New Hampshire, a state known for its political activism and involvement, and also the site of the first Democratic primary, played host to a Presidential debate between all eight Democratic candidates last night.
Overall, the format of the debate was excellent. Abandoning the rigid structure with candidates speaking in a predetermined order with the yellow and red timer lights really helped the candidates come alive. Wolf Blitzer, who did an excellent job of moderating the debate, used his freedom with such a flexible format, creating some good follow-up discussion and debate among the candidates. This became especially effective in drawing out the differences between the candidates. Speaking of which, since Cornell decided to choose our convocation speaker from CNN, why couldn't we choose Wolf Blitzer?
But enough on the format of the debate. Let's discuss the actual debate itself and my take on the top four performers in the debate. Even though I approach this from a liberal perspective, I probably have a different take since I'm naturally conservative, but hopefully you will appreciate this analysis from a former debater in high school.
Obama really differentiated himself on Iraq from other candidates by how he magnified the impact of Iraq, discussing on how it affects the real war on terror in Afghanistan and on the ability of the United States to deal with other nations such as Iran and Pakistan. No other candidate laid out the negative externalities of the Iraq war like he did.
I definitely noticed how Edwards teamed up with Obama against Hillary in the early part of the debate, as both traded compliments on Iraq and healthcare. When Edwards really tried to go after Obama on healthcare, he lost. I saw the most actual debate and clash in this moment of the debate, so that played a huge role in why I choose Obama.
Obama's healthcare views focused on driving down healthcare costs. Edwards required mandatory insurance and accused Obama's plan of creating gaps since it is not mandatory. Obama then proved how high healthcare costs can prevent people from buying insurance even if it is mandatory, creating gaps. Both plans create gaps, not just Obama's, but Obama's plan drives down costs. Obama's decision to mandate health are for children also blocked out another attack from Edwards about the advantage of mandatory healthcare, allowing Obama to sail smoothly to victory.
In general, Obama displayed a strong knowledge of the issues and talked specifics. When he started talking about how families feel financial strains from all sides with kids and college, retirement savings, gas prices, etc., Obama displayed some of his fine speaking skills and knowledge, whether on the topic of the country of Iraq or the small family and their needs.
Edwards had many of the same strengths Obama did, especially on Iraq and healthcare. Although his attempt to overtake Obama on the issue of healthcare ultimately failed, he still benefited from their alliance and mutual compliments in the debate, propelling both to the top of the field.
On the issue of Iran, he delivered a very intelligent answer showing his excellent understanding of the political situation there. Also, I liked how he focused on reestablishing America's moral authority and standing in the world as his number one issue in the first 100 days. Furthermore, whenever Edwards answered his questions, he often made it a point to distinguish himself from other candidates, showing how he's better.
Biden obviously took an unconventional approach by supporting the war funding bill, but I really liked his approach and how he defended it. Discussing his reasons to continue to fund the war, Biden focused on why he was right and refused to focus on why others were wrong or even call them wrong. That put him on a higher ground than the other candidates in terms of character. Also, he cited specifically how voting against funding would have a real impact on protecting troops' lives from I.E.D. attacks. Everyone supports the troops as Obama mentioned, and Biden played off of that well, putting himself above politics on the vote.
His focus on practicality and reality also worked effectively, and Hillary even complemented his pragmatism when discussing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Kucinich, who is too idealistic, provided another good opportunity to show the advantage of pragmatism. As much as the other candidates promised to do this or that on Iraq, Biden laid out the disturbing truth: under Bush, Democrats either had to put together 67 votes to override his veto or win in 2008 to safely reverse course in Iraq. Any other way could endanger the troops.
On the issue of immigration, he started by building off the excellent answer of Richardson and then further expanded on relating the legislation to its positive impact on the war on drugs. Responses like that demonstrated his broad knowledge of the issues and his experience in the Senate. Darfur also proved to be a strong point for Biden. He laid out a real strong case on why we need to act and not talk on Darfur, setting the tone for all future discussion on Darfur in the debate.
Clinton had some good humor, some nice anti-Bush jabs, and some powerful sound bites, but she lacked substance beyond that. Obama opposed the war from the start but said little on Congress's war funding bill until he voted "No" in the end. Edwards voted for the original war but vocally opposed the new war funding bill. Hillary voted for the original war and stayed silent on the war funding bill until she voted in the end. While Obama and Edwards debated specific details of the other one's healthcare plan, Hillary had to discuss her unsuccessful attempt for universal healthcare back in the '90s.
Also, she refused to discuss how to deal with Iran if diplomacy does not work, dismissing it as a hypothetical situation, not even going into the topic of sanctions as others did. Hillary spent too much time dismissing “hypothetical” scenarios and questioning the questions. It can be done effectively once as Obama did on the question of English as the official language (he argued that it divided America and distracted from the real issues on immigration), but Hillary overdid it. While Obama gave specific reasons on why to target Osama bin Laden if civilian casualties would occur, Hillary asked for specifics on the question. She came off as indecisive and pretentious.