Debate Reflections

Plenty of people have posted their reactions to yesterday’s Democratic Debate already, but I thought I would take a little time and post some reflections on the larger issues.

A key theme of the debates was the need for change, yet there was little discussion about changes of the way the debates should be handled. Initially, I was frustrated at the non-answers by the candidates, yet as I listened, my frustration rapidly changed to Stephanapoulos.

It wasn’t the fact that the moderator was a senior advisor to Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign, and later became Clinton’s communication director. The real problem was the underlying context of the debate.

Stephanapoulos focused on trying to get the candidates to fight over non-issues, even resorting to quoting Karl Rove about things that don’t really matter. Some people were disappointed with the YouTube debates, but the contrast was striking. The YouTube questions were orders of magnitude better than anything Stephanapouos came up with.

One of the problems with debates is trying to get people to watch them. YouTube was a great hook. Stephanapoulos failed to come up with any good hook, and resorted to the tired old idea of trying to get the candidates to fight. Everyone loves a good fight. Everyone, that is, who is looking for bread and circuses, and not for a debate about the issues that our country must face.

Since the questions were so bad, the avoidance of the questions actually turned out to be about the best you could hope for. Indeed, some of the best moments were when Chris Dodd pointed out that we are not electing a King, but instead are voting for a President that will need to work with Congress. Bill Richardson, likewise, did a good job in countering the flawed basic premises of the debate by focusing on his experience as a diplomat. We need to be focusing on how our leaders can work well with others. The inability to work well with others, whether it be Congress or foreign nations, is one of the biggest problems with the current administration.

Sen. Obama started off with a good comment about how he prepared for the debate by riding the bumper cars at the Iowa fair. It placed the debate in a better context. The image of Sen. Obama stepping out of the bumper cars, with a broad smile, after having been bumped by Sen. Edwards or Sen. Dodd and walking out together with them joking around is a much better image than everyone standing stiffly behind the podiums. Perhaps the next debate should take place in bumper cars. To rebut an opponent, you have to bump into them first. This would be a hook that might get more people watching, make the thing more fun, and remind the candidates that we need to work together as opposed to the style of politics we’ve seen in Washington for the last six years.

This takes me to my thoughts about one of the worst questions, and my disappointment with the responses. George Stephanapoulos was trying to get the candidates to attack Sen. Clinton for being too much of a Washington insider. Talk about the pot trying to get people to call the kettle black.

No, everyone on that stage is too much of a Washington insider, and it would have been great if one of the candidates stepped up, pointed out how much of a Washington insider Stephanapoulos is and then said, yes, we are all too closely tied to Washington. That is why it is so important that we get out and meet people at the Iowa fair and stumping across New Hampshire, and any other place where we can get into a real discussion about real issues with real people.

Yes, the candidates were right. We do need real change in Washington, and it needs to start, right now, starting with the Washington Press Corp.

(Cross posted at DailyKos)

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