Worst. Debate. Ever. Bloggers are all over Wednesday night's Democratic debate in Philadelphia. Was it Obama's worst performance ever? Or were ABC News moderators George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson devilishly underhanded in pressing him about his "bitter" comments, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and his relationship with Weather Underground member William Ayers?
At his personal blog, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman does an extensive debate postmortem, opening with: "Just how bad was Barack Obama's debate performance last night? Not as bad as Britney Spears' song-and-dance routine at the MTV Awards. Not as bad as Bill Buckner's legendary error during the '86 World Series. Not as bad as Bob Dylan's music during his God phase. Not as bad as John Travolta's Scientology cinema experiment in Battlefield Earth. Not as bad as Mike Dukakis' fateful ride in a military tank." But he advises Obama to "get real." Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan's initial reaction is less kind: "It was a lifeless, exhausted, drained and dreary Obama we saw tonight. I've seen it before when he is tired, but this was his worst performance yet on national television. He seemed crushed and unable to react. This is big-time politics and he's up against the Clinton wood-chipper. But there is no disguising the fact that he wilted, painfully."
The New Republic's Noam Scheiberat the Stump gives Obama some credit: "[T]he real story of the night was the crazy gauntlet of questioning ABC put Obama through. The first half of the debate felt like a 45-minute negative ad, reprising the most chewed over anti-Obama allegations (bittergate, Jeremiah Wright, patriotism) and even some relatively obscure ones (his vague association with former Weatherman radical Bill Ayers)." Todd Beeton at liberal MyDD sighs: "Although it was somewhat redeemed in the final half hour, I feel like taking a shower after that debate. It was tabloid hour on ABC, and certainly Obama did get the bulk of the more disgusting questions."
Michael Tomasky at the Guardian's Comment Is Free is appalled: "The main point is how poorly the inanity and irresponsibility of this approach serves a country in which people are genuinely worried about genuinely important things." And the Huffington Post's Greg Mitchell calls it a "shameful night for the U.S. media." But at the New York Times' Campaign Stops blog, David Brooks says no picking on the media: "I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist's job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that's their own fault. We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall."
Case in point: Brian Faughnan at the conservative Weekly Standard's Blog suggests Obama lied about a 1996 gun rights questionnaire, which he says he did not fill out in his own handwriting: "Short of a handwriting expert weighing in, it probably ought not matter that much. Obama has a voting record on guns now -- not a very good one as far as gun rights advocates go, but he has one. If he then supported outlawing guns, he ought to acknowledge that he has changed his mind." And Marc Ambinder says if Obama can't stand the heat, well, you know the rest: "Obama's going to be the next president of the United States, maybe. The most powerful person in the world. And questions about his personal associations, his character, his personal beliefs, his statements at private fundraisers — the answers to these questions tell us a lot."
At Majikthise, Lindsay Beyerstein, a freelance journliast, says: "Bigtime pundits have a glaring conflict of interest when it comes to setting the national agenda. They like the symbolic issues because they're good at free-associating about them. Should the discussion shift to substantive issues, the pundits might have to cede the floor to experts."
Ann Althouse does our job for us, scanning the collected wisdom of the 'sphere and finding that: "1. It was bad of ABC to trouble Obama with questions about his attitudes and character instead of offering him opportunities to expound policy. 2. Obama is tired. Lackluster. 3. Hillary was intense. AND: Let me reveal what I think. 1. It was good." She adds: "Hillary bloomed with bright energy in the environment of ABC's questions. She can reel out the policy when that's what's required. But cruel political fighting unleashes her super powers." Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central praises Obama's day-after tactics: "One thing Obama has been very adept at doing: When he takes a political hit, he neutralizes it by decrying it as the very sort of negative politicking he's trying to rise above. In this case, he did this by describing the debate as 'precisely why I'm running for president -- to change that kind of politics.' "