Democrats debate; fur flies

The CNN – Congressional Black Caucus Democratic debate in South Carolina didn’t disappoint those who hoped to see a continuation of the tension and infighting between frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Both came prepared to confront the other directly and sharply, and both delivered. The very best performance was turned in by John Edwards, who parlayed his position as “odd man out” to choose his moments carefully, hitting both Hillary and Obama when it suited him – and fairly effectively – but also seeming to remain almost about the “squabbling” . . .

The worst performance, hands down and by acclamation, goes to moderator Wolf Blitzer. The man is simply not capable of controlling a debate (or interview) with someone who is both a stronger personality and smarter than he is (which includes more than three-quarters of the human race, and a fair number of cats and dogs). Never has such a high-profile career been built on merely missing the last flight out of Baghdad before the Gulf War in 1991.

Still, his lack of control actually gave us a spirited and entertaining debate. Let the candidates talk about what THEY believe is important, and let voters judge from that.

Hillary and Obama went at it from the opening bell. It seemed Hillary came prepared to be combative, almost itching for the fight.

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Obama handled it pretty well in the area of perception: he didn’t seem to get rattled, he offered plausible-sounding answers and delivered them with confidence, and counterattacked at almost every turn. Since Hillary looked rather stern (as in “ex-wife waiting on alimony check”), he may have won the battle of image. In substance, though, he tended to answer some question which wasn’t asked, or to construe or narrow the charges to blunt their effect. Well delivered, but weasel words.

In the second half, with the candidates seated, Blitzer reestablished a measure of control. This was not a good thing, as he supplied such completely inane questions as “Was Bill Clinton the ‘first Black President?'” and “Tell us why Martin Luther King, Jr. would have endorsed you.”

He left out, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” What a moron.

Obama is the only one with a sense of humor, and that helps his perception score, too. His voters are supporting the style and the soaring rhetoric, neither of which come through particularly well in a debate format (he was never bad, but hasn’t show marked improvement, either), so the deficiencies on specifics get overlooked. Hillary is most clearly in command of issues and specifics. I disagree with her policy prescriptions, but she has at least formulated them in some detail.

Edwards has little chance, but gave his best performance in a debate last night. He worked his opponents like hostile witnesses and the audience like a jury of slack-jawed rubes.

In conclusion, the debate was very close. No one committed a deadly error, and everyone got in at least a couple good lines. I thought Edwards was best, then Hillary, and Obama trailing, but I can’t argue much if others disagree.

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