Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Democratic Party Debate: The Grades

I want to readdress the Democratic Party debate. Last night’s Educated Soldier did a thorough job of assessing the event. However, towards the end of the report, I felt that I really lost steam. A night of rest has reinvigorated me; encouraging refocused thoughts. Thus, I have decided to produce a critique of the debate a bit more basic in format and, ultimately, more enjoyable for the reader.

Taking a cue from Blogs for Fred Thompson, I want to rate the participants using a standard American scale: A through F. An “A”, of course, represents an exemplary performance; the most outstanding of all candidates. “F” stands for failure. To earn such a mark, I feel that you would have had to alienate your base or really greatly miss some genuine opportunities to shine. I may also implement a plus / minus (+ or -) system to grade with more refinement.

As always, there has to be at least a single detail that needs to be brought to attention before continuing. Here it is: I am judging the candidates on their performances. This is to say that I am more concerned with how intelligent, intellectual and “on top” of the topics each of the candidates seemed to be. Their platforms will hold less weight. This is for two reasons: First and, most obviously, is that as a conservative, there isn’t much that I agree with the platforms so it would be a futile effort for me to dredge in such criticism and, second, this debate didn’t go very far in introducing any real platforms anyway. Those details seem to always hide until after the Primaries and the introduction of the Presidential Debates.

Now, on with the festivities.

The Winner

If I would have created this post and assessed grades directly after the debate last night, this category would have been entitled “The Winners” (notice the use of the plural). However several factors worked to change my mind. The most notable is one probably unfair to the candidates but surfaced nonetheless:

I visited other sites. I read their own assessments of the debate and I found myself agreeing with them. The more I became influenced, the more I realized that there was really a single clear winner last night.

*Drum Roll please*

Senator Joe Biden: I really think he did everything right. More importantly, he did nothing wrong. This is important because he isn’t considered a top runner in this race and any little misstep at the debate could have been lethal (which is something I will address when discussing one of the night’s biggest losers).

If the Iraq War issue is the primary concern among Democratic voters and, really, the American populace as a whole, which recent Senate antics have seemed to have proven true, than Senator Biden easily portrayed himself as the Democratic candidate who most strongly had a grasp on the country’s most important issue.

He used this topic to utterly deflate Governor Richardson by exposing the Governor’s proposal of a six-month withdrawal as implausible. He also presented a well considered political plan for a troop withdrawal himself and scored points for declaring that any unilateral troop removal (without considering the need for altered political strategy in the country) would ultimately result in the deaths of those Americans left in the Green Zone. Senator Biden impressed by being able to suggest withdrawal in a manner that seemed sensible to even one of the War’s most persistent supporters: me.

Senator Biden then completed the mission that Senators Obama and Edwards failed: he rhetorically slayed Senator Clinton. Both Senators were asked how they would end the conflict in Darfur. Senator Biden was adamant in his response. He stated that American troops need to make a presence there and that a no-fly zone needs to be implemented. Senator Clinton tried to echo Biden’s passion but was tripped up when host Anderson Cooper asked her, point blank, if she supported the use of American troops in the region. While Senator Biden stood true to his convictions when posed this same question, Senator Clinton faltered and, ultimately, took her answer into topics more comfortable to her.

Grade: A+

"Second Tier" Winners

Barack Obama: If one candidate of the night was most successful in entering the debate with a mission and then following through with that mission, it was Senator Obama. He wanted to talk about education and the influence of special interests. And the junior Senator didn’t let any question get in the way of his talking points.

While that may sound deceptive to some, I give Senator Obama credit for sticking to his comfort zone with poise. As I stated last night, this guy has strong stage presence and is an outstanding speaker. Something else I had already mentioned is that my critique is an assessment of performances. With the exception of Senator Biden, Obama was the most exemplary performer.

He only nearly got tripped up once. Senator Gravel countered Obama’s claim that he does not accept special interest contributions by pointing out that Senator Obama did accept such funds, but was allowed to rule them out by categorizing them as “bundlers.” This may well have been true. It may have also been damaging. But no worries for a candidate on his feet like Senator Obama, who quickly retorted that one only has access to such financial dealings of candidates because of legislation that he, in fact, introduced. In retrospect, this comment has been called in to question as the legislation referenced by Senator Obama is, apparently, still awaiting approval. Let me remind you, however, that this is a debate and facts have never been a requisite at such an event.

So, on basis of solid theatrical talent alone, Senator Obama’s performance warrants:

Grade: B

Another candidate who was successful in so much as he didn’t hurt himself was Representative Kucinich. He only had one memorable moment during the debate; when he referenced biblical material in response to the question of reparations to African Americans for slavery. This moment was also notable for Kucinich because he was the only panel member willing to take a stand and state enthusiastically that he was ready to deliver those reparations. All other candidates predictably used the question to spin towards other topics.

Representative Kucinich loses some points because, as an individual with low support in the polls, he really needs to shine in these debates and present himself as a candidate different from the Obamas, the Clintons and the Edwards of the field. He gets a “B” for trying but, ultimately, this is the final assessment:

Grade B-

The Losers

Senator Mike Gravel: Remember when I said, above, that any misstep for a trailing candidate could prove lethal to their campaign???...

In trying to be professional in my assessment of this debate, I find myself at a current obstacle. Personally, I found the Senator to be incoherent in his answers and, in all honesty, quite eccentric (and if you are one of those that feels that eccentrics can be seen positively or negatively, let me assure you that in Senator Gravel’s case, it wasn’t good). Many times during the debate, he simply forgot to answer the questions. And this wasn’t necessarily intentional. Sure, Senator Obama rarely answered the questions directly either, but he at least transitioned smoothly and usually referenced the original question at some point during his answer. Senator Gravel just went on unrelated tangents. To me, this is the Ron Paul of the Democrats. The guy’s a wildcard and the people that support him probably d0 quite enthusiastically, but – after last night – I find myself not understanding how anyone could.

In the same manner that people remember Howard Dean's bellowing of "BEYAHHHHH!" during the downfall of his campaign, people will always be able to look back similarly at Senator Gravel exuberantly grumbling last night that the soldiers in Vietnam and Iraq "Died In Vain..."

Grade: F

Governor Bill Richardson: Blogs for Fred Thompson makes a great point. This guy is fighting for a Vice President spot and is slowly ruining his chances in that race as well. Senator Biden exposed Richardson’s plan for troop withdrawal in Iraq as hyperbolic rhetoric. Worse, Richardson’s performance was the antithesis to both Biden’s and Senator Obama’s. While they were graceful on stage, Governor Richardson seemed overwhelmingly uncomfortable. As much as I can feel sympathy for a politician living a life surely plump with luxuries, I feel it for him. Buried behind that unconfident tone and weak articulating ability are surely ideals that Governor Richardson genuinely holds dear and wants to express. He just hasn’t figured out how to do it.

Grade: F

Senator Edwards: While Edward’s performance wasn’t nearly the train wreck of the others in this category, it wasn’t stellar either. John Edwards needs to learn fast that he has to distinguish himself from Obama and Clinton. In my assessment, if Edwards looks equal to Clinton, Democrats are going to choose Clinton. It’s even worse for Edwards if he is seen as no different then Obama because the Senator from Illinois is ostensibly more likeable which goes a long way in a field like this. Furthermore, Senator Edwards’ admission that he is internally tormented by the debate over gay marriage is weak. Pick a side and fight for it. Or let your campaign fade. This is the man that suggested that the field needs to be whittled to allow for only those with an authentic opportunity of victory to continue. With sustained “non” performances like last night’s, the field will, indeed, be reduced and he will be one of those eliminated.

Senator Edwards’ grade gets raised from a flat “D” for his successful stage presence. While he was unconvincing in his individuality, he at least spoke articulately and seemed understanding of current issues. Nonetheless, the final assessment is still only:

Grade: D+

The Rest

Senator Chris Dodd: Maybe it was because of the format of the debate, but Senator Dodd had the distinction of being the most forgettable of the night. I can’t think of a single moment where the Senator did anything to interest me. However, on the same note, if he too is only fighting to ultimately become the Vice President, then he did what any such individual should do: polarize yourself as little as possible. In the end, it will be one of the night’s competition that will ultimately have to choose you as a running mate. It was a smart move for Senator Dodd to say nothing to make him stand out as being notably against any of the other candidates’ principles.

If this was the debate for potential Vice President candidates, Senator Dodd would receive an “A.” Unfortunately, this was a debate among hopefuls vying to become President. So, instead, Senator Dodd receives:

Grade: C

Senator Hillary Clinton: I have read the reports and apparently, Senator Clinton had strong body language last night and her stage presence was impeccable. That may be true, but her competition right now is Barack Obama and his own presence, in my assessment, was better.

Ultimately, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama are running on the same general platforms. They don’t differentiate much on most issues. So one of these candidates has to bring something to the table that exists outside the field of simple politics. Senator Clinton didn’t exhibit any extra qualities last night to cause me to find her any more appealing then Senator Obama. He, at least, displayed a clear sense of humor.

Senator Obama appeared genuinely interested in driving American forward through political discourse. I got the impression last night that Senator Clinton was genuinely interested in driving Senator Clinton’s legacy forward. Clinton may, in fact, be more qualified then Senator Obama for the position of the President of the United States. But ultimately, one is a junior Senator and the other is a candidate whose biggest contributions came as First Lady. Voters are going to look for intangibles. I detected the presence of none from Senator Clinton last night.


Grade: C

To access my earlier assessment of the debate, complete with more Candidate quotes and commentary, please click HERE

1 comment:

John said...

I would give Obama a F- just for his simplistic view point that he would be willing to talk to every dictator and thug and despot that is an enemy of the United States.

As much as I loathe Hillary, she did have a sober response to the question about diplomacy.

All Obama is doing, and anyone else in the Congress who espouses the idea that we must talk to our enemies, is attempting to contrast themselves with the perceived cowboy diplomacy of George Bush. IMO, we talk to too many people. The message should be that this is where we start and if you aren't willing to start there, then screw it.

The rule of thumb on diplomacy in the democrat party is to do the opposite of whatever course the Bush administration is taking.