I wish I had taken notes last night during the Democratic debate on CNN. It wasn't so much what the candidates said as it was the comments of the CNN talking heads. They were so pleased with themselves! So many times did they call what they were doing groundbreaking, innovative and "a first of its kind," you would have thought they invented television, the internet and the miracle of human speech that very night.
I thought the use of the YouTube format was fun, but, substantively, I don't know what was so different about it than a town hall meeting style debate where the audience gets to ask the questions. Those have been around forever.
Meanwhile, on the technical side, CNN showed the YouTube videos in a window so small that they were often impossible to make out, and, no matter how bad the sound quality of the videos were, CNN never provided subtitles.
But those quibbles aside, it was definitely more interesting watching questions from real people than it is watching journalists ask them. I loved the lesbian couple who asked the candidates why they shouldn't be allowed to marry and the questions from the families of troops lost in Iraq and those struggling with health issues were often moving. One sensed that the candidates were sometimes touched by them, too.
As far as the performance of the candidates, I agreed with the first commentator of the evening I heard, who said "It was like Gladys Knight and the Pips up there." Hillary Clinton stole the show with her intelligence, poise and personal charm. She just seems to have the edge on experience and "seasoning." After every one of her answers, I found myself impressed with the depth of her knowledge and her articulateness in expressing it. This exchange, quoted here from the New York Times, was typical of where I thought her performance made her distinct from the other candidates who offered "change," but who didn't demonstrate the maturity and know-how to bring it about:
Perhaps the sharpest point of difference came when the candidates were asked if, during their first year as president, they would be willing to meet without preconditions with the presidents and dictators of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
"I would," said Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. "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."
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who has also criticized the Bush administration for "not talking to our enemies," took a different tack, pledging robust diplomacy but refusing to make that promise of leader-to-leader talks.
"I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes — I don't want to make a situation even worse," Mrs. Clinton said. Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, asked if he would meet Kim Jong Il of North Korea, replied: "Yes, and I think actually Senator Clinton's right, though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy, to make sure that that meeting's not going to be used for propaganda purposes."
Biden surprised me with his refreshing directness and the so-long-a-long-shot I'm not even sure what he was doing on the stage former Senator Mike Gravel brought some cranky comic relief.
I know a lot of people who are supporting Edwards and Obama, but I haven't been able to get too excited about them yet. Although I certainly wouldn't mind if either were the nominee. They're both bright and well-spoken and seem to have some good ideas about where this country needs to go.
I don't agree with Hillary on every issue, and she sometimes plays it too safe, but had I been looking for a perfect partner fifteen years ago when I got hitched, I'd still be single.
The others candidates still have some time to woo me away. Impress me, boys. But for now, Hillary, whom I've twice met in person and whose warmth and charisma might surprise you given her sometimes stiff appearance on TV, is still my choice among the Democratic candidates for President.
And speaking of wooing me away, Anderson Cooper, you have my number. Call.