Last evening’s MoveOn virtual town hall about Iraq was an extremely interesting event. Five other MoveOn members joined us at our home; we snacked, talked, petted our assorted cats and dogs as they wandered through, and listened to each of seven Democratic candidates. (About 1,000 such gatherings were held around the country.)
Each candidate gave a 3-minute response to the same opening question: “What is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?” They also each answered two questions submitted by MoveOn members, and then gave a 1-minute closing.
Go here to access audio of all the responses, transcripts, and a podcast of the entire event.
The candidates included three that I thought I knew well (Clinton, Edwards, Obama), two I knew marginally (Biden, Kucinich), and two I knew almost nothing about (Dodd, Richardson). I came into the town hall with firm opinions as to my favorite candidate. But by the end of the evening, I’d been impressed in ways I didn’t expect — and, just as unexpectedly, underwhelmed by a couple of the presentations. Following are my thoughts about the candidates in the order they spoke.
John Edwards. I came into the evening an Edwards supporter. I’ve been talking for a long time about Edwards/Obama as the perfect ticket. But he didn’t sell me last night. I went back this morning and listened again to his opening response, hoping to hear something that I missed — after all, he went first, so maybe I’d been getting settled in my chair and hadn’t paid full attention. Nope. As my husband put in this morning, Edwards sounded pragmatic but not presidential — not strong enough. Compared to some of the other candidates, his Iraq proposals don’t have sufficient coherency and specificity.
Joe Biden. And then came Joe. Wow. Talk about a surprise! I had no expectation of finding him remotely interesting — but he blew me away. His proposals were strong, specific, and intelligent, and I was absolutely convinced that they would work. After the town hall we agreed that Biden had impressed us all. Unfortunately, as one of our attendees said, gesturing to some of the snacks on the table, “Joe is no more going to be elected president than this bowl of peanuts is going to be elected president.”
Dennis Kucinich. (A confession: I was distracted by Kucinich’s ugly neckties in the photos shown onscreen while he was talking. Can a man really be an effective president if he goes out accessorized that way? There; I’ve admitted my shallow attention to sartorial detail.) I didn’t know much about Kucinich coming into last evening, other than the fact that many people consider him The Guy when it comes to fixing American’s health care problems. Maybe when MoveOn does their health care town hall, he’ll impress me; he sure didn’t last night. His approach was to repeat (four times) the fact that he was the only one of the candidates to vote consistently against the Iraq war and to also repeat (five times) the fact that his proposal, HR1234, will fix things. Based on the details he mentioned about his proposal, I don’t believe it will work. And regardless of how smart he is, and how experienced, he doesn’t sound strong or presidential.
Bill Richardson. Richardson did well. I learned more from some of the attendees about his extensive foreign policy experience. His plans are coherent and sensible, and he presents them clearly and effectively. But, you know, he just didn’t stick in my head with any sort of lasting impression. He’ll need to put himself out there a lot more in order for people to get a sense that he could be presidential material.
Hillary Clinton. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the big surprise. Clinton completely sold me last night. I came into it firmly believing that she can’t be elected, that she’s only in it for personal political power, that she isn’t an effective speaker, and so on. I’m still not convinced that she can win, because of the numbers of Republicans who will head to the polls specifically to vote against her — but she’s got my support. She sounded incredibly strong, focused, and smart. She’s got clear objectives and plans and the skill, experience, and determination to make them work. She sounded — presidential. (She was also the only one of the seven candidates to use the phrase “when I’m president…,” which sounds corny but was very effective in the context.) In MoveOn’s follow-up poll, I voted for her as my choice for the evening as the best candidate to lead us out of Iraq.
Chris Dodd. See my earlier comments about Bill Richardson. He did well, he’s clearly smart, experienced, and so on, but I still don’t have a memorable image of him as president. He’s got a lot of work to do.
Barack Obama. Very disappointing. I expected to hear fire, enthusiasm, great plans — all the things we’re told to expect from Obama. Instead, he sounded not terribly strong, not terribly energetic, and not terribly focused. When asked the opening question about the best and fastest way to get us out of Iraq, he spent much of the time reciting casualty statistics. He finally mentioned that he has a plan, but he didn’t go into much detail about it — at least, not details that impressed me. Obama absolutely did not give me what I wanted and expected last night.
If you have time, I highly recommend listening to the podcast of the entire event. It lasts about 80 minutes. It could be that, like me, you’ll be surprised.