July 27, 2007

Frontrunners Fumble YouTube Debate

lesser knowns shine in user generated format

By Eming Piansay
New California Media

The Democratic debate on CNN/YouTube Monday night showed a stark contrast in the pool of candidates – between the familiar faces and the not-so-familiar ones.

The debate was a team-up between CNN and YouTube: American voters recorded their questions on YouTube, and the questions were played for the candidates during the debate. This forced candidates to address the real questions that most Americans want to know, and show how they plan to address these issues if they are elected.

The media-friendly front-runners of the campaign trail – Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards – played on safe, pre-packaged answers that couldn’t be labeled “unpatriotic” or “un-American.” In comparison, the less familiar faces – Christopher Dodd, Mike Gravel, Bill Richardson, Joseph Biden and Dennis Kucinich – delivered thoughtful, detailed responses and essentially said what most of America wanted to hear – the truth. The truth about what these people would do if they were elected. This is not to say the answers from Obama, Clinton and Edwards were not as truthful; but being the front-runners of the Democratic Party, they have a specific image they want to deliver to the American people.

Tough questions like: “Is it okay to cite religion as a reason to deny gay rights?” forced some candidates to admit their true feelings. John Edwards does not support gay marriage, but does not feel a president should force his or her faith on the American public. I want to believe that if Edwards were elected, he would take the same stance of not discriminating against a certain group because of their sexual orientation. But when certain bills come into play like gay marriage and gay rights, he neglected to say where he would stand if he came to an impasse where he would be forced to make a decision between his religious and personal beliefs and the rights of a nation. It isn’t hard to believe that this could be approved in the next administration.

The debate also included candidates’ individual perspectives on Iraq, and blame tossed on the Bush administration for its sloppy handling of the Middle East.

“How do we pull out now? Are watching the same blanking war?” one man asked, censoring himself. Obama offered the standard pullout plan and sending a clear message to the Iraqi government that at the moment the situation in Iraq cannot be cured through military action. In other words, killing each other isn’t going to solve anything. Even though Iraq has become a melting pot of tension, he said the only way to safely to bring the troops back safely would be a phase withdrawal.

Senator Biden pointed out that there is an obvious difference between him and the other candidates.

“Tell the truth for a change!” Biden said to Obama, referring to how long it would take to pull troops out of Iraq. If the American soldiers in Iraq were to start pulling out of Iraq this week it would take one year, he said.

Obviously, the whole idea of jumping out of Iraq isn’t as easy as it looks. The contrast between Obama’s and Biden’s responses highlighted that there is a clear difference in the messages coming out of the Democratic Party.

Obama offered the standard slow but sure pullout answer, whereas Biden offered a straightforward assessment of what he felt the pullout would entail.

Senator Gravel, another less known presidential candidate, was asked if he thought the soldiers who went to Vietnam died in vain. He connected his answer to the situation in Iraq, saying, “There’s only one thing worse than a solider dying in vain, is more soldiers dying in vain.”

Gravel’s passionate response touched me deeply and made me wish more candidates had such personal interest in the issues being set forward to them.

The debate’s format allowed viewers to get a glimpse into the real personality of the candidates. It was refreshing to hear real people asking questions instead of pre-scripted questions and rehearsed monologues. The best responses are the ones that are off-the-cuff, when candidates have to think on the spot.

The beneficial side of the televised debate was that it allowed the lesser-known candidates to get a chance to appeal to the public. I, for one, came away from the debate unimpressed by Clinton, Edwards or Obama. It was Dodd, Richardson, Gravel, Biden and Kucinich who did an impressive job of trying to get my vote.

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