SEPTEMBER 5, 2003 - We had to ask
this stupid question just out of respect for the ridiculous rest of
the press. Of course it is not about who won... but it is about
who did and didn't do well.
Let's start with the mediocre.
Graham. He is done. Nice man, but I wouldn't even want him
as a Vice President after his weak and jumbled performance yesterday.
However, that was the only weak
As you can see by reading the responses
regarding Iraq to the left, these candidates all had very solid
performances yesterday and provided some great choices for those who
are looking for an alternative to President Bush.
Were there any big surprises yesterday,
stand out performances that might lift a candidate unexpectedly?
John Edwards. Senator Edwards pulled
himself off of the fire, even off of the frying pan, and back to the
kitchen floor with the pan's handle in his hand.
To be accurate, all candidates had good
answers, but Mr. Edwards showed something he hadn't before and that
the other candidates didn't - the ability to weave the human element
into his comments, and to widen and interconnect issues into one big
picture, not a separated criticism of foreign and domestic, taxes and
health. He put them all together and added a human face to it,
weaving from taxes to standing up to corporations, from immigration to
education - even if education never was a topic that was asked about.
And only Mr. Edwards truly was prepared
for the specific audience. Even when asked about Iraq, he didn't
just talk about the President alienating our allies in Europe, but
actually made the other candidates seem Eurocentric by pointing out
that the President was, "doing the exact same thing to our friends in
Latin America, in Mexico, his relationship with President Fox being a
perfect example." He showed some real polish and intelligence of
strategy that put him a step above the others on this night.
The second most disappointing performance
was Lieberman. His tendency to take a preacher's tone distances
him. But his biggest ailment was again his similarity to the
President on a number of issues. People who want someone who thinks
what the President does will vote for the President. Lost many
points by inaccurately attacking Dean's trade policies, even stooping
to link the current "Bush recession," to what he said would be a,
"Dean depression." He did back off when Dean corrected his
misstatement, but the attack was ridiculous and a desperate attack on
the purported frontrunner.
Kucinich brought in the second most
surprisingly good performance. Very strong answers, unequivocal
in his stances, nimble with his words and facts, and truly bold and
displaying leadership in terms of his positions. During the
first election, both he and Dean had come across as just angry people
looking to fight with the other candidates. Kucinich had a
little of that at first as he took a shot at the candidates who had
voted for the war resolution, but that passed quickly and from there
on, he simply stated a unique set of policies, distinct from the other
candidates in many ways, and laid his case for those who agree with
We'll get to the three most people were
looking at in a second, but before that, let's talk about the rebirth
of Carol Moseley Braun. Again, one has to wonder, can she make a
good Vice Presidential pick? Enough of the insulting African
Americans by putting forth the Sharptons and Jacksons as their most
Carol has a message to share, a strength,
and dignity. No other candidate seemed to remember at all that
women's issues exist, and her introducing them into the debate was a
real plus. But best of all for her, she didn't point out and
make as her central point, as she had last time, that she was a woman.
This time, she let it speak for itself. If she wasn't worth
taking seriously before, that may have changed. She has the
prospect of exciting both African Americans and women - and truly she
would inspire women in a way that Hillary never could because, even in
her strength, she remains feminine.
Now, Gephardt. Great, great
performance. Showed and enthusiasm and ability to inspire - at
one point, he was on such a roll he repeatedly ignored the
commentators call that time had run out and kept on, leading the
audience toward an enthusiastic ovation. His talk about how he
in one case stood up to his own President, Bill Clinton, to oppose
NAFTA and GATT, but on the other hand stood by him toe to toe and with
no Republican support passed Clinton's plan which, "created 23 million
news jobs in 7 years... took a 5 trillion dollar deficit and turned it
into a 5 trillion dollar surplus," giving himself both pro-labor and
pro-economy kudos, plus indicating he has the know-how and experience
to make it happen. And, of top of it all, he staked his ground
as the environmental leader by reasserting his plan to have an "Apollo
2" policy that would make alternative energy his top priority and "get
us off of Persian Gulf oil."
But best of all with Gephardt was his
repeatedly strong dissing of President Bush as a, "miserable failure."
His phrasings and sentiment were sharp and strong and put him clearly
back into the overall race, likely elevating his stature and securing
his hold as one of the true top tier members.
Now to the current anointed-one and the
The best thing about Dean's performance
was that he no longer was the angry punk just looking for any excuse
to fight with his colleagues. He had started to settle into a
comfort with his strength and following and stood there ready to take
the fight directly to President Bush. When he spoke, you could
tell he felt the strength of his popularity and enthusiastic
However, he did not hit the way Edwards
and Gephardt had, with the extra color and clarity. He in no way
lost ground. In fact, he clearly gained ground by showing he can
settle in to the role of confident candidate. And it seems
likely that his improvement will continue into the next debate.
His only loss in this debate was really the great successes of Edwards
and Gephardt. Dean will not lose any ground as frontrunner, but
he may have more company.
As for Kerry, he showed a strength and
enthusiasm he hadn't in some previous performances. While in the
past he has sometimes been sleepy sounding, this time he was much more
forceful. And he had the most laugh-lines of any of the
candidates, which may prove very beneficial in the long run.
The biggest disappointment was how he
ceded environmental ground to Gephardt - Kerry had early on made the
center-piece of his campaign an energy policy similar to Gephardt's
"Apollo 2," but he seems to have forgotten about that at this point
and only referred to something lesser.
Both Kerry and Dean were outdone by
Edwards in terms of widening the picture, bringing the full scope of
what the differences between the President and themselves are.
Neither Kerry nor Dean hit the inspirational note that Gephardt did.
But Kerry's step into forcefulness,
confident humor, and well-articulated attacks, and Dean's settling
into a more confident, non-infighting stride were big steps in the
So in the end, this debate made clear that
this is still truly a four man race, with one woman who will tempt as
a Vice Presidential choice. In fact, those who thought Bob
Graham might be the best choice as VP might want to reconsider this
exceptional lady, who far outclassed Bob - though Graham didn't truly
do himself any disservice, he just didn't show anything extraordinary.
Each of the four, Dean, Kerry, Gephardt,
and Edwards (the true surprise of the night) showed that they could
make a viable candidate against President Bush.
Um, Wesley, are you really gonna come into
the mix and make us rethink all of this?
Very, very notable was the completely
different feel the forum had without Sharpton present. Everybody
benefited from this. Al, for all his great one liners, somehow
manages to drag the prestige and dignity out of events. Though
no one likely considered it at the time, in retrospect, his no show
due to inclement weather back east was the best thing that could have
happened to the rest of the group.