Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The debates are over

At last, the 20th and final debate is over. And the loser was…MSNBC.

The moderators erred on two counts. First, showing the wrong video clip was inexcusable. They undoubtedly meant to show the clip later in the program, but the result of the mix-up was that Obama was asked a Clinton question, giving him a clear opportunity. (The clip showed Clinton mocking Obama.)

The other and more serious problem was the final question. The candidates had already given what they believed to be closing statements; then one of the moderators (Brian Williams, if memory serves) asked each to pose a final question to each other. Clearly this was to supposed to bring about a forward-looking, open-ended conclusion to the debate; instead it looked churlish. Sensibly both Obama and Clinton ignored the intended provocation.

Overall, this was clearly an elbows-out debate, but both candidates seemed to handle the change in tone quite capably. One surprise at the end: Clinton appeared to say she would retract her war-authorization vote, in uncharacteristically clear language.

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