The big thing that struck me: the Republicans are in some other bizarre universe. Their notions of healthcare, in particular, are astounding, and their understanding of the threat from radical Islam is so shallow and so very, very dangerous. In no particular order, here are other things I came away with:
Mitt Romney: What an asshole.
Fred Thompson: I think he's still "playing" candidate; we hear him using buzzwords, but we don't really hear him elucidating either clear understandings of the issues or workable solutions.
Ron Paul: It really is an outrage that FOX is excluding him from the upcoming debate; he received twice as many votes in Iowa as Rudy Giuliani, and he's 400 times as smart. But I guess when your foreign policy isn't being dictated by Podhoretz and Kristol, this is the price you pay. It was a relief to hear someone on that stage -- incidentally, the only one from either party -- speak honestly about the complex issues in the war on terror, and about America's need to examine its own culpability for the mess we find ourselves in. But then...the gold standard? For real?
John McCain: Of the Republicans, he really is the best option. But that's not saying very much.
Rudy Giuliani: Wow. Scary. He really has no idea what he's talking about. His answers on healthcare and foreign policy were drawn from fantasy-land. It simply is not true that the United States has the best healthcare in the industrialized world; that is not borne out by the evidence. And then he made a very bizzare assertion that yes, private health insurance is very expensive, but if we could just get 50,000,000 Americans to buy it, the cost would go down. Isn't that an argument in favor of group insurance instead of private coverage? He also just clearly does not understand what's happening in Iraq or what motivates Al Qaeda or anything else going on in the Middle East.
Mike Huckabee: Okay, you know, he may have some unenlightened theological positions and he may very well have cooked squirrels in a popcorn popper, but, I take back my claim from the last post. His Evangelical beliefs are not all he has going for him. Of all the Republican candidates, he's the only nice one. I mean, McCain and Paul have their charm and I don't think they're evil, but Huckabee's fun. And he may be a hick from Punkin' Crick or wherever, but he is far more articulate and confidence-inspiring -- and therefore, presumably smarter -- than Romney, Thompson or Giuliani. Sincerity and plain-spokenness go a long way. He absolutely shamed Romney and Giuliani tonight. He speaks to where people are. He is the only one wanting to take up the mantle of public advocate.
Bill Richardson: Well, here's the foreign policy gaffe of the year, so far: he said he'd negotiate with the Soviet Union. He also said he'd focus on "emboldering" the American people, which at first I balked at, but then I looked it up and discovered it was a perfectly cromulent word. He scored major points by admitting he was wrong to say Whizzer White was his favorite Supreme Court justice.
Hillary Clinton: She had her moments; moderator Charlie Gibson set her up for a "gotcha" when he compared her initial opposition to the Petraeus "surge" to the reduction in violence it has achieved, but she knocked that one out of the park when she said, in essence, yes, but it hasn't achieved its stated goal because the Iraqi government has not taken advantage of the reduction in violence to start governing, and in that light, the deaths of "only" 23 Americans in December is "unacceptable." Brava. But...early on there was a question about her "experience" versus Obama's "change" and she bordered on meltdown. Honestly, I thought we were about one deep breath away from a teary tantrum. I was a little scared. And over and over and over, she kept talking about her "35 years" of experience. She's been a senator since 2001. Before that...I am unclear as to what she's referring. When asked about her accomplishments that pointed to her being an agent of change, she talked about how "President Clinton" balanced the budget after the 12 year Reagan-Bush economic disaster. Hmm. Hadn't realized that was her idea. Mostly she spent the evening transparently attempting to misrepresent Senator Obama's positions. None of her punches landed.
Charlie Gibson: Okay, he's not running, but his claim that a professor at a New England liberal arts college makes a six-figure salary was laughed at by the audience.
John Edwards: I thought he did very well; I certainly agree with his populist positions, but...I don't know, I just don't see him as President. I think he is a great advocate for the people, and I hope the next President finds a useful role for him.
Barack Obama: He's in a league of his own. Panic was just below the surface of every single one of Clinton's answers, but Obama was calm and cool all night long. Articulate, concise, respectful of his colleagues, forceful but not bombastic...what's not to love? His only unsatisfactory answer of the evening was when he chose to follow Clinton's lead and refused to identify a remark he'd made from an earlier debate that he'd like to take back. Both Edwards and Richardson benefited from their candor. He was right to politely emphasize that any one of these folks would offer a major change from the Bush administration, but what was clear (and did not need to be said) was that Hillary represents politics as usual; do we really want to return to the acrimony of the Clinton years? Remember the definition of "is"? America wants to move on. Yes, I'm biased, but, wow...I really want Obama to be the face that America presents to the world next year.