Well, that was really, really horrible. Charlie Gibson and Mr. Snuffalupagus fed Clinton and Obama nothing but gotcha questions. Torture never came up, China never came up, unchecked executive power never came up, and it was 50+ minutes in before they asked any questions that could be considered remotely substantive or issues-based.
Bittergate was the second question, after a nonsensical waste of time about whether each candidate would pledge to be the winner’s running mate. I think Obama answered the Bittergate question fairly well, saying that people have taken refuge in tradition as the government has abandoned them. Hillary gleefully jumped all over it, and basically implied that Obama was insulting her working class family.
The first actual issues question was a couple-in-the-street question along the lines of, "Will you Democrats really get the troops out of Iraq, or are you just big fat liars?" (Both candidates: Yes to the first part.) Snuffy also asked what they would do about Iran trying to acquire nuclear weapons, a dodgy premise that both candidates willingly went along with.
One of the most telling sequences for me was when ABC aired a video question from some woman asking Obama if he believes in the American flag, because he never wears an American flag pin (WTF?), and Obama called out the media for promoting "manufactured issues" at the expense of real ones. The very next question, Snuffy asked Obama a truly vile question fed to him by Sean Hannity, about Obama’s supposed friendship with an ex-Weatherman terrorist, prompting Obama to point out that this was exactly what he was just talking about. It was a great "There you go again" moment, but this time directed at the media. Hillary jumped on the Weatherman bandwagon, and Obama noted that Bill actually pardoned a couple of Weathermen. Ouch.
- A video clip of John McCain declaring that Democrats would Raise Your Taxes, followed by the spectacle of Charlie Gibson arguing tenaciously against increases in the capital gains tax (um, I thought the candidates were supposed to debate each other, not the moderator), insisting again and again that tax revenue goes up every time capital gains taxes go down, and vice versa. Hillary pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class, which she apparently defines as anyone making less than $200,000, and that she would not raise the capital gains tax above what it was during Bill’s administration. Obama pledged to cut taxes on the middle class, and (I think) raised the threshold to $250,000. Wow. Up until tonight I thought I was doing fairly well for myself.
- Snuffy with the best question of the debate, reminding Hillary that she had said she would "use the former presidents" and asking her how she would use Dubya. Her response was something along the lines of, "Uh, let me get back to you on that." (I suck at remembering exact quotes, but I’m good at gist) Hillarious.
- Clinton and Obama each proclaiming the other to be electable, and promising that the Democrats will unify behind the nominee, whoever it may be.
Overall, the moderators were more adversarial towards the candidates than the candidates were towards each other. In fact, they managed to be even worse than Tim Russert and Brian Williams, something I would not have believed possible.
If you’re wondering who won the debate (other than McCain), I think it was a wash. Neither candidate outshone the other to an extent that will affect the outcome of the primary. For me the bigger story was the appalling and irresponsible behavior of the moderators. Did they really think that Democratic primary voters are more interested in Weathermen and flag pins than they are in hearing whether their next president thinks authorizing torture is a criminal act?
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Go get ’em.
UPDATE: To be fair, I should also point out that Hillary was asked about Snipergate, so it’s not like Obama got all the useless timewasting gotcha questions.