NBC News anchor Brian Williams did everything in his power to make the Democratic 8 look like children last evening in South Carolina, throwing out blunt gotcha-type questions (haircuts, hedge funds and hypothetical terror attacks) and minimalist policy ones (raise your hand if you've ever owned a gun). After some of the candidates resisted and attempted substantive answers to airhead questions, Williams lamented, "You can't get a one-sentence answer out of this group."Well of course you can't-- they're running for President of the United States, not Student Council at Rydell High. When one of the candidates commented, "this isn't American Idol," I couldn't help but thinking, "Oh, but it is." And Mike Gravel is Sanjaya. Last night's debate made little news as each candidate filled their stereotypical shoes with ease. My rankings of the candidates:
- Hillary: This is hard for me to admit, in light of my past rants, but the Senator from New York was tough and practiced. So much so that I was able to get past her shrill voice (for the first time ever). While her answer to healthcare was lame (she wants a "second try") her answers on terrorism and the Virginia Tech shootings were Bubba-lite (in a good way). I sure as heck don't want to debate her.
- Edwards: He handled the haircut question well (waved it away), provided substantive answers for energy policy and healthcare questions, and no matter what the pundits might say refused to bait Hillary on the say-sorry-for-your-Iraq-vote question. It seems to me that Edwards is a tiny bit tired of talking about how sorry he is about that Iraq War vote, with good reason. When asked about his wealth, he relayed a story from his childhood when his father couldn't afford the prices on the menu at a restaurant in South Carolina and the family had to leave, and the personal moment had General Election written all over it. If "some say" he lacked energy, that's fair, but we're a long way out.
- Obama: Barry looked like John Edwards in 2000-- exciting, youthful and super nervous. As I watched, I couldn't help but wish that Obama had run against a more challenging opponent besides Alan Keyes in his Illinois senate race, because his general approach seemed unsure. However, he unarguably warmed up as the debate went along, and he hit back hard when Kucinich tried to make him look confused on terrorism, which bodes well for the future.
- Biden: I liked when he kissed up to Hillary. It was adorable. And I personally think his Iraq answers are the best from the group, hands down.
- Richardson: Like a first date, I was totally interested in him for the first few minutes, but then he got on my nerves. Bill gets points for being visably annoyed with the silly questions Williams asked (and for saying his favorite Supreme Court Justice was Wizzer White, that's actually interesting!) but if Richardson is already annoyed with the debates during the first debate, um, maybe he shouldn't be there. Actually, he can stay (so long as he pays for dinner).
- Dodd: So, uh, how can you talk so simply and honestly about why gays should be allowed to marry and then say you're against gay marriage? It reminded me of the movie "Mean Girls" when Tina Fay's teacher character says to Lindsay Lohan's student character, "You know, what's so weird about your exam is that all the work is correct, it's only the answer that is wrong." Yup. Weird.
- The Crazy Remains: Mike Gravel was like Ross Perot without a brain--snippy, insulting and annoying. Pundits may like him for his reality-show flavor but this is an election, not sideshow entertainment (or is it?). As for Kucinich... ah, nevermind. If you love him, good luck.
Overall, a mild affair, and I suspect things will stay that way for some time. Why would any of them try too hard at this point-- showing up is enough. Not even political nutcases like me take these first debates too seriously. They are like a read through after a play is cast. Each line is said aloud just so every actor can get a feeling for where it's all headed.One thing's for sure though: I can't wait to see some McCain, Romney and Giuliani give it a spin. Raise your hand if you've been married more than once.