The Democratic Presidential candidates were out and about Wednesday night in yet another debate. This time the setting was Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, with NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert moderating the boisterous battle.
The biggest news of the night came from John Edwards and Barack Obama, who both basically came out in support of a second grade curriculum that includes books along the lines of "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus."
Asked whether second grade children should have books read to them in school about a prince falling in love with another prince -- an actual story that was read to young students in New Hampshire to much controversy -- both Edwards and Obama essentially saw nothing wrong with it. Obama even added in a follow-up that he believed his wife had already discussed the subject of gay marriage with their young children. Republican opposition researchers were rushing to their notepads. That probably won't sell well in Middle America.
But as is the case with most of the debates, the top tier candidates are never the real story. Or, more accurately, they are rarely the most interesting story.
The feisty former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who disappeared from public view for just under three decades before deciding he should run for president, stole the show again, standing nearly alone on stage advocating lowering the drinking age to 18. His passion in answering this not-so-important question proves that there is no issue that Mike Gravel can't get fired up about. This we found out is not limited to political issues. He also passionately defended his two bankruptcies by comparing himself to Donald Trump and proudly touted how he stuck credit card companies for thousands of dollars. One just can't help but imagine what a Mike Gravel presidency would bring.
Speaking of bankruptcies, Dennis Kucinich, the "Boy Mayor" who bankrupted Cleveland in the late 1970s, also joined Gravel in support for lowering the drinking age. Regular debate junkies may remember how Kucinich regretfully said no during a 2003 CNN "Rock the Vote" Democratic Presidential primary debate when asked if he had ever tried marijuana. When you understand half his base is composed of potheads, his apologetic attitude no longer seemed so odd.
This also may help explain why Kucinich felt the need to add on Wednesday that he staunchly supports lowering the voting age to 16. One might speculate that he hopes to bring the other crucial part of his base -- starry-eyed youth -- into the electoral tent. If this is so, Kucinich may want to consider supporting lowering the age to four. Those tikes would be big proponents of a Department of Peace.
Having a landmark night, Kucinich also brought up Alan Greenspan's new book, citing the former Fed Chief's assertion that the Iraq war was about oil. Obviously, Kucinich felt vindicated by Greenspan's comments and wanted Tim Russert to know that he said the very same thing on Meet the Press in 2003, which raises the question: Why was Dennis Kucinich invited on Meet the Press?
But even more baffling than Kucinich and Gravel -- after all, they can be easily dismissed -- is the appeal New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. He is actually considered a somewhat serious contender, standing as the top guy in the second tier of candidates. His RealClearPolitics polling average shows him pulling in 11% in Iowa and 9% in New Hampshire.
Yet, "the great negotiator" can barely put two sentences together -- at least two sentences that make any sense.
"This is what I would do. I would bring [the troops] out through roads through Kuwait through Turkey," Richardson said when pressed how he would immediately pull American troops from Iraq. Well, that's the ticket. We will use roads. The Richardson "road" strategy must have eluded military planners who have said it will take at least a year to remove all troops from Iraq.
This isn't a phenomenon isolated to Wednesday's debate, either. Always appearing nervous and unpolished, Richardson has consistently proven himself to be the least impressive man on stage, which is no easy task with Kucinich and Gravel standing beside you. All the while, the most impressive debate performer, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, continues to stagnate low in the polls. Whether this says something about Biden's campaign organization or the Democratic base is open to interpretation.
In the end, as at most of the debates so far, nothing earth-shattering occurred. When the smoke settled and the audience woke up, John Edwards may have potentially gained some ground on Barack Obama by attempting to clearly delineate the differences between him and the other top tier candidates, especially on Iraq -- though he provided no comprehensive plan like the Richardson "road" plan.
While challenged with some tough questions by Russert, Hillary Clinton nonetheless steadfastly maintained her frontrunner position by expertly not answering the questions posed to her. If she is a master at anything, it is that. In truth, this probably turned out to be a good strategy.
Clinton and Obama may be ahead in the polls. But Gravel and Kucinich can teach them a thing or two about making debates watchable.
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