Anyone who thought that NBC anchor Brian Williams would hurl softball questions to the candidates at tonight's Democratic Presidential Debate surely didn't know there would be a round of questions called "The Elephant in the Room." Aside from that, there weren't a lot of tough questions.
Additionally the quality of debate was lacking. This was as much a function of the number of candidates as it was the modern media production of debates. Unfortunately, this may be what we're stuck with until we can get the debates wrested from the corporate media and find another medium through which we can mass distribute the content of the debate.
In the meantime, there are some meaningful things that happened tonight. In my pre-debate analysis, I laid out a few things that I thought candidates needed to do. No candidate hit it out of the park tonight. The ultimate result is that the media perception of the candidates will not change as a result of tonight's debate.
For beginners, Bill Richardson was unable to use the debate to leap frog into the top tier. Perhaps he's not used to this kind of debate style, but he didn't come across as the most experienced person on the stage. He had a few good moments, but I don't chalk this up as a success for him.
John Edwards did find the time to remind viewers that he is a native South Carolinian and took the time to identify with the average worker through a story about his childhood. He made a good effort at using the limited time to discuss each of the major policy proposals he has presented, despite the limitations of time in the debate. The most awkward moment was when he was asked who his moral leader was. That prompted several awkward seconds before he came up with a pretty good answer. His performance was good, but he didn't break into even status with Obama and Clinton.
Hillary spent about half of the time in lecture mode, which I compare with the old, boring Gore. The other half of the time she was passionate about the topic she was addressing. This is the Hillary that will appeal to people and establish more of a connection with voters that she badly needs. If she takes the time to watch her performance tonight and identifies those moments, it will help her tremendously in the next debate. Hillary made no mistakes, but also didn't make any major gains tonight.
Barack Obama was collegial, well spoken and came across as a class act. I didn't hear anything tonight that could have been directed at the African American audience in South Carolina. Perhaps it is a part of his larger political strategy, but I think it could be a mistake. This was an opportunity to send a message to African American voters. He missed that opportunity. Aside from that, he may have made a mistake by engaging Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel in a debate on Iran policy. Most people probably wondered why he was engaging the crazy guy from Alaska. (If you like Gravel, see below, I will give him some time too!) Obama also maintained the status quo. He was not able to connect real policy proposals with his gifted transformational speaking style.
The best line of the night award goes to former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. When discussing the issue of whether or not calling the war lost would demean the loss of lives of soldiers in Iraq. He said "the only thing worse than soldiers dying in vain are more soldiers dying in vain." The only thing that detracted from this was an angry rant that preceded it.
Overall, the debate was a good thing. Though we didn't see any major defining moment and the debate didn't come close to the spirit of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, it still has value in today's environment. As a native South Carolinian, I would have loved to see a major shift in the campaign happen in my native State. It didn't happen, so we'll have to wait for the next major moment for that. Until then, keep working hard to support your candidates with the overriding goal to replace the current administration with one that we can be proud of.