transported back in time to the 2004 election because there’s nothing that Edwards is saying today that isn’t identical to what he said back then. It’s all about attacking the rich, the evil corporations, and of course the faceless elites. He mentioned that he’s been fighting these forces all his life but didn’t mention that he did so as a lawyer; probably a wise decision considering the esteem his profession is held in today. As for me, I just can’t get over the irony of a multi-millionaire trying to start a class war.
Hillary Clinton: Hillary came into this debate with her campaign in serious trouble. She is struggling to come in second in Iowa, has lost her lead in New Hampshire, and can see Barack Obama gaining on her in the national polls. At this point, she needs to defy expectations in Iowa, which means winning and winning decisively. This debate was her last chance to reach Iowa voters en masse before the holidays divert everyone’s attention and I just don’t think she did it. Her responses were formulaic and non-specific most of the time and, well, let’s just say that she clearly isn’t the best public speaker in the family.
Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton lost Iowa and used his charisma (and the benefit of a relatively weak field of candidates) to win in New Hampshire and earn the title “The Comeback Kid.” Based on what we’ve seen from the Hillary Clinton campaign to date and what I saw at this debate, it’s clear that she’s doesn’t have Bill’s magic.
Bill Richardson: Beyond saying that his New Year’s Resolution was to lose weight, I can’t say that there was much of anything memorable about Richardson’s performance in this debate. He’s an able technocrat, no doubt, and I’m sure he’s done a passable job as Governor of New Mexico, but he’s just not Presidential. Heck, he’s not even Vice-Presidential.
Joe Biden: Biden gave us what was perhaps the most uncomfortable moment of the debate when Washburn asked him about the various comments he’s made over the years about Indians, inner city schools in Washington, D.C., and Barack Obama. Basically, she asked him if he was racist. Biden responded by saying that he just shoots his mouth off without thinking. Yea, that’s what we want in a President.
Chris Dodd: As noted above, Dodd participated in the most bizarre moment of the day when Washburn asked him if he was running for President to rehabilitate the legacy of his father, who was censured by the Senate back in 1970. Other than that, there really isn’t much else to say about Dodd other than the obvious — why are you running Chris ?
If today’s debate proved anything, it proved that yesterday was not a fluke. Whoever was responsible for the debate format has no idea about how to make interesting television — not surprising considering it was produced by PBS. The YouTube debate may have been silly, but at least it was interesting. These debates were like watching a group of philosophy professors debate Immanuel Kant. Important ? Perhaps, but completely and totally passionless.
Finally, there is one thing that is exceedingly clear to me after watching this debate. For all the talk about libertarian Democrats and all the faults of the Republican Party, there is no home in the Democratic Party for someone who believes in individual liberty, limited government, and free-market economics.
The differences between these candidates are mostly cosmetic and stylistic. They all believe in the same basic core principles and those principles involve increasing the size and scope of the government, involving it more in our daily lives, and taking away freedom of choice and property rights. There was no Ron Paul, or anything close to him, on that stage and the prospect that such a person will be welcome in Democratic politics anytime soon seems pretty non-existent.
Like it or not, if liberty minded Americans are going take over an American political party, they’ve really only got one choice.
Cross-Posted at The Liberty Papers.