July 23, 2007 10:15 PM PDT
YouTube video debate actually worked
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Hype or hope? CNN-YouTube debates make a splash
July 23, 2007
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One disappointment was that the format didn't allow polling of the candidates for quick yes or no answers through a show of hands. Politicians hate being forced to give yes or no answers for the same reason that they loathe voter guides--it robs them of the ability to change the topic to something they think will sound better, and second, it lets voters easily differentiate politicos from one another.
I remember Cooper asking for a show of hands only once, alluding to an agreement with the Democratic National Committee or the candidates that apparently restricted him from doing so. ("I know we said wouldn't do a lot of show of hands; this is probably the only one tonight.")
He asked, as part of a discussion of global warming, "How many people here took a private jet or a charter jet to get here tonight?" Everyone but Kucinich and former Sen. Mike Gravel--both viewed as long shots--acknowledged that they did. Some, perhaps mindful of the flap over Al Gore's $30,000 utility bill, raised their hands only hesitantly.
That answer showed the value of a quick poll and the ability to press candidates for details. Other YouTube-submitted questions that could have easily been handled that way, at least if CNN hadn't (apparently) acquiesced in advance: Do we need a new law requiring that all firearm sales, even by two private individuals, be cleared in advance with the federal government? Should we raise taxes on all Americans making more than $97,000 a year to funnel more money to Social Security? Would you send U.S. ground troops for peacekeeping in Darfur? Should same-sex individuals be able to get married in exactly the same way as heterosexual couples?
In response to the last question, Dodd replied: "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman." Edwards said his wife "actually supports gay marriage," but "I do not." Obama talked about "civil unions." But we never heard straight answers from Clinton and the other candidates.
Memorable questions, memorable responses
There were memorable moments. Edwards touted biodiesel and then said, "the last thing we need is another carbon-based fuel," without seeming to realize that biodiesel is derived from sources like vegetable oil that are carbon-based.
In response to a question about public education, Clinton said her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, went to an exclusive private school in Washington, D.C., in part because she was in high school and in part because the media would not leave her alone otherwise. But Chelsea Clinton actually was in junior high school at the time, as a December 1992 Washington Monthly article notes.
The article also points out that the Gore kids and the Quayle kids were also not educated in government schools, and "none of the 67 top education policymakers in the (first) Bush administration sends his or her kids to D.C. public schools."
Yes, there were some bizarre video questions (the one about Al Gore submitted from Murfreesboro, Tenn.). There were some bizarre answers, such as Biden's sharp hostility toward America's gun owners ("I'm not sure he's mentally qualified to own that gun.")
And it's true that the same kind of questions could have come from a town hall-style meeting with an audience. But more people can afford a Webcam than plane tickets to a debate, and the format worked surprisingly well (well enough, in fact, to make this probably the best Democratic debate so far).
Now we'll see whether the Republicans in the CNN-YouTube debate in Florida on September 17 can do any better.
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