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CNN-YouTube Debate: Obama Won, Hillary Lost, Edwards Rising

By July 24, 2007

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The break-out star of Monday's Jeopardy-style "debate" between the Democratic presidential candidates was YouTube technology, because it allowed a newly authentic, direct connection between candidates and voters.

(See the questions at Democratic Presidential Debate - YouTube Videos.)

The inherent unpredictability caused the candidates to be refreshingly off-message and even uncomfortable. As a result, although little new was learned about the issues, viewers witnessed a closer, more candid glimpse of the candidates. And the picture wasn't always pretty...

Anderson Cooper, a decidedly non-partisan news anchor, moderated the quiz show with a sure hand, a wry smile and the occasional sly comment, rather than hogging the spotlight as have NBC's Brian Williams and CNN's Wolf Blitzer in past debates.

Mind you... a few questions wasted valuable time, and frankly, demeaned the process. But the questions devoted to healthcare, Social Security, No Child Left Behind, the Iraq War, foreign policy, electronic voting, gay marriage and the like were sharp and smart.

Scoring the Candidates on the CNN-YouTube Debate
Most instant after-debate polls indicate that Barack Obama decisively "won" the debate, and I heartily agree. Each of the candidates experienced shining moments as well as stumbles and subtle gaffes.

Barack Obama
At last, a format that allows Sen. Barack Obama to display his quick wit and intellect, his warm sense of humor, and his gentrifed quasi-rock star presence.

Obama excelled at deflecting questions about himself into talking about needs of voters. As a result, CNN focus groups interviewed after the program named him the candidate who most understood their issues. And of the 30-second promos produced by the candidates, Obama's was the most energetic, inspiring and modern.

But Obama was wholly disingenuous when he claimed to not take money from PACs and lobbyists. Mike Gravel was 100% correct when he called Obama out as being in the pocket of Wall Street bankers and brokers, and Obama blatantly ignored Gravel's words. (See Obama Fundraising & Contributor Info.)

Also, in at least three instances (including Social Security!) during the debate, Obama sounded more like a Republican pro-business flak than the progressive Democrat he claims to be. Obama was clearly the fiscal moderate on stage, which bears close future scrutiny.

Barack Obama may be too close to his wealthy benefactors to be an effective Democrat in the White House.

Hillary Clinton
Of all the debate participants, Sen. Hillary Clinton suffered the most due the format change from procedural formalities and traditional talking points to an informal atmosphere and unexpected questions.

Yes, Sen. Clinton is well-informed and boasts detailed, smart plans for most issues. But Americans tend to vote for someone they genuinely like, and that person is rarely the smartest, most perfect girl in the class. Remember: George Bush miserably lost every debate with John Kerry, yet handily won the popular vote.

Sen. Clinton scowled and glared for much of the debate with a facial expression that could melt glaciers. Her 30-second promo was a terrible, low-tech mistake that ended with the political-loser message, "Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman."

In short, Sen. Clinton came across as competent, smart, experienced, certainly strong... but also as angry and slightly stiff. And her hawkish stance on foreign affairs was reminiscent of George Bush, not Bill Clinton.

Standing between youthful Obama and emotive Edwards, Hillary Clinton seemed... well, outdated. I believe that Hillary Clinton lost the all-important likeability contest in the CNN-YouTube debate.

John Edwards
Like Sen. Obama, John Edwards excelled in the spontaneous give-and-take of the YouTube debate format.

Edwards amply demonstrated both his deep passion and knowledge on many issues, especially healthcare and development of alternative energy sources. And for the first time in the debates, John Edwards moved beyond rote talking points and into authentic discussions. Edwards was exactly correct in his pragmatic stance on nuclear power plants.

I noticed that John Edwards was the ONLY top candidate who listened respectfully to all the YouTube questioners, and to the other candidates. Many, many times the CNN cameras caught Clinton and Obama busily studying their notes rather than paying rapt attention to others.

And it makes me wonder... would Clinton or Obama listen to me, either? Or would it always be about their next moment in the spotlight?

Edwards' 30-second promo profiling various issues was hilariously set to the theme song from the 1969 musical "Hair." His promo was a marvelous piece of humble irony that posed the question, "What's more important?" John Edwards poking fun at himself was a welcome moment that renders his expensive haircut as moot.

John Edwards has never been high on my short-list for 2008. But after his participation in the CNN-YouTube debate, I need to take another look.

John Edwards may be the true progressive choice in this race.

The Others
Gov. Bill Richardson demonstrated again that while he has all the goods... extensive experience, great ideas, intelligent and innovative plans... he lacks national-stage charisma. He was most appealing when he relaxed, smiled and spoke generously about Sen. Joe Biden. But sadly, he was nervous for most of the debate. And that matters...

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who was recovering from severe food poisoning, always presents his unambiguous case for peace, universal healthcare and prosperity for all, not just the wealthiest Americans. I, for one, am grateful that Rep Kucinich is in the 2008 race for the White House because he forces the leading candidates to confront realities. In a more perfect world. Dennis Kucinich would be President of the United States.

Sen. Chris Dodd is a classic liberal throwback to the late 20th century. He seems to be a man of great integrity and patriotism, as well as of energy, and I respect him immensely. He made some excellent points last night. I could proudly vote for Sen. Dodd to be president. But his every utterance is delivered as if he's on the Senate floor. He never modulates his booming voice, and he never connects with the audience, especially the under-40 crowd. And that also matters...

Sen. Joe Biden's witty candor and colorful honesty is tailor-made for the YouTube debate format. Biden brought entertainment to the masses during the debate, and he made important points in the process. Joe Biden is a good man who has devoted his life to Congressional service. We owe him a debt of gratitude. But we don't owe him the White House. And he will not be president.

Sen. Mike Gravel should go home. He's having a ball embarrassing the other candidates and pushing U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. I do appreciate the reluctant truths his presence forces from the other candidates. But enough is enough. He's wasting valuable time when we could be learning more about the viable candidates.

Next DNC-sponsored debate is August 19, 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa, run by ABC News, for which I promise to give you my thoughts. I just wonder how ABC will keep viewers' interest after the wonderfully interesting CNN-YouTube event.

Related Reading
Profile of Anderson Cooper, Journalist and CNN Anchor
Obama Contributor Info
Clinton Contributor Info
Edwards Contributor Info
Richardson Contributor Info


July 24, 2007 at 5:40 pm
(1) some1 says:

You are wrong about hillary.

July 24, 2007 at 6:38 pm
(2) Obama08 says:

Barack is bringing it home!
Although I noticed that too, about who REALLY listened to the videos…that says a lot…
OBAMA ’08!

July 25, 2007 at 10:36 am
(3) melissa says:

What’s up with all the Hillary bashing? I don’t understand why people find intelligent women so disagreeable.

July 25, 2007 at 12:24 pm
(4) kim says:

My complaint about Obama in this debate is the same as it’s been all along: where are his plans? What does he have to say about the issues? I’m getting tired of the inspiring speeches and his insistence on turning every question around so that he can give a speech. I was disappointed with his dodging the reparations question and his explanation of how his faith plays into his job. I honestly was less impressed with him than I ever have been, so maybe I was watching a different debate than you were, Deb.

Meanwhile, Hillary answered every question pointedly (except for the final one), intelligently, articulately, displaying her vast experience and capability. There was no question in my mind at the end of the debate that she had outshown everyone else on the panel. I’ve liked Hillary all along, but there are some things I don’t like about her. Every debate, I’m afraid she’ll slip and she never does. She’s got it together–she was even quite funny and candid.

I thought Edwards looked silly throughout the debate. He was kind of contemptuously trying to pull Hillary down. The whole thing about him being more qualified to deal with womens issues was just ridiculous.

I thought Richardson, Kucinich and Clinton gave the most pointed, thoughtful, purposeful answers. Everyone else either dodged question after question, gave stump speeches or just didn’t say anything worth remembering.

I love the format, though! Finally some honest, pressing questions!

July 31, 2007 at 11:39 am
(5) scott4261 says:

John Edwards is my candidate and I’m glad you are going to give him a second look.

August 1, 2007 at 4:21 pm
(6) jdm58 says:

I’m afraid that these debates are becoming less and less a forum for true argument, and the public will eventually lose interest. I leave each debate still wondering what each candidates view of the issues are, including the candidates who are lucky enough to get asked the questions. It is unfair to only direct key questions to the “top tier” candidates. If they truly had to answer the question, instead of skirting through and around it, and each candidate was provided the oportunity to respond, then the “top tier” might actually look completely different. I for one thought the question about a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton legacy a very interesting one- does the nation really want another dynasty shift, or truly a new point of view?

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