Last week’s Democratic presidential debate was a lot like a sitcom, and who doesn’t like a sitcom? There were the big-money stars (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards), the supporting cast (Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, and Chris Dodd), and those crazy guest stars that bring home Emmys for their eccentric performances (Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel). With eight candidates, nobody could really delve too deeply into their plans for the presidency, but whoever wins the candidacy will be pitting themselves against George Bush’s legacy as much as the Republican candidate.
Clinton’s key moment: “(Iraq) is not America’s war to win or lose. We have given the Iraqi people the chance to have freedom, to have their own country. It is up to them to decide whether or not they’re going to take that chance. And it is past time for them to demonstrate that they are willing to make the sacrifice, the compromise that is necessary …”
Edwards’ key moment: “I think one of the things we desperately need in our next president is someone who can restore the trust bond between the American people and the president of the United States because I think that trust has been devastated over the last six years.”
Gravel’s key moment: “Understand that this war was lost the day that George Bush invaded Iraq on a fraudulent basis. … George Bush communicated over a year ago that he would not get out of Iraq until he left office. Do we not believe him? … You pass a law, not a resolution, a law making it a felony to stay there.”
Obama’s key moment: “We know what the challenges are, and we’ve got good plans and ideas on health care and education and energy. What’s been lacking is the political will to get it done, and that’s the kind of movement that I intend to build during the course of this campaign.”
Dodd’s key moment: “We’ve been through six years of on-the-job training with the president. I think we’re now ready for experience in this country that allows us to go forward, create jobs and create prosperity for this 21st century.”
Biden’s football analogy, sort of: “You know, this is not a football game,” then, “The president better get on the game plan here.”
Kucinich’s American Idol analogy, sort of: “We’re auditioning here for president of the United States,” then, “This isn’t American Idol here.”
Obama’s “I told you so” moment: “I’m proud of the fact that I put forward a plan in January that mirrors what Congress ultimately adopted.”
Kucinich’s “I told you so” moment: “People have to see who had the judgment and the wisdom not to go to war in the first place, and I made the choice not to go to war.”
Clinton’s “I told you so” moment: “I do have the experience of having put forth a (health care) plan which met with many of the features that John and Barack just mentioned.”
The numbers of the night:
Dodd: In Iraq, “we’re spending $2 billion a week, $8 billion a month, over $400 billion over more than four years.”
Edwards: We have 47 million people without health care, 37 million people who wake up in poverty every day.”
Kucinich: In Iraq, “(we’ve seen) 3,333 Americans die, perhaps as many as over 650,000 innocent Iraqis die.”
Obama: “We spend $2 trillion on health care in this country every year, 50 percent more than other industrialized nations.”
Richardson: “Thrity-one percent of our health care goes to inefficiencies in bureaucracy.”
Edwards: “We use 22 million barrels of oil a day; 12 million of those barrels are imported.”
Brian Williams brings the hard truth: “Sen. Gravel, for those who may not be familiar with your past …” and “Congressman Kucinich, why don’t you think you have more traction politically in the United States?”
Folksy Edwards pops in: “If the question is, Brian, whether I live a privileged and blessed lifestyle now, the answer is yes; a lot of us do. But it’s not where I come from, and I’ve not forgotten where I come from.”
Clinton gives the Democratic mantra: “If the president does not get us out of Iraq, when I’m president, I will.”
The number of questions Williams planned to post to everyone, but scuttled after less than four responses: 2
Folksy Edwards returns: “If you want to be president of the United States … rhetoric is not enough. Highfalutin language is not enough.”
Best of the night: “Sen. Biden … can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the (verbal) discipline you would need on the world stage?” Biden’s responded, “Yes.” Period.
Obama on abortion: “The broader issue is, do women have the right to make these profoundly difficult decisions? And I trust them to do it.”
Richardson on gun control: “We should ensure that all federal and state initiatives deal with making sure that those with mental illnesses cannot get a gun. Secondly, I was for instant background checks. We have to make sure that those background checks are state and local, (and that) states are properly funded to be able to detect those problems.”
Biden’s simplistic answer to what would have stopped the VT massacre: “Shotgun, not pistol.”
Obama on health care: “I think we should have a national pool that people can buy into if they don’t have health insurance, similar to the ones that most of us who are in Congress enjoy right now. It doesn’t make sense to me that my bosses, the taxpayers, may not have health insurance that I enjoy.”
Richardson on taxes: “As Democrats, I just hope that we always don’t think of new taxes to pay for programs.”
Obama on the Confederate flag: “I think that the Confederate flag should be put in a museum. That’s where it belongs.”
Gruff Gravel on his roots: “I’m the senior statesmen on here, and I was beginning to feel like a potted plant standing over here.”
Your biggest mistakes?
Clinton tries to be honest: “I don’t have enough time to tell you all the mistakes I’ve made in the last many years.”
Obama tries to be cute: “Well, my wife, who’s here, may have a longer list.”
Biden tries to avoid the question: “Overestimating the competence of this administration and underestimating the arrogance.”
Edwards tries the same old answer: “I was wrong to vote for this war.”
Clinton on immigration: “I’m in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, which includes tightening our border security, sanctioning employers who employ undocumented immigrants, helping our communities deal with the costs that come from illegal immigration, getting the 12 million or so immigrants out of the shadows. … And then giving them a chance to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and stand in line to be eligible for legal status in this country.”
Biden on education: “If we want the best students in the world, we need the best teachers.”
Obama on America’s three most important allies: The European Union, NATO, Afghanistan, Japan, China (“neither our enemy nor our friend”), oh, and Israel. Yes, that’s just about everybody.
Biden on foreign policy: “We have to jettison this notion of preemption as a doctrine, and we have to jettison the notion of regime change.” But “the use of force in Afghanistan is justified and necessary; in Darfur, justified and necessary; in the Balkans, justified and necessary. You guys can have your happy talk, there’s real life.”
Clinton on homeland security: “This administration has consistently tried to hype the fear without delivering on the promise of making America safer.”
Chris Dodd on the potential future lesbianism of his daughters: “I have two very young daughters who one day may have a different sexual orientation than their parents. How would I like them treated as adults?” Apparently, not fairly. “I believe that civil unions are appropriate and proper. I don’t support same-sex marriage.”
Clinton on an imagined terrorist attack: “I believe we should quickly respond. Now, that doesn’t mean we go looking for other fights.”
The answer that’s not good enough for Brian Williams: He asks Obama what he’s done in his personal life to improve the environment. Obama says he recently organized 3,000 volunteers to plant trees, when Brian interrupts, “I mean like light bulbs.” Well, geez.
Other facts gleaned from the night:
Richardson isn’t a “blow-dried candidate with perfection.” (We don’t know what that means either)
The top-tier candidates scare Gravel. “They frighten me!”
Edwards, Obama, and Clinton have never had a gun in their homes.
John Edwards has a 30-second delay from his moral leader.
Clinton has gotten great deals at Wal-Mart.
Edwards sums up the night: “We’ve had a lot of discussion tonight, not a great deal of discussion so far about the substance of very specific ideas that each of us have on big issues.”
Biden gets the last word: “I’m looking at a bunch of winners right here.”
Our take: We’ll see.