These are just a few quick hits -- I don't think anything happened in the debate that was so ground-breaking as to require a massive, sustained analysis. Also, we lost our signal in the middle of the debate, so I missed everything from the end of the Iran hypothetical to the "sanctuary cities" immigration questions.
- When Keith Olbermann was interviewing Chris Matthews before the debate began, my roommate asked of the latter: is he drunk?
- Nobody really distinguished themselves tonight, which I guess is a default win for Hillary. I wouldn't say she looked meaningfully better than any of the other candidates, but no movement is good movement for her.
- Prior to the debate, everyone was saying how Obama needed to get more aggressive on Hillary to change the dynamics of the campaign. He didn't do it. Edwards was the most aggressive of the major candidates, but even he wasn't really in pit bull mode.
- Also, if I had to pick a winner for the debate in isolation, I'd say Edwards was the most impressive. The loser was Richardson, who continues to strike me as unbelievably hackish. He's supposed to be a great negotiator, so I'm sure a liberal President could use him in a variety of foreign policy roles, but his campaign strategy appears to be pander-at-all-costs. It's ironic, given his statement that he's not a consultant-candidate (regarding his various gaffes on Justice White, homosexuality being a choice), but that's the impression I have.
- Obama struck me as surprisingly unversatile as a speaker. He never really broke out of his trademark high-sounding, airy, abstract bring-us-together style rhetoric. In some questions, it fit, like when he was asked about his lack of experience. But in others, it didn't work for him at all. It's frustrating because Obama is a substantive thinker, but it didn't show tonight. The only place he really shined was in the 30-second lightening round questions. Obama really has a knack for making clear, compelling, and concise answers that make sense. But as my girlfriend told me, the high style he puts on gets tiring to listen to when it goes for longer than that.
- Kucinich is a very compelling speaker. Crazy, but quite eloquent. The response he gave to the Cleveland bankruptcy questions was superb. Gravel, by contrast, is just crazy. The answer he gave to his bankruptcy question -- less than superb.
- The dumb questions of the debate were the Israel/Iran hypothetical, and the "ticking time bomb" question which is no more realistic than the last 40 college bull sessions it was raised in. Life is not a 24 episode. Kudos, by the way, to all the candidates for rejecting torture-as-policy wholeheartedly. The Israel/Iran question was particularly silly because, as Hillary pointed out, we had the real-life example of Israel bombing Syria occurring just this month, so we didn't even need to go the hypothetical route, which just makes things blurry.
- Biden was forgettable. Dodd was solid, but unfortunately, that's not enough for Dodd. Next to Gravel, Dodd got the most "who's that?" and "he's running?" remarks from my friends.
UPDATE: Since the folks at RightVoices were kind enough to throw a link my way, I'll give them a quick thought on the issue that concerned them: that none of the three top Democratic contenders was willing to pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term (2013). Instead, the made the actually reasonable statement that predicting events five years out is foolish, and that when 2013 rolls around, they'll see what the situation is and react accordingly.
I wish candidates would do this more often, albeit it doesn't make for the best sound bites. On complex issues of foreign policy, I don't want my President ideologically pre-committed to a course of action -- be it "withdraw from Iraq" or "blow up Iran" -- that he'll follow through hell or high water. And, while I think the netroots prefers the Richardson position of "withdraw everyone as fast as possible, leave nothing behind" (one of a few positions he took that buttressed the aforementioned "hack" label), so long as all the candidates commit to at least starting a withdrawal of some form, I think the base will be reasonably pleased (and they'll be in line with the vast majority of the country as well).