Last night, on “Devil’s Night”, Drexel University hosted MSNBC’s Democratic debate, and it was a deliciously evil event. Brian Williams’ questions often lasted longer than the timed responses of the candidates, and, though generally more polite, attacks on Hillary Clinton were even more popular than at the last Republican debate. Hillary, given more face time than anyone, went out of her way to answer the fewest number of questions, leaving Barack Obama open to straight talk his way to the best performance of the night. The highlights…

Barack Obama, in deference to Philadelphia’s history as hometown to a fictional character, likened his battle against Hillary to that of Rocky vs Apollo Creed, though “amazingly” he is Rocky. Obama thought it not prudent to discuss war with Iran, stressing the need to use diplomacy to dangle “carrots” such as normalized relations and WTO membership. He called out Hillary on her hypocrisy of running on her (jobless) record and blasting the Bush administration’s secrecy, while refusing to allow the release of communications between her and Bill during the Clinton administration. Obama stated a desire to work with Republicans, rather than have another “8 years of bickering”, and suggested that Republican attacks on Hillary were due to the fact that that is a fight they are comfortable having, rather than as a result of her position as frontrunner. Obama’s plans included closing corporate tax loop holes, rolling back the Bush tax cuts and, oddly, suggesting that the wealthy pay “more than their fair share”, which seemed…unfair. Obama had some other low points, awkwardly suggesting that funding the war in Iraq makes kids not study science, proposing ambiguous restrictions on some commercial flights, and wrongly stating that Social Security is a fundamentally sound system. He finished strong though, insisting that while Hillary gauged popular sentiment instead of answering questions, he had convictions, and was confident in his ability to lead the country in the right direction. When asked about life beyond Earth, he stayed on his message, which focused on life on Earth, and added that he might wear a scary Mitt Romney mask for Halloween.

John Edwards spent much time on why Hillary was both unfit for president and misleading about her positions, claiming her vote for the resolution labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization contained the same verbiage that allowed Bush to go to war in Iraq, and he predicted Hillary would once again retreat to her “if I knew then what I know now” rhetoric. He cited Hillary’s plan for Iraq as a continuation of Bush’s war plan, as it would continue combat operations and leave troops in Iraq indefinitely, which is in direct opposition to her vague anti-war lip service. Edwards’ suggested alternative of a vote for him seemed forced in that he was in agreement with most of the other candidates on that issue. Edwards spoke about integrity – which is funny considering his background, though he did claim that he was far from pure – and called on the Americans to be patriotic about something other than war, which he deemed would result in some “sacrifice” they would have to make. He stated that as Hillary had more money from lobbyists, drug companies and the defense industry than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, a vote for her was a vote for the status quo, rather than for change. “I believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy,” he said, but not in Hillary as a mechanism for change.

For those of us devastated by the exclusion of Mike Gravel and the accompanying entertainment value, Dennis Kucinich‘s wackiness more than made up for it, even before he was asked about his UFO sighting experience, during which he allegedly “heard directions in his mind” which may or may not have included instructions on how to bankrupt Cleveland. Perhaps due to a premonition about such queries (a gift from the aliens?), Kucinich ominously warned the moderators to be careful about what questions they asked, and then proceeded to be careless in how he answered. About as coherent as he got was when he took a shot at John Edwards for taking money from a hedge fund, while the fund managers pay unfairly low taxes. Kucinich insisted that politicians stand up to Wall Street, insurance and oil companies, while he trumpeted his not-for-profit single-payer health insurance plan. Then he got back to his other new ideas. He said he would “cancel NAFTA”, and suggested slashing the Pentagon budget by $75 billion in order to pay for…child day care. He demanded we abolish all nuclear weapons so we can talk to Iran about not building any of their own, and declared that “planning” for a war with Iran was illegal, apparently ignorant of the fact that administrations are expected and known to have plans for any imaginable scenario. Kucinich said that Bush had violated international law and thrice called for him to be impeached, which in interesting, since Constitutional Law is what runs the US, not international law. Kucinich finished by stating that Jimmy Carter had also seen a UFO, and seemed quite pleased after making Tim Russert repeatedly cite a statistic saying that some 14% of Americans had seen a UFO.

Hillary Clinton showed up at the debate, but not apparently for the purpose of answering questions. She defended both Eliot Spitzer’s plan for licenses for illegal aliens (human, not the Kucinich kind) and Charles Rangel’s plan to impose an additional 4% surcharge tax on those making $150-200k or more, and yet insisted that she did not support either plan, nor was she necessarily opposed to them, but that she admired their attempts to fix a problem. She attempted to blame the existence of illegal immigrants on the Bush administration’s failure to address the problem, as if the problem never existed under her husband’s presidency. Hillary repeatedly said she wanted to end the war in Iraq, which is just swell, but (as pointed out by her opponents) she claims she would leave troops in Iraq and not end combat operations. She called for economic sanctions of Iran, labeling that a form of “diplomacy”, which was quite a stretch. She continued her smug evasiveness, by three times insisting that “I would do everything I can” to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but refused to answer the question of would she pledge to make sure it wouldn’t happen. She added plenty of meaningless chatter, laying bomb shells such as that she “doesn’t oppose troops”, and would “welcome” Republicans to join her in her crusade against Bush, and even resorted to the sad, ignorant play that Bush had not actually won the election in 2000. Adding to her paranoia, she alleged that Republicans had wanted to “decimate” the (non-existent) surplus in order to lay their trap and privatize Social Security, an idea that is “draconian”. One began to wonder if someone had spiked the Halloween punch. When asked about her lack of experience, she helplessly cited her “record of 35 years” as a citizen advocate and as a “supporter” of education and health care. Hillary spent time agreeing “with everything that was said” (except for the constant attacks on her), and insisted she would do “everything [she] could” to do something important, without making any actual statements about anything specific she would do. It was a sad political display, a rare attempt to spin without first finding something to spin.

Surprisingly, Chris Dodd was the only candidate who was for decriminalizing marijuana, and he defended his lonely position well, citing overcrowded prisons, and senseless mandatory jail sentences for people who don’t belong in jail. Dodd blasted Hillary’s votes for war in Iraq and Iran as indicative of her lack of good judgment and leadership qualities. Dodd said the reality with green products is that they are too expensive, so he suggested a carbon tax, which would seem to make the costs more similar, but not any more affordable. Citing polls stating that 50% of people wouldn’t vote for Hillary, he argued that the Democrats need to nominate someone electable, but he couldn’t possibly have meant himself, especially considering recent poll numbers, where he was at 0% and trailing Stephen Colbert by two points.

Joe Biden declared that Hillary’s vote for the Iranian resolution threatened to inflame problems with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and allowed Bush to act “in the right” against Iran. He then attacked the leading Republican as well, saying Rudy Giuliani was unfit to lead, and every sentence he said was, “noun, verb, 9/11”, scoring laughs from people who were following the news last year. Biden called for a 16-year minimum education system, suggested a college tuition forgiveness in exchange for public work, and was very pleased that he finished within his alloted 30 seconds. He said he would “shut down” toys from China, and somehow cited China as the reason why Americans have mortgages with which they are unhappy. Biden ended by suggesting that Kucinich ask Giuliani about UFOs, indicating that he still hasn’t found his off switch, but at least Biden didn’t say how much he liked Kucinich’s wife again.

Bill Richardson, practically begging for the VP slot on a Clinton ticket, argued that Democrats shouldn’t fight each other, and stated how much he trusts Hillary. He stated that he was the only candidate who had negotiated with other countries (which drew multiple yells of “not true!” from his opponents), and claimed that he personally rescued prisoners from Abu Ghraib. He rightly reminded everyone that the US elects governors, not senators, and that the last senator elected president was JFK. He suggested a specific plan of two years of tuition forgiveness for one year of public service. He then got much less specific, though far more abstract, calling on Americans to “sacrifice” by banding together when the air conditioning is on. Hard to argue with that.

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