Thoughts From the Treadmill: First Democratic Presidential Primary Debate

Bill Richardson - The man with the most to gain fell hard. Like Althouse, I thought he might make his surge in debates given his experiences. Instead, sweating like me, with almost Nixonian profusion toward the end, he sounded and looked a bit bewildered, came off a bit windbaggy. He also fielded an abnormal number of unenviable first, suspecting, and even editorial ("your strident...") questions from the moderator.

Christopher Dodd - Meh...he was there? Faded into the background. Other than making a distinction between civil unions and gay marriage and saying his vote for the Iraq War was wrong, I don't remember anything he said.

John Edwards - I laughed out loud as Edwards sat dreamily silent for long, long, long moment when asked if he had a moral role model, much to the confusion of the girl walking next to me. He said "no" at first. His eventual answer was pretty solid, but he seemed very off his game all night long, despite a home crowd. Where was the boyish enthusiasm, the mill-worker's son? He came off as insubstantial as he did in his whuppin' at the hands of Dick Cheney in the
VP debate in '04, but without the saving optimism. His bizarre avoidance of the taxation question was patently absurd.

Joe Biden - Squinty-eyed, strangely John Wayne-like, almost an Oklahoma accent. Kind of cantankerous. Seemed to talk the most of anyone all night long. Feistily anti-Bush, but in an LBJ sort of way, whereas Kucinich is in a Feingoldian sort of way. Running, I thought had gotten sweat in my eyes as he opened a question on Virginia Tech with "Shotguns, not pistols." Double take. This man will not be President. Maybe head of the party after Dean.

Barack Obama - Came off as stately, polished, a bit slick perhaps in his responses. Certainly got some softballs for questions. Adeptly worked divisive questions into positive "uniter" responses - turning a gaffe on personal environmentalism into an intro to his daughters - more touches of glittering generalities, almost teetering into the vapid rhetoric we've seen from him on the stump. Got his anti-Bush policy pitches in effectively, as with the Katrina/disaster response rebuke toward the end. His statement that the Confederate Flag "belongs in a museum," as apt as it may be, might cost him in the political realities of the South. More and more reminiscent of Wilson - a highly idealized vision, meteoric rise from professordom. On non-Iraq foreign policy (which sounded like a Jeopardy! category I would like) he was the only candidate, to his credit, to display an understanding of China's growing place in the world "not our enemy... not our friend...a competitor."

Hillary Clinton - Must've had a cold, or else her voice is deeper than I remember. Seemed somewhat tired or fatigued, but managed to hold steady throughout the evening. She was the one we were familiar with, the sort of storied, troubled collective aunt that many dislike. I hopped on the treadmill just as she was talking about her healthcare plan. She benefited from decent questions and didn't seem to swing up or down to any noticeable extent during the course of debate. She came out as somewhat more hawkish on immigration than I would've expected.

Dennis Kucinich - Surprisingly, appeared to be the most positive candidate of the evening, smiling constantly, confident in his rhetoric, certainly honed in on his particular avenues of attack on the major candidates given his experience in the presidential campaign arena. Lines up policy-wise with the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" to quote Dean. He seemed freed by his knowledge that he could not win in a primary, liberated and able to say what the vanguard of the Party would like to say and promote were it not handicapped by reality.

"Potted Plant" Gravel - Even more entertaining than Kucinich. The loony Alaskan Sharpton of this time around? "Who're you gonna nuke next, Barack?" Almost fell of the treadmill a few times clutching my side at the ridiculousness.

Overall - A relatively high level of debate despite the number of candidates and the limited response times. There were simply so many substantive issues raised. Some of the "show of hands" questions were hilarious, especially when the audience could see the candidates for commander in chief look around at the others before deciding on a course of action as if they were in third grade. Barack and Hillary did not do enough wrong to lose their spots as frontrunners. Here's the full transcript if you want to delve deeper.