The New Hampshire Debates

Last night, for the first time, I watched the debates on television. Aside from the Facebook fooforall and something irrelevant called the “Spin Room,” I even found the presentation reasonable—though the guy from ABC (the host of their evening news—which I never watch) clearly knows little about the lives or incomes of much of America (he raised derisive laughter when he said that two married college professors would be making around $200,000 combined) and has a naïve view of causality in Iraq (he believes that the “surge” is responsible for the drop in violence, that it is “working”).

What I am finding unreasonable is post-debate coverage.

Though there was a little scuffling, I found the Democrats to be a forceful quartet, agreeing on a number of issues and presenting a cohesive vision of the direction our country needs to take. Yet the headline in The New York Times, reflecting most of what I heard on radio last night, was “At Debate, Two Rivals Go After Defiant Clinton.”

Little in the article, or in any other commentary from the mainstream media that I have seen, focused on the fact that we now have an emerging Democratic consensus on where the country should go. On global warming, on health care, on nuclear proliferation, and on Iraq, the four set out programs that differ only in the details. The big difference was Edwards’ and his desire to take lobbyists out of politics and returning the government to the people (Obama agreeing on this part).

In fact, it is this that may prove to be Clinton’s Achilles heel: She is perceived as “in bed” with entrenched interests, while Edwards and (to a lesser extent) Obama argue that the only way real change will happen is through real movement away from such “interests.”

The big story of the debate, that the commercial news media seems to have missed, is that the Democrats, if Obama or Edwards wins the nomination, will have a platform that can be expressed coherently and quickly, built on the long process of refinement through debates and, now, primaries, and that the difference between them and Clinton has more to do with conception of how to govern than with the goals of governing. The debate, for all the little bickering, showed that the party is developing, for the first time in a long, long time, a real series of goals—and ones that will hard to resist, if one of the Democrats wins the presidency.

As I am not going to be voting for any of the Republicans, I was not able to watch them with the same enthusiasm I had for the Democrats. What was interesting, though, was seeing faces I had only heard before on the radio—I hardly knew what Mitt Romney looks like. Now I have seen his charm, but also saw him coming across as little more than a pretty face in a pack of much more substantial (even if I don’t like them that well) candidates. Except for Fred Thompson, who seemed little more than a cypher, the others each seemed to have a well-thought vision to get across. Even Giuliani, whom I loathe. You could tell where they stand, and what makes each individual.

What they lack is a feeling of any sort of growing cohesion. Unlike the Democrats, they don’t seem to be coming together through their competition. Their bickering, rather than being put aside when the real issues need the fore, seems to dominate—as it did when they went back and forth about the meaning of “amnesty.” They all want to build a wall around the United States, sure, but they could not come to any broad agreement about what to do then, about the “illegals” they would be locking in.

All in all, outside of Thompson and Romney (who came off as lightweights), I gained a little respect for each of the Republican candidates.

They are doomed to lose, though, unless they can imitate what the Democrats are doing (and what Republicans in the past did so well), and that is build a consensus vision of the future.

Personally, I hope they don’t.

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