Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New Hampshire Debate Analysis

Editor's Note: This blog post was submitted by E-board member Jesse Switzer. Thanks, Jesse!

Can You Really Lose The Battle And Still Win The War: An Analysis Of The Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate in New Hampshire on September 26

By Jesse M. Switzer

Presidential Primary Debate. Is there any combination of words quite as thrilling to the human soul? Perhaps. But not to folks like you and me who spend so many waking hours pondering, “…just who came out triumphant in the most recent Democratic Presidential Primary Debate in New Hampshire.” The answer, as you may have guessed, is complicated, as is anything of importance and consequence.

Undoubtedly the biggest news to come out this debate was Sen. Clinton’s reversal on previously stated positions regarding the use of torture. Prior to that fateful evening, Sen. Clinton had suggested in interviews with the press that torture may be used under certain circumstances as long it was done “within the rule of law”. On Wednesday’s night’s debate she flatly stated, “As a matter of policy it [torture] cannot be American policy, period.”. This was in response to being given a hypothetical scenario in which the White House had in its custody a terrorist with knowledge of a massive attack on U.S. soil and has just three days to thwart it. Tim Russert, who hosted the debate, sought to add drama to the moment and subsequently informed Sen. Clinton that this was indeed her husband’s hypothetical and at the time he thought torture would be one possible avenue they could explore. Oh schmack, Ms. Clinton! …But, as usual, Sen. Clinton was able to turn lemons into lemonade and sharply responded, “Well he’s not up on stage here right now.” But Russert didn’t want to let her get away that easy, pointing out that her husband still disagrees with her. Touché, but again Hillary has never been one to back down from a challenge, which was evident as she cleverly retorted, “Well, I’ll talk to him later.” Now not only did she inspire laughter and admiration from a white male such as myself, but she probably had every woman in the country thinkin’ “Yea! You go girl!” She is a polished master and she certainly succeeded in what should be her number one goal as front-runner in this race, namely: be competent, fly low and avoid the radar.

More eyes were probably fixated on the Democratic Party’s charismatic new wunderkind, Sen. Barack Obama, as his performance has been surprisingly weak at previous debates and time is running out to fully capitalize on the meteoric rise he has enjoyed since his 2004 Democratic Convention speech. Unfortunately, one could easily argue (and I will) that he left much to be desired in this latest showdown. But this is not to say that his performance wasn’t comparable to Sen. Clinton’s, in fact it was entirely too similar. Sen. Obama needs to address the public as a bold visionary – and one that actually has said vision. His harshest critics claim he is inexperienced and lacks the skills necessary to lead the country. The only way to dispel that notion is to come out with concrete ideas that at the same time show that he is radically different from the status quo. Obama is caught in a catch-22. His campaign touts that he appeals to a broad cross-sector of society, including Republicans, which judging by his fundraising efforts is very true; however, specific details and introducing revolutionary ways of doing things poses exceedingly difficult obstacles to keeping that coalition intact. Be that as it may, Obama cannot continue down this path of showing up to debates with centrist ideas like including additional nuclear power plants as part of his energy plan, while neglecting to work as hard as he possibly can to demonstrate that he can and is willing to propose ideas that are radically different as to define himself as his own breed of candidate, which he most certainly is.

Sen. Edwards did a much better job defining himself as the anti-Hillary on stage, blasting the Senator’s vote to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group by stating, “I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step to war with Iran.” But the former Senator from North Carolina fell short on his answer to a question on whether or not he regretted some rather extravagant campaign expenditures and contributions, especially considering his campaign platform has been largely based around fighting poverty. Edwards got a bit whiney and defensive as he kept repeating the phrase, “…but look at what I have done,” as if to say “…well, yeah but I’ve also done good things too and I’ve corrected some of my mistakes.” In Edwards’ defense subjects like $400 haircuts, extravagant and morally dubious as they might be, are non-issues relatively speaking and epitomize the kind of superficial nitpicking which have contributed to the death of thoughtful politicking. And Sen. Edwards pointed out some solid examples of how his deeds speak for themselves as far as his dedication to fighting economic injustice. But take a lesson from Hillary, my friend, if you’ve made a mistake own up and move on, and in doing so try to capitalize on the lesson you’ve learned. Edwards used this strategy so well with his Iraq War vote, why can’t he do it with something comparatively moronic like this? Edwards on the whole inched toward the winner’s seat, besting Obama in his performance, but at this point he’s really got bolt to catch up with Sen. Clinton.

Gov. Richards had a few shining moments, not the least of which came at the start of the debate when he was able differentiate himself from the other leading candidates by speaking with some authority on the issue of removing all our troops from Iraq without sounding like a pie-in-the-sky ultra liberal. Generally speaking, however, Gov. Richardson blended in with the other second tier candidates, who sadly became filler for the rest of the debate. None of the second tier candidates were able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the fray in way that would be appealing to a wide section of voters…although, Kucinich and Gravel certainly received some applause from the university heavy crowd when they revealed they would be inclined to lower the drinking age. Thus is it is safe to say that while not total losers, the second tiers were the closest to being labeled as such.

I contend that none of these fine individuals are losers seeing as our dynamic and diverse lineup of candidates outshines the Republican roster any day!