Group debates at this point in an election cycle are like my digestive system after eating a large bowl of cookie dough: A lot of noise, but not much chance of movement. Thursday night in South Carolina was no exception. During one break, Howard Dean even complained to moderator Tom Brokaw that the evening seemed a bit too mellow. Dean then proceeded to try to hit at Kerry’s most obvious weakness (“Dude, you’re a Senator”) but even the ensuing exchanges did little to threaten a Friends repeat or Trump’s Apprentice as the evenings ratings winners.
Brokaw himself may have provided the evening’s biggest stories. He began the debate by asking a series of tactical questions (mostly focused on when the hell most of these guys were going to get out of the race). His general line of questioning left little doubt that he does not have a soft spot for Howard Dean. Brokaw’s biggest gaffe of the night came as he repeatedly referred to Islamic nations as the Nation of Islam until he was soundly corrected by Al Sharpton (If Brokaw himself had been a candidate, this exchange would’ve made the Dan Quayle potato misspelling look like Lincoln at Gettysburg).
In many ways, the night belonged to Sharpton who had some of the clearest and most entertaining answers (on issues ranging from why is he still in the race to the real issue about Bush and Iraq to the Confederate flag). Clark was better than usual and eloquently stood up for the now seemingly lonely cause of secularism in America. Dean tried to hit Kerry. Kerry needs to get better at his responses to such attacks. We generally need less of the Senator Kerry and more of the “I turned the damn boat around” Kerry. Edwards, who came dangerously close to saying that he feels our pain, is much better in long form and takes about two minutes to get warmed up. Unfortunately he gets about a minute and a half in these debates (just slightly less time than is required to lift this country up and make sure that in his America no child goes to bed at night without a blanket). Lieberman was solid but uninspired. His facial flesh; still way to loose for prime time.
Kucinich’s most memorable moment of the night came when he reached out and explained: “I want to take these hands and help heal America.” Since that comment, I can’t get the image of Dennis in a trench coat out of my mind. Overall, no major moments and no major movement. That’s good news for Kerry. Not so great for Brokaw…