Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 28, 2007

DEBATE WRAPUP....The latest debate for Democratic presidential candidates just wrapped up, and I was impressed with how different this one was from the rest, both in style and substance. It focused specifically on issues important to the African-American community, featuting a panel of minority journalists. Tavis Smiley moderated, and I hope the other networks were paying attention to how well he kept the event moving -- without inane raise-your-hand questions. For that matter, there won't be any complaints about some candidates dominating; everyone got the same questions and the same opportunitities to speak.

The candidates were on their best behavior -- there were no pointed barbs tonight -- which kept things substantive. I didn't see any campaign-changing moments, though Hillary Clinton just about brought the house down when she said AIDS would be a higher national priority if it were the number one killer of white women ages 25 to 34. (The comment drew the loudest, most sustained applause of the night.)

Let's consider this a debate open thread. Who won? Who lost? Who watched?

And why did this nationally-televised debate get so much less attention than the previous ones? There was very little live-blogging tonight, though I noticed Chris Cillizza was keeping up.

Steve Benen 10:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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I started watching with the intention of live-blogging it, and got sucked in and didn't post a word. I was disappointed that when Darfur came up, not a soul mentioned the fact that we are in no position to confront China about a parking spot, much less a genocide they are turning a blind eye to.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 28, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

I have to admit, I didn't even know there was a debate, and I've been following the campaigns fairly closely (I was w/o Internet access for a couple of days though).

Posted by: Jim on June 28, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

I had heard absolutely 0 about the debate before a friend informed me of it - I almost didn't catch it. What's the story, lefty blogosphere?

I didn't think anybody really won. Though Mike Gravel will probably show up in my nightmares.

Posted by: Steve W. on June 28, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Gravel's comments about drug prohibition were a breath of fresh air -- but sadly, one that the other candidates studiously tried *not* to inhale.

Posted by: sglover on June 28, 2007 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it was a good debate. It didn't get coverage because it was at Howard, it was for a black audience, only on PBS, and we've got a long way to go in the presidential race and these debates, even the good ones, are kind of boring.

I would have liked to have seen more agressive condemnation of the current criminal regime. It wasn't rousing, but it was solid.

Posted by: Trypticon on June 28, 2007 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Gravel is a freak overall, but like Libertarians who are totally compelling in some ways and freaky beyond belief in others, his anti-drug war fixation was most welcome.

Posted by: Trypticon on June 28, 2007 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

Mike Gravel is the Grumpy Old Man of American politics. Kucinich is still the best liberal although too weenie-like to win a general election. Obama seemed more genuine than in earlier debates. Hillary is almost too deliberate and studied. Biden was good although past his prime. Richardson seemed too casual and looked yellow (maybe it was my TV - or that spray-on tan shit). Edwards seemed tired and overly rehearsed (maybe he was up late skewering his Ann Coulter voodoo doll?). Who else was there???

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on June 28, 2007 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

I am liking Edwards in spite of myself. And I am wondering what the Democrats will do if or when the elections are canceled, martial law declared, and people's court is in session.

Seriously, we are in the midst of the worst constitutional crisis in American history. Worse even than in the 1850s. Then, slavery was at least something that had to be confronted and ended by any means necessary, but it was an issue which had been purposely ignored and deferred by our founding fathers.

Today, we have a President setting about to destroy the Constitution based on simply refusing to acknowledge there is any accountability built into that document for the executive branch. It is as if the fears of 1793 and the ascendancy of a monarchical President were waiting 207 years for someone without basic scruples, integrity and common decency to simply step up and declare himself emperor like Napoleon. We are a a country terrorized by its President and media--afraid of our own shadows and economic prospects if we speak out. Without a brave Congress and a constitutionally loyal military, we have few recourses.

Elections? The Supreme Court has a way of mooting them. Sandra Day O'Connor is now the worst woman in American history. I hope she enjoys the reversal of desegregation in her rocking chair. She also brought us this Presidency--and everything that has brought to the world.

Tough to feel all fuzzy about a debate. Democrats seem convinced the country is still an idealist's Rockwell print. Meantime, Republicans are calling on some dark powers. And I am left cold at the prospects for this country.

I think were we to observe that chair in Constitution Hall, so famously remarked upon by Franklin, it would exhibit the fading hues of a winter sunset these days. I call upon Congress and these candidates to change this dismal darkening reality by confronting these beasts no matter what the personal consequences.

Posted by: Sparko on June 28, 2007 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

I really wanted to watch it; I thought there would be a video up on the PBS website. As some of you may know, I am a poli-sci guy as far as my interests and education, and I consider race relations and how the law deals with them the #1 issue of American politics and history.

If anyone knows where I can watch a video, please post in a comment.

Posted by: Swan on June 28, 2007 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

They'd get more viewers (and maybe more revealing answers) if instead of a "debate", the candidates just appeared on "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?"

Posted by: Qwerty on June 28, 2007 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

I thought the biggest reaction was when Biden said he'd gotten tested for HIV. and that Obama had too. which tickled the crowd.

Biden got angry that people would take exception to him, a respectable man, getting an HIV test.

Obama got the joke, and reassured the crowd that there's no chance Senator Biden gave him HIV.

Posted by: absent observer on June 28, 2007 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

Liveblogging ? Saw a note posted at

Posted by: opit on June 29, 2007 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

I thought most of the candidates did well, as usual. Unfortunately Richardson continues to jumble answers or put his foot in his mouth and in this 'debate' he ran long too many times.

I'm continually surprised at the solid performance of Dodd and then the non-reaction from the audience. There's something about him which just doesn't get a reaction.

Gravel blows up real good.

The top 3 (in polls) are all doing well, though I have to say they sounded an awful lot alike in this debate. On one question Obama even went so far as to continue the answer begun by Edwards. At least there's enough unanimity to what are the desired policies that you can hardly go wrong by voting for any of them.

I still favor Edwards and I hope several candidates drop out soon, so those who remain will get more time to speak in these debates. I know it's perhaps early, but we need longer speaking times for 3-5 candidates instead of 30 second answers for 7-8 candidates.

Posted by: MarkH on June 29, 2007 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

I read 8 liberal blogs a day and watched both the previous two Democratic debates. I had no idea there was a debate today until checking the blogs for the first time this evening.

Posted by: JD on June 29, 2007 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

The video will be up on PBS at 7 a.m. EDT tomorrow. I'm amazed that anyone saw this when it was aired. It sure wasn't advertised.

Posted by: Lucy B on June 29, 2007 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

The debate was advertised on Chicago public radio, but I wasn't able to watch it.

Posted by: Disputo on June 29, 2007 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't watch it, didn't plan to watch it. So I've hopped around the blogosphere, seeing what the people who did watch have to say.

The consensus seems to be that no one stood out very much. Clinton had good moments, talking about AIDS and women's issues; so did Edwards, talking about poverty.

One thing I've noticed that amuses me. Clinton consistently does well at these debates. She's articulate, informed, and connects with the audience. The progressive netroots, of course, can't stand her - so they talk about how she's "programmed," pandering," and "Stepfordish."

It amuses me because, though I'm liberal, I'm certainly not in synch with the Hillary-hating netroots. I started out not liking her very much, preferring Edwards or Obama.

Now I find myself warming to her - apparently, for the very things the netroots hate: I appreciate the depth of her knowledge, and the care she takes to be prepared to debate, which enable her to speak fluently and intelligently about important issues. I like her sense of humor, as illustrated by the campaign ad take-off on the Sopranos.

I even appreciate her refusal to apologize for her AUMF vote. If she was intent on pandering, it seems to me she'd apologize for it even if she didn't believe she had to.

Posted by: CaseyL on June 29, 2007 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

Watch it here, starting tomorrow morning, 7am EDT.


I think it's disgraceful how little publicity this debate received.

Posted by: brucds on June 29, 2007 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

For one thing, it's on at 9:00pm (taped) out here in Hawai'i on PBS. That's an hour and fifteen minutes from now. PBS doesn't do a lot of promo for things other than Great Performances and pledge drive concerts (Springsteen last night, for example; I saw lots of promo shots for that).

Posted by: Linkmeister on June 29, 2007 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Linkmeister. Only 45 minutes to go. I watch PBS Hawaii every night and didn't know a thing about the debate. But I do recall the same station ads you do. I think I've got the Howard Dicus promo for PBN Friday memorized

Posted by: DevilDog on June 29, 2007 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

So, Dem candidates are interesting when they appeal to minority groups?

Vote for Romney.

Posted by: Matt on June 29, 2007 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

So, Dem candidates are interesting when they appeal to minority groups?

Vote for Romney.

Lunatics are right now a minority group in America. GWB and the never-ending occupation of Iraq are at, what, 28% popularity?

Posted by: Maynard Handley on June 29, 2007 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

For reasons that I'm not entirely clear about, this forum appealed to me than the others. The candidates seemed to be speaking more directly to the people in the room, which made it livelier for the TV audience too. Perhaps the other stations should drop the "please hold your applause" instructions and let the audience react.

Re Gravel and the war on drugs: He may be right, but it was an odd way to start out. I don't remember the question just now, but his answer didn't seem directly responsive. I thought he risked offending the audience (he offended me) because his answer suggested that the people in the room were somehow primarily concerned about people who use and sell drugs.

I also wish that the size of the field could be pruned somewhat. I think we have heard Gravel say, enough, that he disrespects the other people on the stage. That would help a little.

I keep expecting Richardson to do better, but he simply doesn't seem to be able to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B in the time available. As a result, he always ends up stammering and sounding disorganized.

Dodd and Biden are both good, solid fellows, but they offer little other than their experience. That's not trivial, by any means, but they aren't offering anything new or distinctive in terms of ideas, and they can't win on style points.

I thought Obama, Hillary, and Edwards all did well. They all seemed at ease and seemed to connect well w/ the audience, and they were clearly all talking about things that are important to them.

I'm impressed, too, about how stronger this field is than the Republican field. It's really hard for me to imagine why anyone would vote for any one of them, but, of course, lots of people will.

Posted by: THS on June 29, 2007 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK


Go on all you want about depth of knowledge and connecting with the audience. The netroots have very good reasons to dislike HC.

As will you, if she is elected.

Her commitment to progressive reform ends where her corporate agenda begins. We will get no fundamental reforms from her, unless they weaken the american worker. She can talk all she wants. Talk is cheap.

Posted by: Adam on June 29, 2007 at 4:33 AM | PERMALINK

CaseyL: "The progressive netroots, of course, can't stand [Sen. Hillary Clinton] - so they talk about how she's 'programmed,' 'pandering,' and 'Stepfordish.'"

Which proves that one didn't have actually drink the GOP's anti-Clinton Kool-Aid to become infected, but only had to breathe in the vapors.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on June 29, 2007 at 6:30 AM | PERMALINK

Donald, HRC has several strikes against her in my mind not least of which is the thought that, if elected, there would be a 24 year period, an entire generation, with presidents named Bush or Clinton. Given where GwB will leave the presidency, that's too monarchical for me.
Of course, if nominated, she will be per se more attractive than any Republican candidate. I mean GwB has so screwed the party that Republicans should call themselves the Tory party to avoid the connotations.

Posted by: TJM on June 29, 2007 at 6:49 AM | PERMALINK

There was a bit to much pandering, but that was to be expected given the targeted audience.

I thought Hillary won it. She was the most articulate, stayed within her time limits, and had relatively substantive answers compared to some of the others.

Biden also did pretty well. He was very articulate.

Obama doesn't do well in this format. At times he seemed tongue tied. He was the only one brave enough to even hint that the black community needed to do more to help themselves.

That guy from Alaska is crazy... seriously wacko, and I think he started getting a few quite boos towards the end. He kept going off about the war... the war on drugs that is. He sounded more like a libertarian.

Mitch managed to bring up the cost of the war in just about every answer.

Edwards used the two America theme way to much... I am getting bored with it. Plus he reminds me of a used car salesman.

Richardson just isn't very good at debates.

If I am forgetting anyone else, its because they were forgettable.

All and all, there were no major moves by any of the candidates, and Hillary probably did the most to shore up her position at the top of the heap.

Posted by: Rory Hester on June 29, 2007 at 7:04 AM | PERMALINK

It looked to me like Hillary would get applause if she had read from the telephone book. Not that her answers were bad--the crowd just seemed to love her.

Posted by: Joe S. on June 29, 2007 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

There was a debate? I didn't know about it, and TiVo didn't know I was interested. I think that tells me something about myself when Tivo records as a suggestion Whose Line It It Anyway but not the presidential candidates' debate.

(Which of course reminds me of the column "I watch Will and Grace one time and TiVo thinks I'm gay.")

Posted by: anandine on June 29, 2007 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

I had better things to do---rearranging, the sock drawer, watching the paint dry, yada, yada, yada. Seriously--could these lightweights pander any more?

Posted by: nikkolai on June 29, 2007 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

nikkolai: could these lightweights pander any more?

at least they all believe in evolution...

can't say that about all the gop candidates..

Posted by: mr. irony on June 29, 2007 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with nikkolai to some degree. Last night's debate lacked substance. Apparently, someone around here doesn't like anyone to say that, as my first comment was deleted. Do you have to register to comment now? I'm not saying that all the candidates aren't people of substance, because I believe several of them can be serious people--but last night's debate was basically awful. To me, it was like listening to some people at a cocktail party prattle on about a lot of nonsense. These are serious times, and this upcoming election is important. I think we deserve better.

Posted by: Copernicus on June 29, 2007 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

CaseyL on June 29, 2007 at 12:36 AM: I even appreciate her refusal to apologize for her AUMF vote. If she was intent on pandering, it seems to me she'd apologize for it even if she didn't believe she had to.

Can we give that a rest already? Here's Clinton's apology, in a 2005 letter:

In October 2002, I voted for the resolution to authorize the Administration to use force in Iraq. I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by the Administration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issue of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do.
Their assurances turned out to be empty ones, as the Administration refused repeated requests from the U.N. inspectors to finish their work. And the "evidence" of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda turned out to be false.
Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban.
Before I voted in 2002, the Administration publicly and privately assured me that they intended to use their authority to build international support in order to get the U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq, as articulated by the President in his Cincinnati speech on October 7th, 2002. As I said in my October 2002 floor statement, I took "the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a U.N. resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible."
Instead, the Bush Administration short-circuited the U.N. inspectors - the last line of defense against the possibility that our intelligence was false. The Administration also abandoned securing a larger international coalition, alienating many of those who had joined us in Afghanistan.
From the start of the war, I have been clear that I believed that the Administration did not have an adequate plan for what lay ahead.
I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the President and his Administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war.

Read the whole thing, please. Unless you want her to apologize for not being a pacifist, that letter should have been more than sufficient.

Benen: And why did this nationally-televised debate get so much less attention than the previous ones?

(1) It was on PBS.
(2) Minority issues and presidential debates don't get the same amount of press that Paris Hilton's release from jail does.

Posted by: grape_crush on June 29, 2007 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Nobody except those obsessed with politics have been watching any of the debates. It's still six months before the first primary and eighteen months before the general election.

It's actually quite amusing watching political junkies fall all over themselves analyzing ever single word anyone says, completely ignorant of the fact that nobody in the real world (i.e. actual voters) could care less right now.

Posted by: mfw13 on June 29, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Four things struck me:

1) "No pointed barbs"? Steve, Gravel is one large pointed barb. He only seems capable of denigrating the other candidates as do-nothings.

2) Obama's style was fine, but his message often seemed to be about "broader themes" that were lofty but simply didn't connect with everyday concerns. I like him, but I worry about him being able to play real politics, not engage in rhetorical flights.

3) Clinton was impressive, as usual when I see her--though I'm reluctant to support her b/c of her high general electorate negatives. She nailed answers time and again and threw some delicious red meat to the audience. But then, that's why she gets nailed as calculating: I get the impression that she wouldn't have given the same answers in a room of mixed Republican and Democratic voters (i.e. to the nation as a whole). Maybe that's real politics, but it's so...Clintonian.

4) Richardson is dazed and confused.

Posted by: polthereal on June 29, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Well I am the exception because this is the only debate I've seen thus far. I don't have cable.

I agree that Hillary won, tho I certainly hope she does not get the nomination. As far as I'm concerned she has no integrity and is very bought and paid for.

I like Obama, but felt he was awkward here.

Richardson is always awkward and just not a good speaker.

Edwards is okay... but he got rather repetitive.

I agree Biden speaks well and put his points across well.

Kucinich doesn't have a chance, tho I do agree with him on several issues.

So I guess I just hope that Obama gets back to his game.

Posted by: Clem on June 29, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I barely knew about this debate. I caught a blink about it in passing. And, I'm glad that I did watch it. I thought that it could have done without all of the unnecessary introductions. But, I was glad to see a debate on issues that are truly relevant to me and my community (p.s. I'm black).

Dodd gave a lot of good answers, but he got zero love. Mike Gravel had a fundamentally solid point but didn't actually hammer the nail in straight. He hit around it, maybe left a hole or two in the wall. Kucinich proved that he is a good congressman, but not a good president. Biden made really puzzling responses during the debate. Ones that left my house wondering what the hell he was actually talking about. And Bill Richardson was Bill Richardson's own worst enemy. He's a smart man, but you couldn't have convinced me of that last night.

To address the top three, Hillary slayed the debate hands down. She had good answers, knew the issues, and actually seemed to care about them. And there's something to be said for that. I'm not the biggest Hillary fan on the face of the planet, but she actually convinced me that she might have the gravitas to be a decent president if she walks the talk.

Obama's points about black self-sufficiency and responsibility rang hollow with a community that has been preaching such a viewpoint for years. Additionally, his rhetoric rang very hollow many times. Frankly, I thought the debate showed at how much of a disconnect he is at with the modern Black community. He might be Black, but his answers showed that he didn't understand what that means.

Edwards, yet again, proved that underneath that 400 dollar haircut, he's a damn fine candidate. His answers on poverty were good, and he connected with the audience. Also, I'd like to point out that Hillary had to one up him when he busted out the two americas by referencing the village.

If this debate hurt any of the top three, I would say that it hurt Obama the most. He lost his cred in Black America and was shown to be the candidate who is most running on charisma.

Posted by: Ace on June 29, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

"And why did this nationally-televised debate get so much less attention than the previous ones? "

Debate fatigue?

Posted by: Cal Gal on June 29, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Obama will not pander to the black community, that is clear. I thought he was pretty brave to say, as Bill Cosby has done, that blacks have to take responsibility for themselves more than they have. The audience did NOT seem to appreciate hearing this.

Tho if they want to ignore AIDS testing and discussion, which it appears they still do, they are the ones who suffer the devastating results.

Hillary's remark that if it AIDS were a disease of young white women they would find a cure.. or whatever... was typical pandering. I really like her less and less. I believe she will do anything to get what she wants... and I think we have had someone in the white house exactly like that for the past all too many years.

I do think there is a distinct chance if she gets the nomination, she may lose.

There is something about her people just don't like, no matter how she packages herself.

I am wondering what anyone thinks of her speaking voice. I hadn't really noticed it before, but in this debate found it very loud and grating.

Was that just me? My TV?

Posted by: Clem on June 30, 2007 at 4:24 AM | PERMALINK



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