Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Debate #21

Sorry, I just couldn't bring myself to watch the debate from Philadelphia tonight and I'm one of the few people I know that actually enjoys watching these things. It seems the consensus amongst those who think themselves in the know (and I agree with this assessment) is that Obama has the nomination pretty much locked up at this point, barring any unforeseen meltdowns on his part. Clinton's negatives in the polls only seem to rise, even as the news cycle is continuously focusing on Obama's weaknesses and recent mistakes; there doesn't seem to be anything she can proactively do to take this thing and it's really looking like it's his to lose. There is even talk amongst the superdelegates now of holding their own mini-convention in June, as per Howard Dean's plan to have a presumptive nominee chosen by July 1st.

As to the debate, I did check in with several sites that were live blogging the event and it seems that my instincts were right not to have bothered. It appears that this was the least journalisticly professional or news-worthy debate of the season, and ABC apparently got many thousands of angry comments on their website before finally shutting down the comment section altogether. The first half of the evening was filled with pointless, niggling questions about out of context sound-bites, faux-patriotism and speaking gaffes without including a single relevant question on policy. It was as if Clinton and FOX News got together to choose the most inane, trivial bullshit to try and nail Obama with. It was so bad that when they finally did get to an actual question on the war almost an hour into the broadcast, Dave Weigel at Reason exclaimed:

8:52: What the hell is this question about Iraq doing here? I want to know what angle Barack Obama salutes at!
Even after the questions became more substantial however, the debate continued to merely limp along. Both candidates seemed very tired and worn down by the long months of campaigning but Obama especially seemed as if he'd been taking a beating lately; his answers lacked their usual sharpness and intellect and it seemed as if he was relying heavily on talking points, leading many across the blogosphere to conclude that his dismal performance here will hurt him more than the ad hominem attacks from the first half of the night. Clinton seemed cooler and more in control but then she's used to this kind of mud-slinging, hardball politicking, plus her remarks have been all talking points for quite a while now. Andrew Sullivan sums up the appalling lack of quality questioning from the moderators:

9.32 pm. No questions on the environment, none on terror, none on interrogation, none on torture, none on education, none on spending, none on healthcare, none on Iran ... but four separate questions in the first hour about a lapel-pin, Bitter-gate, Wright-gate and Ayers. I'm all for keeping candidates on their toes. But this was ridiculous. And now we have affirmative action? Again, it's not illegitimate as such - but the only reason it is asked is to try and trip these people up and make Gibson and Stephanopoulos look smart.

So it seems that the cable news networks (as lame as they are at times) have the upper hand when it comes to running a competent, substantive debate. ABC News embarrassed themselves tonight with one of the worst media performances in recent memory; Charlie Gibson was even getting booed by the crowd near the end. And it now comes to light that George Stephanopoulos was coached by Sean Hannity; so a former Clinton staffer was indeed asking Obama questions devised by FOX News. On that note, Obama gave probably his worst television performance yet while Clinton seemed to hold it together despite the level of discourse. And the real winner of course, was John McCain and the Republican party; there's nothing like watching your two possible opponents bloody each other up in the ring while you sit back, observe and lay out a future plan of attack.

Still if the numbers are to be believed, this debacle and much of what has been circulating for the past few weeks shouldn't hurt Obama too badly; every time Clinton tries to capitalize on his misfortunes it seems to blow back in her face and she ends up looking even more desperate and petty for her efforts. She needs to win Pennsylvania by at least double digits in order to make the claim that she has scored a decisive victory. Unfortunately for her, Obama has cut that lead down to five points and either way, such a narrow lead coupled with the nature of the primary will most likely end up dividing the delegates fairly evenly.

If you're planning on voting for the Democrat this November, I know you must be just as tired of this whole primary process as I am. Of course, whenever I say that we need to just choose a candidate and move on to the task of winning the general election, someone always reminds me that this is the process we have and that we should just let it work itself out. Bullshit. This interminable wait, the constant in-fighting and the convoluted selection methods in place just underscore the fact that the entire primary process needs a complete overhaul to make it more transparent, more democratic and more responsive to the will of the people; the party insiders and power brokers have been controlling and manipulating this system for far too long now.

It seems like everyone with any kind of stake in the Democratic party has figured out by now that this whole thing needs to be brought to a swift ending before any permanent damage is done to whichever candidate wins out; everyone except for the Clintons, of course. Their determination to either secure the nomination or destroy their party trying is sure to have a negative effect on the Democrats' chances in November. The party leadership needs to realize that the problems of this country and the complete disaster of the last presidency mean that keeping the Republicans out of office next year is much more important than Hillary Clinton's massive ego or her inherent sense of entitlement. Let's designate a winner already and unify this party so we can win this contest and start earnestly trying to change this country for the better.

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