The blogosphere's verdicts on the Oct. 30 Democratic debate at Drexel University came in early and they came in often, but unfortunately for Sen. Hillary Clinton, they came in heavily on the side of the prosecution.
"The obvious loser was Senator Clinton," Andrew Sullivan writes. "Brittle," Garance Franke-Ruta at Tapped says of Clinton's performance. "Found herself having an awfully confused night," Justin Gardner concludes at Donklephant. "Bombed, and not a random bomb, but a full-blown Dresden-style bombing," writes Phillip McCracken at Political Derby. "Revealed her vulnerabilities for all to see," crows Pejman Yousefzadeh at Redstate.
And then the unkindest cut of all, from the self-proclaimed center of American politics: "Not her best performance," perhaps foreshadowing "a real contest. If so then good. ... Maybe, if we're lucky, we'll even get Hillary to explain to us why she wants to be president."
Et tu, Kos?
The first explanation from Clinton supporters was that the boys had ganged up on her. Clinton's opponents "got personal," complains Taylor Marsh, calling the debate "a boy brawl," and echoing a video, "The Politics of Piling On," rushed out by the Clinton imagemeisters.
But some bloggers only saw playing the gender card as a sign of panic. "This line of defense is deeply sexist," Andrew Sullivan replies. "You can't say that Clinton's gender is irrelevant in the political campaign and then give her points for not fainting under the pressure of male criticism. ... What's next? Congratulating her that she didn't burst into tears?"
"Their time might better have been spent helping her develop straightforward answers about Iraq, Iran, Social Security, raising taxes and whether or not illegals should get driver's licenses," agrees Peter Hauck at PrezVid. "Is she really gonna play the 'I'm just a girl' card so obviously?" taunts Mary Katharine Ham at Townhall. "I've never liked her, but I figured she was tougher than that. Not when the going gets rough, apparently."
But for Clintonistas in the blogosphere, there was a fallback position: It was all Tim Russert's fault. And after watching the NBC debate moderator's bizarre and belligerent performance, with his gotcha badgering of Clinton and his loopy questions about UFOs and life on other planets, a lot of bloggers were inclined to agree.
They noted that nearly half of the questions asked of a panel of seven candidates were hostile to Clinton. "As John Amato said last night when we were watching the debate, 'why doesn't he just ask her if she killed Vince Foster?‚'" writes Jane Hamser at Firedoglake.
Around the blogosphere there were cheers for Paul Waldman's dissection of the Russert pose of faux toughness: "the pose of confrontation rather than genuinely challenging questions, the query designed to embarrass rather than enlighten, the worship of, rather than the challenge to, conventional wisdom." In a Halloween post, Kevin Drum at Political Animal writes (with perhaps unwittingly day-appropriate imagery) that "the whole thing started to look more like a witch hunt than a debate" and calls for getting rid of Russert.
But Matt Yglesias at TheAtlantic argues that the problem is not Russert but Russertism: the transformation of TV journalists from interviewers seeking to inform to sappers looking to set off 10-second political explosions suitable for endless rebroadcast. The economic imperatives of a declining broadcast industry reduce political discourse to YouTubeable moments, the civic equivalent of videos of bulldogs on skateboards, "and down and down we go," he mourns.
Recalling Russert's question at the last Democratic debate, when he asked Sen. Barack Obama and other candidates to name their favorite Bible verse, Alex Massie at The Debatable Land, has the last word. "One can only lament the fact that neither Obama nor any other candidate saw fit to give the only appropriate answer: "Jesus Wept."