So the marginally insane choice of having a presidential debate outside in Chicago in August proved to be a good time (and I know from formal events outside in August!). The crowd was feisty, and the candidates played that up as much as possible. Here is my bullet-point review and scoreboard for the night:
- Joe Biden (4): Joe always has some good things to say, but I have to tell you: older white men with white hair in politics just really bore me these days. He has a lot of experience, and he seems a smart guy, but all this talk about bucking the establishment in Washington, coming from a man who's spent 35 years there, is a tough pill to swallow. He also sometimes gets in these hawkish fugue-states that I don't care for. His credentials are impeccable, and I hope he's an adviser in the cabinet. Also, someone on his campaign staff: Please tell him to put his pen down when he gestures!
- Hilary Clinton (1): For lack of a better way of saying this: she brought it. She's from the suburbs and she started with a Bears thing, which was a nice opener for the home field. She was smart, commanding, funny (the "I'm your girl!" line is all the buzz today), and pretty much had them at "Hello." I was relieved to see that she appeared to be a lot less "produced" and more genuine this time around. That's going to be a continuing challenge for her. She's definitely got some inside the beltway baggage, but it seems fresher coming from her than from Biden. Could be because she's a woman and I like that, but I just think she owned this debate. Her one slip up with the "you shouldn't say everything you think when you run for president" will come back to haunt her. Suggesting opacity is a little too Bush/Cheney, and I think she knows it. It was live. People say stupid stuff. Hopefully, her clarifications of that statement will be cool and not too "handled."
- Chris Dodd (5): Again with the old white men with impeccable credentials. He had good things to say as well, and he was not afraid to get up in Barack and Hilary's respective grille's, which led to some lively (actual) debate. He helped keep the proceedings a little spicy, which is good. He also, however, gets into strange hawkish modes that I don't like. Points for unabashedly stirring the pot.
- John Edwards (6): This was his debate to lose, and he pretty much lost it. Kucinich stole his thunder with the union crowd, and he read to me as really flat. He tried to get some digs in, but they rang hollow. Even his constant iterations of having walked 200 picket lines seemed to me like he was trying too hard. I expected better from him. As a side note, I LOVE his wife.
- Dennis Kucinich (3): My God was he on fire. He worked this crowd like Kathy Griffin in The Castro. Nailed everything he said. Directly answered questions the other candidates artfully danced around (esp. re: NAFTA, WTO), and really won the crowd over. On two occasions, he just ignored Olbermann and worked them up into a pep-rally-esque froth. He was great fun, and he always keeps everyone aware of where progressives really are on the issues. He's almost completely unelectable, but everything is so much better when he's around. Go Dennis!
- Barack Obama (2): Barack rocks. Second only to Hilary in terms of his performance, he actually bested her in quite a few areas, and he did so with consummate ease. Effortlessly deflecting criticism with a casual smile, and bringing a somewhat severe game-face that is a new and interesting posture for him on more serious issues. My favourite bit of his being when he told Clinton, Dodd and Biden that they have no room to criticize him on foreign policy since they voted to send us to "the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation." It could have been a serious clunker, but he said it with real class, and it sure shut them up. His momentum continues...
- Keith Olbermann (Moderator): His deadpan delivery and focussed attitude helped reign in everyone to get the most out of the event. He was funny and serious and as brilliant as he usually is. Best moderator so far this season! More Keith!
- Bill Richardson (7): This man has a resume that goes on for days. He's probably, all told, the best qualified person running for president in '08. His policies are great, he's erudite and not unfunny. He did some wonderfully progressive things in New Mexico when he was governor. It is a pity, then, that he has all the raw naked charisma of a small potted plant, or at least, on the stage with the others, it appeared that way. As a friend pointed out last night, he should be #1 on everyone's list for Veep. He did not distinguish himself from the crowd here, though, as a rallying figure for the party.
(Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)