Going to the Candidates' Debate

As previously mentioned, I went to the so-called "First in the Fall" Presidential Debate last night at the Whittemore Center. (I pedantically pointed out to anyone who would listen: it's not actually fall yet. Most people smiled politely and found an excuse to be elsewhere.) To avoid bias, I haven't listened to any analysis or spin; the transcript is here. Herewith my belated reactions and impressions, in no particular order:

  • Part of the show was the pre-game activities. If you've never been to one of these extravaganzas, it's a little jarring to see all the extracurricular activity from activist organizations targeting the incoming audience.

    One of the first signs I saw: "ED in '08". I wracked my brain … which one is Ed? But this turned out to be a pro-education group.

    The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease was also a major presence, with signs, handouts, even a plane-towed banner overhead. Regrettably, the pro-chronic disease folks didn't show up, making things a bit one-sided. Also in view were the AARP, the Carbon Coalition, Students for Saving Social Security (pro-personal accounts!), the American Family Business Institute (from whom I received a 'Kill the Death Tax' button).

    Ron Paul also had a banner in the air. I vaguely hoped for some sort of dogfight between the Chronic Disease plane and the Ron Paul plane, but it didn't materialize.

  • Speaking of Ron Paul, his supporters were by far the most vocal. I believe every single libertarian in the state was on hand. They had a cheer/chant alternating between loud and very loud:
    Ron Paul!
    Ron Paul!
    Ron Paul!
    … etc. Not the most cerebral libertarian argument I've heard.

  • Not to be outdone—except that they were outdone—Mike Huckabee fans came up with their own ditty:
    We Like Mike!
    We Like Mike!
    We Like Mike!
    We Like Mike!
    … and that went on for awhile. Other candidates had their supporters; the Romneyites were probably in second place in numbers, but they refrained from chanting, at least while I was there. Very quiet and polite folks.

  • Also seen: a person in a yellow duck suit with a sign: "FRED, why are you ducking the debate?" Heh. (Update: Drew Cline has pictures, including one of the duck.)

  • Lots of standing in line, and nobody was in any particular hurry in processing people through. One young lady, unfortunately handling my line, was severely challenged by looking up my name, in a list alphabetized by last name.

  • Before things started, I counted eight podiums in front of the spiffy animated American-flag backdrop; could I come up with the eight participants? … I got up to seven, and had to check the program … I'd forgotten Brownback.

  • As for the debate itself: I noticed they got the Fred Question out of the way right up front; McCain had the best gag here: "Maybe we're up past his bed time."

  • Generally speaking, in fact, I thought McCain had a pretty good night. He was funny, relaxed, genuine, and well-spoken. Too bad about that whole McCain/Feingold thing, which continues to drop him off my list of tolerable candidates.

  • Fireworks were provided by an Iraq back-and-forth between Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. No fisticuffs, unfortunately. Although Ron Paul's fans continued to be loudly supportive during the debate, he reinforced my notion that his foreign policy is a joke: pull out from everywhere, immediately, close our eyes, and wish real hard that people will like us again.

    But the real hit on Paul came not from Huckabee, but Chris Frickin' Wallace: "You're basically saying that we should take our marching orders from Al Qaida? If they want us off the Arabian Peninsula, we should leave?"

  • Romney: my completely subjective impression is that he's gone beyond "polished" to outright "slick." Apologies to his fans, but I didn't get the feeling that he actually believed a single thing he was saying.

  • Giuliani: hey, didya know that he used to be Mayor of New York City? But, other than his constant hammering on that point, I thought he came off pretty well, and avoided saying anything in New Hampshire about the New York Yankees, a wise move. On performance, I'd give him second place after McCain.

  • Huckabee: decent performance, marred by an idiotic analogy:
    We have to continue the surge, and let me explain why, Chris. When I was a little kid, if I went into a store with my mother, she had a simple rule for me: If I picked something off the shelf at the store and I broke it, I bought it. I learned I don't pick something off the shelf I can't afford to buy.

    Well, what we did in Iraq, we essentially broke it. It's our responsibility to do the best we can to try to fix it before we just turn away.

    Gosh, I never realized foreign policy was so easy to understand! It's just like being a kid in a store, after all!

  • Tancredo, Brownback, Hunter: although seemingly decent people—for politicians, that is—I can't figure out why they're here. Not very impressive, sorry.

  • I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed this as much if I'd watched it on TV. If you get a chance to go to one of these shindigs, I recommend it.

  • I'm still strongly leaning toward Fred.

Last Modified 2007-09-06 7:01 PM EDT