The Philadelphia debate

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Tonight’s Democratic debate in Philadelphia was the worst I’ve watched, and that is saying something. The blogging consensus, not to mention the furious comments clogging up the ABC post-debate comment thread, has it right. The “moderators” were evidently bored by most of the policy issues at stake in this election—small matters such as comprehensive health care reform, the war in Iraq (eventually mentioned), the economy (mostly ignored). They preferred to dwell on American-flag lapel-pins, and on a variety of silly ambush questions intended, I don’t doubt, not to elicit information and discussion, but to wrong-foot the candidates and produce some “good television”. The whole thing was so phoney and dreary, even by the standards of these events, that I wonder how many people not being paid to watch managed to stay with it to the end.

As for the candidates, it was a night both would prefer to forget. They were not so much uninspiring as anti-inspiring. Hillary scored points but, as is her way, in a fashion that probably bumped up her disapproval rating as much as Obama’s. Having said that, Obama definitely had the worse of it. He looked tired, demoralised even, and was often as faltering and hesitant as in the first debates, way back when. Dealing with Wright (yes, that again), he squirmed, returning (to my astonishment) to his first, failed, and totally non-credible line of defense—namely, that he was not present when his pastor said those things, so it all came as something of a shock. He was that bad.

It couldn’t have gone better for the GOP if they had scripted and stage-managed the entire event.

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