Wednesday, December 10, 2003

This was the first of the debates I watched most of the way through. We still have nine candidates, which is a lot, but each one lacks something. Earlier Tuesday night I had dinner with two friends, one mostly apolitical and the other a mostly staunch republican. The latter told me that she felt that republicans were lacking in candidates with charisma when compared with the dems, citing Bill Clinton. I wished I could see that charisma in one of the field of nine tonight, but apart from Al Sharpton's penchant for crowd-rousing zingers, I really couldn't. And Sharpton's Saturday Night Live stint notwithstanding, his divisive past makes him not ready for prime time. (As far as I know, he has never disowned his anti-Semitic rhetoric from days gone by.)

Dean is getting better, more polished-- but his comment towards the end that spending over an hour talking about terrorism in a roughly two hour debate is too much may come back to haunt him, context notwithstanding.

Edwards is if anything too polished, and not in a good way. I lost count of how often he derided the rest for being career politicians, and poised himself, by contrast, as an Outsider Who Can Get Things Done. I'm surprised he never tugged at imaginary suspenders and said that he wasn't a big-city lawyer.

Kerry resorted to an anecdote about an ordinary person he knew personally, someone who was laid off and got another job for substantially less money. Even if they're sincerely affected by stories they hear from regular folks, even if they hear them first hand, politicians should never, never tell these stories in debates or on the stump about Joe or Betty Smith from Winnetonka-wherever because they just come across as phonies when they do. I felt bad for Kerry, because he seems like a decent and very able fellow, and I can't help but think he'd be the front-runner in a pre-tv election where his patrician mien wouldn't be a factor with voters who'd just read about him or hear him on the radio. It's too late for cursing in Rolling Stone to help him seem cool.

I have this sense of Gephardt that if you took all the candidates' policy proposals and polled most ordinary people about the various platforms A, B, C, etc without telling them about party affiliation or the individual espousing them, his positions and initiatives would strike more people as being more sensible than any of the others, but there's no spark. Gephardt talked about worker retraining and an international minimum wage, which just sounded wonkish coming from him. Now if Clinton talked about these things...

I like Kucinich too, but the blithe deludedness of him saying he'd start replacing our troops in Iraq with UN peacekeepers in 90 days from his inauguration marks him as just another liberal who's weak on defense and foreign policy. (Sharpton also suggested it would be comparatively easy to withdraw from Iraq, without being so specific.) I did like it when Kucinich upbraided Ted Koppel for going on and on about Gore's Dean endorsement, as that seemed to occupy at least the first 15 minutes of the debate. I'd like to vote for a democrat like Kucinich or Mosely-Braun who unambiguously favors a single-payer federal health-care plan, but the first successful democrat to do so will have to talk about how we're going to pay for it as we transition to it and what's going to happen to the equity investors(including millions of retirees) have tied up in health-care stocks. That candidate hasn't shown up yet.

Clark, Lieberman, and to a lesser degree Kerry and Gephardt were the only ones who sounded like grown-ups when asked about how they'll get us out of Iraq. Dean held up Afghanistan as a model of democracy for Iraq(!?), which made me wonder about him. Rival warlords ruling 90 plus percent of the country with a figurehead president who was chosen by the Americans and gets to stay alive as long as he promises not to enforce any authority outside Kabul and stay in his palace most of the time? Democracy? Deliver us from the lunk-headed feel-good progressives who want us to cut and run in Iraq without re-establishing the rule of law and public safety that ordinary Iraqis had until we pre-emptively attacked them because of all those darn WMDs..