The Democrats' Debate
The second Democratic presidential debate, held Sunday night in New Hampshire, was surprisingly substantial despite the best efforts of Wolf Blitzer to keep the proceedings on the usual rotten level. A transcript is up if you want to take a look; here are my quick thoughts.
1) Nobody could accuse Hillary Clinton of not knowing her stuff, and she proved it again Sunday night. But it drives me nuts every time she goes down the road of 9/11 fearmongering, demagoguing the “war on terror.” John Edwards got some attention last week for pointing out that the "war on terror" is a bumper-sticker, not a strategy–and that its purpose was entirely Republican political advantage. I find this almost uncontestable--but Sen. Clinton evidently does not, perhaps just because she's "from New York." FWIW, that was her only moment in the debate that got me angry, and I did like that she smacked Blitzer down a little later on. I wish she'd gotten a chance to expand upon remarks she made last week comparing the current economy to the Robber Baron era--but the questions just didn't fall that way.
2) Barack Obama was miles, miles better last night than in the first debate. He just seemed sharper, and he more than held his own in an early exchange with Edwards over the Iraq war. He’s the best “on TV” candidate, I think because he just seems calmer than the rest of them–all that Marshall McLuhan stuff about television as a "cool medium" describes Obama’s edge there. His response on a later tax question from the audience was terrific, taking a typically idiotic query about specifics (”what number is ‘rich’?”) and drilling down to something more fundamental–the premise on which he’d base taxing and spending decisions.
3) Edwards was disadvantaged last night because the substance never got around to his big area of strength: domestic economic issues. But I thought he held his own on Iran and other questions.
4) I really like Chris Dodd. Hard to imagine how he emerges, but I’d like to see it happen. His response to the last question of the night--"What would your first action be as president?"--was perfect: restore respect for the Constitution. This was, alas, as close any candidate got to what I consider the big unasked query; see below.
5) Bill Richardson IMO was better last night than he was in the first debate, or on Meet the Press, but still not great. His line about being a “pro-growth Democrat” annoyed me; in general, Richardson seems too ready to accept right-wing frames. On foreign policy, though, his substance comes across.
6) Angry Little Elf Dennis Kucinich really should just STFU. I might have to kick some money to his Dem primary opponent for Congress next year…
I guess this is far too much to expect from fundamentally unserious people like Wolf Blitzer, but the question I really would like to hear answered goes something like this:
"In six and a half years since taking office, the Bush administration has embraced a governance philosophy that allocates greater powers to the executive branch than any previous president has enjoyed. The 'unitary executive theory' posits virtually no limits on what presidents can do, striking a different balance between the president's powers and those of Congress than most officials and observers had previously believed. Do you share this expansive view of executive power or not, and how would you approach the question of checks and balances as president?"
Even a "raise your hands if you think the president should have godlike powers" would be a start...