You know you’re in trouble when Joe Biden starts to sound good. And in Sunday night’s debate, the Democrats showed they are indeed in trouble. Building up to an election that should offer them a truly exceptional opportunity for victory, they have put up a very weak lineup, filled with senators and therefore with hot air.
Americans almost never elect their presidents out of the Senate. Just about every modern presidential election has seen sitting senators vie for the White House, but only two of our presidents — Kennedy and Harding — have managed to be elected directly from the Senate. We often say the public seeks executive experience. But more likely what voters really look for is something of an executive temperament: a simplicity and clarity of purpose, and some sense of how to manage action. The Senate trains its members in almost precisely the opposite set of skills, and it shows.
Given all this, Bill Richardson should be the strongest candidate on a Democratic debate stage: governor, former U.N. representative, former Cabinet members, former member of Congress. But Richardson may well have been the least impressive debater last night.
The second strongest candidate should be Hillary Clinton. She has no executive experience, but she should have a good sense of what a president sounds like. Last night was not a strong performance for her, but she made no significant errors, and for the front-runner, that’s a successful debate.
The other two top-tier candidates — Edwards and Obama — are both empty suits that seem to grow emptier and emptier. They showed an appalling lack of seriousness regarding the country’s security. Quite apart from having no solutions to offer, they offered no evidence that they understand we are at war with a determined enemy.
Senator Biden — while he did nothing to endanger his title as the king of hot air — showed now and then that he did understand the situation we are in, and that George W. Bush did not cause it. Biden won the debate, and Hillary was not far behind. She will be a formidable candidate next year, and no Republican candidate should imagine otherwise.
But at least so far in this early campaign season, the Republican debates have shown a much more serious, responsible, and seasoned cast of front-runners than the Democrats. That will offer Republicans a real advantage when the public starts paying attention next year. And they’ll need it.
– Yuval Levin is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Domestic issues such as the economy, health care, energy, education, and immigration are of concern to voters. All of these issues were discussed during the CNN Democrat debate, but the war in Iraq and foreign diplomacy clearly dominated the forum. Each candidate worked diligently to distinguish themselves from one another but all were in concert in blaming the president for the war. Blame the president for the problems, but no candidate had clear solutions.
Americans are anxious for a leader that will end the partisan infighting in Washington. They are in search of a steady leader that will provide solutions in uncertain times and not just more of the same rhetoric. Americans are concerned about national security, but no candidate addressed how they as president would make Americans feel more secure within our borders.
As one candidate stated, “the differences among us are minor.” I agree. There was no true winner. This debate will have little impact on poll numbers. As for the race to the White House, Americans saw carnival bumper cars not the Daytona 500 with an obvious winner at the finish line.
– Angela McGlowan, author of the new book Bamboozled, is founder and president of Political Strategies and Insights and a Fox News analyst.
John J. Pitney Jr.
Television viewers take cues from the reactions of studio audiences. That’s why situation comedies have laugh tracks. Last night’s debate would have left a less favorable impression if different people had filled the hall.
Take Senator Edwards’s assertion that the war on terror is just “a bumper sticker.” Senator Clinton politely disagreed, but her response fell short of a defining moment. Imagine the groans that Edwards would have gotten from veterans of the Afghanistan conflict.
Had the debate taken place near the southern border, other comments would have drawn laughs.
Senator Biden, who was coherent for much of the night, said that he voted for a border fence because it would stop drugs, not people. (I’m still trying to figure out what such a fence would look like.)
In defending his opposition to English as an official language, Senator Obama said that everybody living in America would learn the language anyway. Rubbish. The 2000 census found 4.4 million households where no one spoke English very well. That came to nearly 12 million people, and there is little doubt that the number has gone way up.
Catcalls are rude, but last night, they might have been revealing.
– John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College