(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.