WASHINGTON--The CNN/YouTube videos experiment turned out to be a success. The videos were a fun, inventive way to talk about policy and get around just journalists asking questions. I’m curious about whether the youth-oriented “wassup?” format ended up bringing in more and younger viewers. I looked forward to the video questions—not because the questions were that far afield, they were not—they were, simply, entertaining, such as the Snowman worried about the implications global warming would have for his son.
There were 39 videos —counting the introduction—and before the debate I would have guessed at least one of them would have created an epic exchange.. The showdown between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and her top rivals did not materialize though a dramatic distinction between Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Clinton did emerge.
CNN moderator Anderson Cooper did a nice job in dealing with the tricky format. He seemed determined to get through as many videos as possible rather than develop some lines of questioning—mainly where Clinton and Obama and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) differed.
As in previous debates and forums, Clinton deftly handled everything and everyone with calm confidence. She exuded strength and humor. She made no mistakes.
And the gang never ganged up on her.
Obama was at his best yet. Obama in this debate delivered concise answers that were cuts above the soundbites he so resents. He talked in the broad strokes that vaulted him into a White House race. I think he has come to accept—even if not appreciate--that there is a time and place to be concise and a debate is one of them.
Edwards’ was most passionate when he talked about standing up to drug companies. But I’m not sure why Edwards found it necessary to make a crack about Clinton’s coral jacket. Isn’t that the last thing you want with a female rival—to be talking about her clothes?
Rep. Dennis Kucinch (D-Ohio), candid and pointed, connected the dots between global warring and global warming. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.) are eloquent—as in previous encounters—dealing with the Darfur questions, as is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. But nothing occurred that will significantly move them up the charts.
The last angry man, former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Ak.) was not allowed to dominate. Actually, it seemed like Obama had the most time.
Now, the difference between Obama and Clinton the debate highlighted.
A core underpinning of Obama’s presidential bid is the belief that solutions to problems—domestic and international—can be found through a search for common ground and consensus. That’s why he said, in response to a question, that he would meet with the leaders of the biggest enemies of the U.S. -- Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in his first year as president.
“ I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous,” Obama said, invoking presidents Reagan and Kennedy.
Clinton would not make that pledge. She offered instead a far more cautious foreign policy operating theory.
“Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this
administration. And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy. And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.''
Clinton's statement “I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes” by rogue leaders suggested by inference that perhaps Obama would be. That was, by the way, the closest she got to landing a direct blow on Obama.