Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What have we learned from the debates?

1. A lot less than we should have. One reason many of us Democrats are still undecided (besides the fact that Democrats are blessed with a very strong bench) is that we still know very little about the nuts and bolts of the candidates' positions. The media have decided that the differences are too trivial to matter and too complex to present. They are probably right about the magnitude of the differences, but I would still like to hear a sustained debate among the remaining candidates (including Kucinich) on, for example, their health plans. What do I want to know? Well, for a start, their assessment of the pros and cons of mandates. What about the hundreds of different forms doctors and hospitals must deal with? Why not just take "over 65" out of the Medicare plan? I want to know what factors each candidate weighed in coming up with the plan, partly so I can understand the arguments over the differences and partly to see how well the candidates understand their own plans and can defend them.

2. The moderators wouldn't know a substantive question if it were dropped directly into their voice boxes. In the 1/20/08 South Carolina debate, Blitzer, at the end of the first part, told the audience to stay tuned for more substantive questions in the 2nd part. And what were some of these "substantive" questions? Is it OK for African-Americans to vote for a candidate because he is an African-American? (Edwards knocked this one out of the ballpark. Obama pretty much ignored it as did Hillary.) To Edwards: how do you feel being the only white man? Was Bill really the first Black President? And, to top it all off, Wolf ended with what I'm sure he thought would be the piéce de resistance: why MLK, if alive today, would endorse them.

3. Needless to say, the aprés-debate pundits focused on the mudslinging. They didn't even bother to hide their glee. It is clear that the press corps prefer a gloves-off (cheers to Jon Stewart for catching this) to a gloves-on boxing match.

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