The debate was relatively civil, especially considering the amount of disagreement among candidates. I think the radio format worked well; without a live audience, candidates were more in discussion mode than performance mode and therefore I believe we got better information from them.
The focus of the debate was on Iran, Iraq, China, and immigration---all foreign policy issues.
This means they missed debating most of American voters' top issues, which center around issues that affect us on a daily basis.
A Pew Research Center poll in November ranked the top voter issues as (read full article at Kiplinger):
1. Economy (79%)
2. Health care (76%)
3. Iraq (76%)
4. Education (75%)
5. Jobs (71%).
"Energy is rising rapidly, from 54% in 2004 to 65% in 2007."
The candidates seemed familiar with this list, and proved that they are in touch with American voters' concerns when they answered the final question of the debate.
Moderator Steve Innskeep posed a last question from voter and citizen James Irwin:
Mr. JAMES IRWIN: What do you think the toughest choice you have left to make is?
The candidates answers varied, and (not to my surprise) centered on domestic issues:
MR. GRAVEL: . . .I don't have the answer to be able to persuade the American people that they are the solution, not their leaders. I wish I had the answer to convince them of that.
SEN. OBAMA: The issue of climate change.
SEN. DODD: I would say the single largest issue in many ways for us to grapple with is education. . .
SEN. BIDEN: . . .I think that the toughest choice for me, the thing I'm most unsure about, is how you rationalize competition and trade policy. I think that's the single most difficult challenge that I will have as president.
SEN. EDWARDS: I think we have an enormous struggle to try to restore the power in the country and the democracy back to the American people and take it away from big corporate interests, et cetera, who've taken over the democracy.
REP. KUCINICH: I wrestle with the question as to whether or not the president and the vice president should be held liable for crimes, for taking us into a war based on lies.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I think that, you know, when you are running for president, you do your very best to try to anticipate what the problems are going to be. I think we have such serious issues when it comes to the economy. I think we're heading into some very turbulent waters on the economy. How are we going to balance what we need to do to perhaps stimulate our way out of some very difficult economic conditions — which are certainly being predicted now — at the same time, getting back to making sure we don't put the burden on the middle class. And I intend to have an economic policy that will get us through what I'm afraid we're going to inherit from the Bush administration.
Considering the top voter issues and candidates' answers for the final broadcast question, my winners for "hit the ball closest to the mark" (i.e., candidate's answer came closest to what voters identify as their most pressing issues) are:
1. Senator Clinton for hitting the big one---economy---in her answer.
2. Senator Dodd for hitting education.
3. Senator Obama for getting a walk with his answer (climate change) which came close to energy.
Honorable mention: Senator Biden for his answer, which tackled a specific topic in the economy.
Unfortunately not one candidate mentioned health care.
None of this is to say that foreign policy issues are not relevant. I do think we need to discuss the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, research Senator Clinton's claims that it has caused the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to "back down" and also investigate the intelligence and Bush Administration assertions that the amendment was necessary (haven't we been down this road once before? with bad results?)
(Sidebar---Two interesting opinion articles about the Kyl-Liberman Amendment are Fact Checker at the Washington Post and Huffington Post blogger Paul Jay.)
However, I believe overall the focus topics for the debates were a miss.
Note 1: In reading more from Scott Horsley, there is an addendum to the debate that does discuss the economy. His article is a wealth of information and well worth checking out. (Click here to read it.) They did also discuss the safe import of toys from China in the debate. Horsley's article contains a link to a broadcast of that discussion.
Note 2: For information about a toy's safety, check out the Consumer Action Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Toys, at Healthytoys.org.
I have emailed questions to the candidates, but have received no responses, including no invitation to Senator Clinton's local appearance. I did feel a little better to learn Paul Jay had been similarly slighted, but not really since I'd like someone at one of the campaigns to have the task of answering these sorts of questions, and I understand skipping small potatoes like me, but The Huffington Post is a broadly-read, well-regarded source, with a high likelihood of many voters who lean Democrat.
What of a Republican debate? NPR offered the same debate venue to Republican presidential candidates, but the leading contenders all declined. They claimed scheduling conflicts.
What issues are most important to you? Feel free to share your views and why your issues are important to you.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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