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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Debate Wrap-Up

We have almost 10 hours of footage, from the debate and from the coverage, that we're going through for highlights. In the meantime though, check out this highlight reel from TalkingPointsMemo

We also have a response to the debate running in this week's issue of The Triangle, so look for that. I'll post the text of it below the fold, so click "There's More..." to read it. Go ahead and point out your observations in the comments.

And yes, we will be responding to Mulgrew's characteristically silly op-ed as well.

The Drexel University College Democrats would like to express our sincere gratitude to Drexel University for the tremendous honor and opportunity afforded all of us by hosting the Democratic presidential debate here at Drexel. I think I speak for all of our members, and the student body at large, when I say that this was a unique and exciting opportunity for students to see the machinery of American democracy in action. I was personally moved being so close to such an historic event.

But now that the satellite trucks have driven off, the celebrities have gone, and the crowds have disbanded, the only question everyone is asking is “Who won the debate?” It’s actually a question I hate answering, because I feel it so oversimplifies the issues at hand that it trivializes the process to ask it. That being said, it’s really just shorthand for “What changed?”

It may be too soon to know whether the race for the Democratic nomination has changed, but we knew going in that the hype was of Sen. Obama “drawing distinctions” between himself and Sen. Clinton. Sen. Obama had generated a lot of hype about going after Sen. Clinton, and he certainly landed a few solid blows. Sen. Clinton saw most of them coming though, and was able to parry with red-meat rhetoric about George Bush and Rudy Giuliani. To paraphrase Chris Bowers, it can be difficult to punch someone in the face after telling them for a week that you’re going to punch them in the face.

Despite Sen. Clinton’s best efforts though, some of the criticisms seemed to stick. Sen. Obama’s strongest asset, in my view, is the fact that he was outspokenly critical of the Iraq war before we invaded, when it was politically dangerous to do so. I think it demonstrates superior judgment than some other candidates, and Sen. Obama was quite forceful in his criticism of Sen. Clinton for lacking that judgment when it would have mattered. It certainly wasn’t the first time the point has been made, but Sen. Obama was awfully direct this time.

Many of the candidates criticized Sen. Clinton for her “Yay” vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment regarding Iran. Sen. Dodd was correct, in my opinion, in pointing out that the logic that caused Sen. Clinton to vote for the authorization of force in Iraq was the same that caused her to vote for Kyl-Lieberman, and that it was a wrong decision in at critical moment.

Sen. Clinton’s weakest moment was in the discussion about providing drivers licenses for illegal aliens in New York State. Like any issue, the intricacies of policy are ill-suited to 30 second answers, and Sen. Clinton talked herself right into a corner. She appeared, perhaps unfairly, to both support and oppose a measure, and it was particularly damaging because it reeked of political calculation, not principled policy. It was exactly the kind of thing that Senators Edwards and Obama had been accusing her of.

Despite these slips however, Sen. Clinton continued to demonstrate why she is leading in the polls. She is a brilliant woman and a seasoned politician, and her Republican opponents underestimate her ability at their own peril.

Sen. Biden isn’t generally considered a front-runner, but I think he comes across very strongly in these debates, including the Drexel Debate. He received positive reactions to both his attacks on Giuliani and to when he provided a refreshing perspective to the Iran debate. Speaking to students in Mandell Theater, Sen. Biden literally silenced hundreds of rowdy students with an eloquent exposition on the opportunities squandered by President Bush, and how the world would be different if he hadn’t.

Sen. Obama also had some good lines, like at the end when he redirected the question about alien life in the universe by saying that life on earth would be his first priority. Judging from the crowd reaction, both in the main auditorium and in the Mandell Theater watch party, Sen. Obama was the crowd favorite.

Finally, no discussion of the debate would be complete without praise for Sen. Dodd’s courageous positions. He eloquently explained the common sense reality that the war on drugs isn’t working, and that we need to decriminalize aspects of our drug policy. Not discussed at the debate, unfortunately, was Sen. Dodd’s promise to defend the constitution and filibuster any attempts by the congress to provide retroactive immunity to telecom companies for illegal wiretapping activities. It would have been a valuable discussion to have with so many powerful senators in one place.

My overall impression from the debate was that Obama helped himself, and was helped by the other candidates as well. Sen. Clinton was knocked down a peg, but it remains to be seen whether it will fundamentally change the dynamics of this race. That’s up to all of us.

The bottom line, however, is that all of the candidates on stage offered positive visions for the future of this nation and the world, standing in stark contrast to their Republican counterparts.