In the Arena


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Just wandered through the spin room here at South Carolina State and…nothing happened. Most of the spinners were…speechless, or trading restaurant recommendations in Charleston, or asking reporters, “What did you think?” This represents a major advance toward honesty in Democratic Party post-game politics. The spinners were unspun because nothing really happened in this debate.

A reminder: nothing happens in most debates. And none of the actual candidates did anything to hurt or help themselves very much. Of the non-actual candidates, Mike Gravel did a Howard Beale “I’m mad as hell…” imitation and was fortunate not to be carted off the stage by the local first responders. Dennis Kucinich actually did well, solidifying his hold on the far left end of the field….but he still isn’t a plausible candidate and we’d all be better served if the people who might actually be President had more time to talk and respond and argue with each other.

John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t do much to distinguish or hurt themselves. Obama seems to wander into his answers, which makes him seem slightly uncertain onstage. Clinton seems almost too certain: her forcefulness masks an absence of detail–very forceful on health care (but where’s the plan?), very forceful on ending the war in Iraq (but her actual position is more complicated than that). I’d just spent a few days with Edwards and my feelings about him haven’t changed: he speaks simply, he has more details than the others. He’s been the best candidate in this race so far.

As for the middle tier–Dodd, Biden and Richardson–nothing to write home about. Biden had a lovely moment when Brian Williams asked if he had the discipline not to be a “gaffe machine” and all-purpose motormouth. He said, “Yes.” And he didn’t blabber too much during the rest of the debate. Didn’t distinguish himself much, either. Asked what sacrifices he’d ask of the American people with regard to global warming, he did the old Manhattan Project riff…conveniently forgetting the sacrifice. In fact, what’s the point of being a middle-tier candidate if you can’t get bold and specific and truthy and push the front-runners?

Richardson was particularly disappointing–I really like the guy, he’s a terrific diplomat and he’s been a fine governor. But his Iraq answers were simplistic to the point of irresponsible: I’d get the three parties to make a deal on my first day as President? Oh please. And the “I hope we democrats wouldn’t think of new taxes first” moment seemed oh-so-four-eight-twelve-sixteen years ago.

Dodd was ok, not memorable…Now the spinners are invading the press room, asking us what we thought. Which means time to flee…

PS–Swampland readers will remember that I attempted to take a vacation in the middle east a few weeks ago and failed. I am going to try to take an extended weekend now. See you next Wednesday, maybe…Tuesday.