Sunday, May 13, 2007

1st Democratic Presidential Debate (Part 1)

Okay, I've had the first Democratic presidential debate on my TiVo for about two weeks now, and I'm finally getting around to watching it.

I like how Brian Williams says that the sponsors of the event "consider themselves thanked" and that the participants are asked not to make opening statements. That way we get right to the questions and the issues.

For a 90-minute debate, I won't comment on every question or every response. But, I am going to try to track how many questions each candidate gets and how well they answer those questions. Then, I'll tally the information in the end.

The first question goes to Senator Hillary Clinton regarding Senator Harry Reid's comment that "the war is lost." Clinton doesn't address Reid's statement directly and states her own opinion about the war and the American people's desire to end the war. Her answer is the standard, safe answer we've heard before. Senator Joe Biden is given the same question. His answer is similar with a little more emphasis on the responsibility of the Iraqis to take over their country. Biden is more of a straight-talked, which I like, but also has a twinge of arrogance in his voice.

So far, only seven minutes in, only three questions, responses from only Clinton, Biden, Obama, and Edwards, and already there's a lot of shots at President Bush. Not necessarily anything wrong with that. He deserves it.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich just got a question about whether you can oppose the war and yet still support it with funding. His answer was decent, although not very articulate. He did mention that he has a proposed bill for the House that would transfer responsibility to the Iraqis as our troops pull out. I would think that would be expected and under the control of the president, so I wonder how exactly his bill adds anything to that idea.

On the same question, Governor Bill Richardson really breaks down the actions he would do. It's good to hear that he can point to specifics of a plan.

Former Senator Mike Gravel gets a similar question. This guy seems like he could use some blood pressure medicine. He comes off as being really honked off. He even looks a little scary. He spends most of this time answering the question by trashing the president and being brazen. I think I caught him saying something about making it a felony to stay in Iraq, or something like that.

An audience member's question is directed to Obama regarding what a "mission complete status" would look like. His answer comes off a little vague and rambling. Clinton gets the same question and emphsizes the need for Republican support to get out of a sectarian civil war. Both their answers make sense and are true, but the don't quite address the question. What does a "mission complete status" look like? Or, are we past the point of worring about completing the mission and just getting out. If so, I think I'd have to agree, but neither of these candidates seemed willing to come right out and say that.

The next set of questions address possible character issues. Obama is asked about kickbacks from Illinois business deals. Edwards is asked how he justifies expensive hair cuts while having a theme on poverty. He admits he has a privileged lifestyle now, but that it's "not where [he] comes from."

Clinton is asked about hedge funds. Richardson is asked why he took so long to way in on Attorney General Gonzales and then said it was because he's Hispanic. He rambled a bit at first, but then finally admitted (again) that being Hispanic did factor in to his late decision. He said it's better to be honest. Plus, he did *eventually* give in and call for Gonzales's resignation.

Dodd is asked about his money from lobbyists while publicly being for reform. His answer is articulate but doesn't quite address the question. Kucinich gets a question about why his political "traction" isn't greater despite being against the war from the beginning. His answer is not very good at all.

Biden is given a review of times he's been outspoken or abrupt and then asked if he would have "discipline on the world stage." His answer is, "Yes." Laughter from the audience. Just, "Yes."

Gravel has been quoted as saying that it doesn't matter whether he's elected, so he's asked why is here tonight. He says that after being around the other candidates he wonders how they hell they got there too. He even says, quite angrily, that some of the candidates "scare" him. Brian Williams prods him further by asking specifically which ones worry him so much. He points to the "top tier" candidates (Clinton, Obama, Edwards), and then says he'll include Biden because he's arrogant and wants to tell the Iraqis how to run their country. Gravel says we "should just get out."

Clinton is asked why Republicans are so eager to defeat her. She explains how much she's ready to institute universal health care and to bring out change and renewed trust on the world stage.

The next question is about partial birth abortion. Edwards gets it first. He semi-dodges the question saying how tough an issue it is for people and talking about how the election will affect the Supreme Court, but he does eventually say that he is for a woman's right to choose. Obama steers the question toward reducing teen pregnancy and increasing prevention.

Biden says he strongly supports Roe v. Wade. He said he believes that partial birth abortions should only be in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. But, he also said he fears outlawing partial birth abortions is a stepping stone toward overturning Roe v. Wade. Even if I don't agree with him on this topic, at least his answer was rational and clear-cut.

Kucinich also steers the question toward pre-natal care, natal care, adoption, child care, universal health care, etc. Dodd even states that he agrees with Kucinich but elaborates more about the aspect of a woman's health in this issue.

Oddly, Clinton, Richardson, and Gravel are not asked the abortion question.

The next question is for each candidate: Who is your model Supreme Court Justice alive today.
Richardson: Whizzer White???, then he says Ginsberg after Brian Williams tells him to mention someone alive
Dodd: Ginsberg
Edwards: Ginsberg or Bryer(?)
(The question and answers took so long, they didn't get to everyone before moving on...)

Clinton is asked if any government failure played a role in the tragedy at Virgina Tech. She says yes, almost gets choked up, mentions Columbine, and talks about gun control. Richardson gets a similar question about gun control and Virginia Tech. He admits that he's from a state where the 2nd amendment is crucial, so he steers the question toward mental health checks.

Brian Williams asks a show-of-hands question about who, as an adult, has had a gun in the house. Richardson, Dodd, Biden, Kucinich, and Gravel all raise their hand. And, you know, the idea of Gravel with a gun is a little scary. Odd how the "front-runners" in the race are the ones that didn't raise their hand.

Biden clarifies that he owned a rifle, not a pistol and answered another similar question about gun control. He brings up his crime bill from the Clinton administration that put more cops on the street. He also said the assult rifle ban should not have lapsed and that they need to do something about the loophole in which you can buy a gun from a gun show that you couldn't get from a gun shop. Then, he also steers the topic toward mental illness saying that if a teacher can determine that a student may be a danger, they should have the right to get them taken off the campus.

The next question is about how they would pay for health care. Edwards focuses on eliminating Bush's tax cuts for the upper class and explains how he would work employer benefits and give employees choices. Obama says there should be a "national pool" for those that don't have benefits, that the country should do better about controlling costs, and that there should be catastrophic insurance to protect against enormous medical bills in families.

Clinton gets the same question and says that some of the current ideas have been tried before but that the insurance companies got nervous. She's ready to try again. She doesn't want to put new money into a new system; she wants to better use the money we have now. I like that answer.

Richardson says no new beauracracy, focus on prevention, deal with inefficiencies, and re-establish doctor-patient relationship.

One e-mail question for each of the candidates was to give an example of a mistake and whether you learned from it. One excellent came from Obama where he plainly admitted that he regretted the way the Terry Shivo case was handled, and in retrospect, felt that that decision should have been left to the family. Edwards also plainly admitted that voting for the war was a mistake, and that he learned he should listen to his own judgment more in the future. Richardson admits that he tried to rush the increase of the minimum wage in his state instead of pacing himself and handling the situation more diplomatically.

Clinton is aksed about amnesty for illegal aliens. She says we should tighten border security, sanction employers who get undocumented workers, help communities with cost caused by illegal immigration, better tracking of who's in the country, and better opportunity to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn Engligh, and eventually become citizens legally.

On a question about education, Biden says he need the best teachers in the world and implied that teachers should make more money. While that's true, I don't think money is the only problem with the teaching profession, and I think there are already a lot of really excellent teachers out there who teach despite the bad pay. I think you need to do more for this problem, than just throw money at it. Part of the problem with the education system is everyone but the teachers: the administrators, the parents, and sometimes the students themselves. There needs to be more respect in school all around.

A question for all candidates is about what they would want to accomplish on the first day. Richardson says, first day, get out of Iraq with diplomacy, second day, energy indepdence, third day, climate change, fourth day, take the day off.

At the one hour mark, the debate questions switch to non-Iraq foreign policy.

What are the three most important world allies? Obama says European Union and Asia (Japan and China).

What are the three biggest non-Iraq threats? Biden says North Korea, Iran, and Russia. Gravel says we should deal with the rest of the world as equals. He complains about how much we pay for defense and war. As a follow-up, Edwards and Richardson are asked specifically about Russia. Edwards dodges the question; Richardson addresses it a little more directly and then braches off into Darfur.


It's getting late, and I'm getting tired. So, I'll have to blog about the last 25 minutes of the debate tomorrow. But, here's my summary as to how well I feel the candidates answered the questions and addressed the issues so far (regardless or whether I agreed with them or not)...

If every excellent answer is worth 3 points, every good answer is 2 points, fair answer = 1, poor answer = 0, and I take the point total and divide by the number of questions each candidate got, the numbers would work out as follows:

  • [1.75] Senator Barrack Obama (8 questions)

  • [1.63] Senator Joe Biden (8 questions)

  • [1.57] Former Senator John Edwards (7 questions)

  • [1.50] Governor Bill Richardson (6 questions)

  • [1.43] Senator Hillary Clinton (7 questions)

  • [1.20] Senator Chris Dodd (5 questions)

  • [0.60] Congressman Dennis Kucinich (5 questions)

  • [0.40] Former Senator Mike Gravel (5 questions)

So far, there have only been four excellent answers. Senator Biden had excllent answers to the questions about partial birth abortion and the Virginia Tech/gun control issue. Senator Obama had an excellent answer about what mistake he's made and what he's learned from it. And, Senator Clinton had an excellent answer to the question about illegal immigration.

Biden may be the only person with two excellent answers, but he's only had one good answer, and the other five have just been fair. Clinton has the same exact numbers except one fewer excellent answers and one fewer total. The only ones with poor answers have been Kucinich and Gravel.

More tomorrow (or, technically, later today).

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