Disappointing Democratic Debate in Philly

Washington Matters

Disappointing Democratic Debate in Philly

Last night's debate left a bad taste in my mouth and probably in the mouths of a lot of other viewers. Was that event really the best we can do in the way of a presidential-level dialogue?


We did learn something from last night's debate, including:

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--Barack Obama still doesn't have a good explanation for what he meant when he said that voters cling to religion and guns because they're bitter. His answer yesterday was weak and unconvincing. In fact, his whole performance was unsteady -- nervous, unsure,  defensive and lacking the stature we expect of a real leader. In some ways, the debate was unfair. The first 45 minutes was a pile-on, with the two moderators and Hillary Clinton throwing everything they could think of at Obama, but he should have been ready for that. And he didn't do a whole lot better when they finally got around to policy questions.


--Clinton was smoother, but she didn't do anything to appease voters who think she's too negative, too dishonest and too willing to do whatever it takes to get elected. And she must be kicking herself for agreeing that if Obama's the nominee, he can beat John McCain in Nov. That undercuts her main argument with superdelegates.


--The moderators, ABC's Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, were also a disappointment. They came loaded for bear against Obama, hitting him on everything from the Rev. Wright to flag lapels, but they asked Clinton only one question about the Bosnia sniper fire fracas, with no followup. And their policy questions lacked the specificity and follow through that would have made for a more interesting debate.


If either Obama or Clinton chided the moderators for focusing on the small and almost trivial and missing the large national policy questions that deserve discussion and answers, I bet the crowd would have applauded.


I wouldn't give anybody a high score on this one, and though Obama looked the loser (and McCain the winner), I doubt it changed many minds. There's growing evidence, as Nicholas Kristof pointed out today that voters look to the debates for validation of what they already believe. That could be because they're not really debates at all. Last night's was the 21st, if you were counting, and maybe the last. That may not be a bad thing.