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The Democratic Debate: An Immediate Commentary

October 10th, 2003

First of all, as I watch it live here in the late a.m. in Japan, it strikes me as a very good debate, especially for one very early on the process. The candidates are on message when it comes to the basics of the Democratic platform: keep the tax cuts for the middle class, roll them back for the wealthy; yes to keeping order in Iraq, now that we are there (despite differences in how to achieve that); be more honest and contrite with other nations, and rely on their support more; protect the environment, build education, and so on. All of them performed well in opposing Bush, his programs and his record (not too tough a thing to do), and only a few stooped to direct attacks against others (which of course media reports jumped on).

Gephardt scored points for pointing out the Democrats are good stewards of the economy and the Clinton years were the best economic times we have ever seen. His line: if you want to live like a Republican, you’ve got to vote for a Democrat. Kerry scored points with me by mentioning a guest worker visa program; many had strong stands on Medicare, health insurance and prescription drug programs, but Kerry got the one-liner of the evening when he said you could go with his plan, or you could “hire Rush Limbaugh’s housekeeper.” Sharpton, as usual, was a good speaker with good points to make, and did well for praising Edwards and his rise from a blue-collar standing to being a millionaire and a presidential candidate–hope being the focus. That’s the kind of positive message and amicable sentiment which would do the party well in these debates.

There were different ideas about what to do in Iraq, and one thing that stood out was that even the poorest of them (Kucinich’s) was far better than what Bush is doing now. One of the themes running through this debate is the argument of who stood up to Bush against the Iraq situation (and tax cuts for that matter) and who did not. All are saying that they did, but naturally, some have less currency on the issue than others. Clark fell under attack for his past good words about Bush, and had a hard time defending that–but he managed to, at least barely.

Most of the candidates did well; only a few said things that rubbed me the wrong way. Joe Lieberman lost points in my esteem in his rather unabashed attack on Wesley Clark; they may be questions about his past stands, but Lieberman’s comments were too rough for my tastes. These debates should expose differences, but not tolerate internal attacks, especially against specific individuals. Dean skirted the edge of that error as he stated the difference between those on the stage who supported Bush and those who did not, and from what time. He did not quite go over the edge as he tended to frame the criticism in terms of how he did not, rather than just an outright attack against the others. It is, after all, a valid point. Kerry lost a few points in the same manner, and it was in part due to his staff distributing some anti-Dean points backstage, which interestingly made it on stage.

Gephardt did well most of the time–he has a good speaking style and can express his criticism of Bush in a smart and biting way–but when it comes to defending his record on voting in Bush plans, he kind of falls apart, and you can see him struggling to say he was against Bush when he went along with Bush because Democrats saw it as being politically expedient to do so. Additionally, Lieberman lost points for being rather loud and unwilling to give up the floor.

One thing that stood out, and I mention it to point out a conservative fallacy about Democrats and the military, is that when a soldier stood up to ask a question and he was introduced as having served in Tikrit, there was spontaneous, rousing applause–not one person or a few people clapping and everyone else chiming in, but everyone coming in at once. As Wesley Clark put so well, Republicans like weapons systems; Democrats like the soldiers.

In the end, nobody stood out as a clear winner, nobody really emerged as an apparent front-runner, but it is, after all, very early in the process–and while no one stood out, only a few did poorly, and most of them did very well. It was not a squabble, it was not a mud-wrestling competition. THere was good criticism of what Bush is doing, and there were good stands on good ideas. Once the primaries start whittling down the list, it should be very interesting simply because there are so many strong candidates in there, looking better and better each day against George W. Bush.

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  1. October 25th, 2003 at 12:49 | #1

    I just last night posted six new entries at my blog – some of them are highly critical of the administration and the Iraq war (and from a conservative perspective). What the Bush administration has done in Iraq (as well as much of what they’ve done domestically) has been awful.

    The last of those six entries, however, is on Wesley Clark, and points out connection between the General and Osama bin Laden-backed terrorists.

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