Last night I caught most of the first Democratic Debate for the 2008 Presidential nomination. Seven men, one woman… one of which will likely be the next president, or come damn close. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the next Vice President came from this lineup, as well (though I don’t suspect they would).
My thoughts on each of the following, relating to the debate as much as possible:
- Sen. Mike Gravel: Gravel was a senator from Alaska in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I knew he was in the race, but until last night I hadn’t heard anything about him and hadn’t bothered to look into his record or positions. I would say that Gravel was the biggest winner overall. While he has no chance of winning, this probably gave him the most visibility he’s had yet (he was previously polling at under 1%). Gravel came in with great emotion, was by far the strongest against the war and the most outspoken against his competitors. Gravel fought against the Vietnam War, he single-handedly ended the draft in this country, and he released the Pentagon Papers to the public with the help of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. And now he’s back. With no chance of winning, I still hope he stays in the race: his confrontations with the other candidates will be more of a challenge than any of the softball questions lobbed to them by Brian Williams. He was compared to Al Sharpton in 2004 (the wacky no-chance candidate), but I see that as greatly inaccurate. Gravel may be wacky and have no chance, but he makes concise points that need to be made. Sharpton is just a charlatan with no business running for the country’s top office.
- Rep. Dennis Kucinich: My favorite candidate in 2004, Kucinich is back. He’s pushing for a de-funding of the war, an impeachment of Vice President Cheney, full health care for all Americans and the end of war. Unlike the others, he pushes a love of the Constitution. However, I don’t think he did very well at the debate. He was not very eloquent, his points were overshadowed by Gravel’s bombastic attitude. However, like Gravel, this should raise people’s awareness of him (although if the newspaper today is any indication, he was a blip and nothing more). Why I’ve backed off Kucinich: not only is he unelectable, but I think he’s getting too wacky, even for me. His bill to take away handguns from all civilians is something I have absolutely no support for.
- Gov. Bill Richardson: Currently, I’m leaning towards voting for Richardson. He has the experience as an executive (which is what a President is on a large scale). He has more diplomatic experience than any of the other candidates, which I think is going to be a key thing post-Bush. Yet, Richardson really failed me in the debates. He was very uncharismatic, which will cost him support. And his answering each question with a list (“one, two, three…”) was really annoying, even if that means he’s thought his positions through thoroughly. I see him gaining no ground from this debate.
- Sen. Joe Biden: Joe Biden has little chance of winning. He’s run multiple times, never got anywhere. He already made a gaffe earlier where he seemed very anti-Black (although I think his intentions were not bad). But yet, this debate was a really good showcase for him. Even though he’s been around since fish learned to grow legs, his name is not a well-known one. And he came off as intelligent, eloquent and knowledgeable. His use of referring to bills he co-sponsored with the other candidates (particularly his environment initiatives with Obama) made him seem like a team player. Other than Gravel, I think Biden might have come off as the biggest gainer here… anyone who watched the debate will have been pleased with him.
- Sen. John Edwards: I’m not a fan of John Edwards. I appreciate his “two Americas” point of view and stance against poverty. I admit his willingness to admit taxes might have to be raised (or at least the tax cuts for the rich will have to be rolled back) to fund his health care system. But in 2004 I saw him as a smarmy, greasy glad-hander, and I don’t think he’s really done anything to convince me otherwise. He still seems like a snake-oil salesman to me. And this debate didn’t make him stand out as a front-runner, despite being the VP candidate just three years ago. Unless Edwards does something to improve his image and visibility, he’s going to fade away… and his wife’s cancer, while by no means something to encourage supporting him, will be a factor no matter how hard he tries to deny it.
- Sen. Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton is widely considered one of the two front-runners (with Obama). This debate was more of the same from her. If you like her, you probably liked her debate. If you don’t like her, you probably don’t like her performance. Commentator Chris Matthews pointed out she kept her voice down (he usually says she’s high-pitched). Matthews is an idiot, but he’s on to something here: Hillary is a powerhouse because people see her as continuing the Clinton legacy. Which is a false way to see her. And just listen to her. She is annoying, and comes across as uncooperative (even if that’s not true, appearances are important). She supported the Iraq War, and there’s nothing about her positions that makes me think she’s changed. (Actually, the funny thing about Hillary is that she’s running almost solely on the basis of being Hillary Clinton — very few actually know anything she stands for. And even after November 2008, they probably still won’t.)
- Sen. Barack Obama: The other leading candidate (with Hillary), Obama came out simultaneously stronger and weaker in this debate. Those who support him are probably bolstered by his job here. He is a great speaker and comes off as very charismatic (I would say the most charismatic of all of them). People like him. Yet, he took heat from Kucinich and Gravel and we see now Obama — despite being considered very liberal by the press — believes Iran is evil and he would not be against using nuclear weapons should he feel her has to. This is a very realistic position, but also ruins any anti-war image he was trying to gain here. Personally, my personal thoughts on Obama were tainted here and in my mind he took the biggest loss. (Judging from the message boards at Crooks and Liars, I am by no means alone in losing a great deal of hope and respect in Obama.) Which is fine by me, as I think he’s running a strong campaign with no substance.
- Chris Dodd: “Who is Chris Dodd?” When Dodd walked on to the stage, many people asked this question. When he left the stage, many people asked the same question. Dodd left no impression on people regarding his views or why he should be considered. And he is yet another uncharismatic candidate (and frankly, really really ugly). Dodd, with no chance in hell of winning and nothing original or interesting to contribute to the race, I ask you: please be the first one to drop out. The next debate would be blessed by your absence.