Maybe the biggest remaining problem -- besides lack of time -- is the self-consciousness of the moderating and questioning process.
There were four (count'em four) people involved in the questioning tonight at the CNN Democratic debate, and their collective irrelevance (apart from network branding) was belied by a failed mic which required moderator Wolf Blitzer to re-read another reporter's inquiry off a piece of paper he was already holding, apparently for just such a contingency. Can't we just get some spelling bee champion to read these things?
And what was with the "stand up, sit down" exercise at the half-way point (an opportunity to give astonishingly-equal face time to yet three more CNN talking heads as we watched the studio re-arranged on a split screen). Podiums (and a platform for Hillary) during the grilling by the pros, red chairs and occasional tables as the common folk took their shots -- I'm suprised the candidate didn't take off their jackets and roll up their sleeves.
So, the message is that one is serious journalism business and the other is ... a shareholder's meeting? And the pool of proletariat questioners couldn't have been seated in camera range to begin with? Very strange choices indeed when the medium isn't supposed to be the message at all.
Amazing that the most spontaneous-seeming posse -- Hillary, Obama and Edwards -- have between them three terms in the Senate total. No wonder US Senators almost never get elected.Still, this was the best showing for the Dems and the best debate of the season. Plenty of shots at each other -- though some were petty: it doesn't show leadership to skulk into the Senate chamber to vote against Iraq funding late in the process and without fanfare, John Edwards lectures Hillary and Barack Obama. To which Obama replies: you are 4-1/2 years late. So there.
And Bill Clinton loomed large again, more appropriately than at the last Republican debate, where candidates were asked if it would be a good thing if he lived in the White House again. Duh. The Democrats lovingly pegged the ex-president as a roving ambassador and/or Middle East envoy. But the amusing tidbit is that it did not appear as though Hillary, who laughed unabashedly as this question was tackled by her adversaries, wasn't going to get a crack at it herself. Obama did an "over to you, Hillary," though Wolf may just have been building to a big finish only to have the Illinois Senator step on his line.
The golden moments for me were the pushback by just about everyone, in unison, to the "media questions." Maybe we'll see fewer of these absurd hypotheticals (at least hurled at the Democrats; they seem like red meat to the Republicans) from now on if the candidates take control of things like Arnold Vinick and Matt Santos. Would you strike at Osama bin Laden if you had only 20 minutes to make a decision and innocents would be killed (How many innocents, Hillary et al insist?) Would you act militarily against an Iran that had a nuke and missile to launch it (That scenario is many years away, and potentially avoidable through diplomacy and pressure, Biden explains.)
Most everyone had a decent moment, although I have already tired of the Mike Gravel show. The stars are beginning to emerge anew and are using these summer stock appearances to full advantage:
- Hillary was calm, cool, collected and eloquent -- Bill in a Hillary suit.
- Obama still seems hesitant here and there -- though he was ready for Edwards.
- Edwards may be overplaying his "I am right to say I was wrong" card too often. I'm starting to remember only that he was wrong.
- Joe Biden is running harder than ever for Secretary of State. You could see the veins popping as he urged that intervention to stop the genocide in Darfur was necessary and neatly achievable.
- Bill Richardson will have to settle for another cabinet job if he has truly grown tired of riding the range. That clever job interview ad may ultimately resonate in all the wrong ways: with that resume, why isn't he presidential material?
- Chris Dodd simply cannot shake the robotics from a lifetime in the Senate.