February 22, 2007

The Democratic Non-Debate

Talk about an accelerated campaign cycle! The Democrats rushed into their first debate almost a year before the first primaries, and did so in a format that took the debate out of the debate. Instead, the Los Angeles Times describes a round-robin press conference where most of the argument took place in the hallways after the event:

The format, with contestants appearing one after another, was not a debate. Eight speakers — all the announced candidates except Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — took turns giving set remarks and answering questions. Many were submitted by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which hosted the forum.

The closest public encounter between participants came as Clinton swept out of the Carson City Community Center to a clatter of camera shutters while Edwards stood talking to reporters about 10 yards away. Neither could see the other. ...

The locale, with the snowy Sierra as a backdrop, was intended to steer the discussion toward regional issues, such as water and land use. But it was the war that dominated nearly two hours of talk by the Democratic hopefuls.

The candidates' determination to air their differences — despite a cumbersome format and their repeated calls for a positive campaign — underscored the unusually early and intense nature of the race.

Bloggers from the port side of the 'sphere faulted Obama for skipping this first get-together. Obama claimed that he had no room in his schedule, a strange excuse given the lead time for the event and the acceptance of all the other candidates. However, Obama gets enough press attention at this point in time to take a chance on differentiating himself from the pack, especially since he is rather untested in high-profile debates.

The rest of the pack spent their time trying to set themselves up as the quickest policy implementers in history. Tom Vilsack insisted that Congress had to cut off funding for the Iraq war now -- "Not six days from now. Not six months from now. Not six years from now." Vilsack didn't talk about how to handle the aftermath of an immediate bug-out, leaving Joe Biden to sound the one rational note by asking later in the debate whether anyone considers the fact that a collapse in Iraq would likely send "generations" of Americans to fight in the Middle East.

On health care, the Democrats played another round of The Quick And The Dead. Hillary Clinton insisted that she would again push universal health care if elected, although it would take until her second term to get it fully implemented. That seems rather arrogant, considering she hasn't won the party nomination for her first general election. John Edwards, apparently believing the debate to be based on Name That Tune, told the press that he could implement universal health care in one term, which not coincidentally is the same number of terms in public office that he has won in his lifetime.

However, Democrats seemed slow to identify where all of the monies for universal health care could be found. Vilsack suggested that the money spent in Iraq could get redirected to pay for single-payor plans. He didn't announce how the $300 billion spent over four years could pay for an expansion of the already-bloated Medicare system, which spends more than that in a single year to provide its existing coverage. Bill Richardson demurred om taxes, believing that he could find enough money in government inefficiency to pay for more government inefficiency in health care.

Afterwards, Edwards entertained the press by insisting that true leadership comes from repudiating one's previous positions, a thinly-veiled attack on Hillary Clinton. "It's time for a different kind of leadership in this country," Edwards said, calling for a president "who will tell the truth when they've made a mistake." What Edwards fails to mention is that he sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and had one of the most informed positions on Iraq prior to the war -- or would have, had he attended the committee hearings on a regular basis. Instead, he had the worst attendance record on the committee during his tenure, alomost all of it post-9/11, which seems an odd threshold for national leadership.

Obama may have had the right idea. The event appears to have diminished everyone who attended it.


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The Democratic Non-Debate Ed Morrissey Talk about an accelerated campaign cycle! The Democrats rushed into their first debate almost a year before the first primaries, and did so in a format that took the debate out of the debate. Instead, [Read More]