Last night, I caved to politics. For the first time, I watched the 2008 contenders debate. The lengthy two-party marathon on ABC made me feel as though I have more than made up for lost time.
Some observations on "fight night," as it was rather accurately termed. The fact that so many political balls are in the air at the moment is exciting and invigorating for the American electorate. Voters are usually wary of candidates who become too smug too soon, which (in my opinion) is a big part of Hillary Clinton's current problems. It's as though voters in Iowa decided to send a "slow down there, girlfriend" message to the "inevitable" Democratic candidate.
That being said, Hillary held her own last night, with some unfortunate lapses into her characteristic shrillness when defending herself against Barack Obama. She did manage to pull off a classically feminine "cute" moment--referring to her hurt feelings, followed up with an eye-batting smile and a clever remark or two. As the only woman on the docket, naturally she's the only candidate who can get away with such wiles, and she played them to her advantage.
As for her "experience," that doesn't ring quite so true. I'd like to see the Clintons reaction to a former Republican first lady trying to parlay her White House years into valid experience for president. I shiver to think of it.
John Edwards seems to have thrown his chips in with Obama, in view of his "status quo" attack on Clinton. Expanding on the incessant "change" theme that every candidate has embraced, Edwards may see visions of the VP slot dancing in his head if he and Obama can knock Hillary out of the race.
For his part, Obama didn't screw up--but he really didn't add anything of substance to the discussion, either. He keeps talking about re-involving the American people in government and, of course, "change." Nice idea, but I haven't heard real specifics on how he's going to accomplish that. It will be interesting to see if charisma and idealistic generalities will be enough to carry him to victory in New Hampshire.
The genial Bill Richardson seemed like an afterthought, but it was a positive to hear more about his extensive background in government--"experience" and "change" were the buzzwords, almost to the point of exhaustion.
As for the Republicans....well, well. Whoever thought that John McCain, who is leading in the New Hampshire polls, would waste that much time and energy being so downright nasty? We all know he's an admirable war hero with a life of public service to his country, but my goodness--what an unpleasant man! His continuing personal slams at Mitt Romney, however deserved they may or may not be, distracted everyone from the issues and served only to highlight McCain's petty egotism. McCain's defensiveness and unwillingness to admit that the defeated immigration bill was anathema to a huge percentage of the American voters--who brought it crashing down through grassroot activism--was very telling of a man who refuses to be wrong. That's a terrible trait in a president. Let's hope we won't need to worry about it.
Guiliani, Romney, Huckabee all put forward their now-familiar agendas with the usual gusto, although Romney struggled to deflect attacks from not just McCain, but Huckabee and Guiliani also. Ron Paul's answers, as usual, railed against American foreign and economic policies. Fred Thompson did better than I expected him to, maybe because he took the day off from campaigning and probably caught a nap.
The outcome of Tuesday's election should be fascinating for both parties. There's no telling where the top contenders will find themselves come Wednesday morning. But let's hope they'll find some comfort in one certainty--things will be definitely be changed.