Thursday, July 26, 2007

YouTube debate, part 2

Just realized my last post about the YouTube debate didn't talk at all about the format, which was after all supposed to be the "historic" part of all this. (If you're interested you can watch the debate here.)

Those of you who watched the Mass. Gubernational debates (Yes, I love the word "Gubernational" as much as you do), will remember the debate where they played video questions from "average citizens" like Shonda Schilling and Jasper White. Very down to earth.

Well, this YouTube debate was not like that. These were most definitely real questions from real morons with webcams. And oh were there some morons. Like the guy who introduced the debate by challenging the candidates not to dodge questions, or worse yet, the guy who wanted to know, "How will you be different... without the usual platitudes and stuff we're used to hearing." Holy crap! You mean the candidates will stop spouting platitudes if we tell them too? No fucking way! Man, why didn't we think of this before?

Thing is? For all the nutjobs, for all the crazy shit and the stupid shit, the YouTube questions actually did make for some goddam entertaining moments. If you're going to go to the trouble of making and posting a video question, you probably have an axe to grind. And boy did people.
Basically every question had some kind of combative tone. My favorite? This awesome John Edwards slam.

Here's the thing. CNN could have given us all sensible questions. They could have gone the Shonda Schilling and Jasper White route. For all the talk about this being open, it wasn't a live chat, they could exercise editorial judgment. And, as they showed us at the beginning, they did. They weeded out dumb shit like kids asking the questions, for example. But no seriously posed question was out of bounds. That means we got stuff like the guy who asked if African Americans would ever get reparations. We got a soldier who wanted to know how Hilary Clinton could be taken seriously in an Arab world where women are second class citizens. We got an atheist kid asking why we shouldn't be afraid by all the god talk. We got a country music video about a guy who hates taxes.

Okay, so maybe we could have done without that last one. But the funny thing is, somehow, improbably, impossibly, this felt like real Americans being heard. This cacophony of opinions, disharmony screamed real life. This was shit that would not be asked in a standard format debate. Mostly the candidates squirmed out from under the questions, but sometimes its fun to watch people do that. Take this nutjob. Richardson sort of squirms and tries to make him happy because that's what politicians do: try to make people happy. Then Biden says what we're all thinking: "If that's your baby, you've got a problem."

In the end, I think it told us at least as much as any normal debate. And the thing is, I came away immensely psyched to see the Republican version. I mean holy crap. If the public has this much rancor to loose on the Dems, think how much worse it'll be for the Republicans. How cool will it be to see all the crap pissed off Daily Show viewers hurl at those guys?

Of course, the Republicans sense this too, so they're trying to pull out, citing the dems refusal to appear on Fox News. Of course, this is downright cowardly. CNN didn't weed out tough questions for the Democrats or anything. There were plenty of oppositional questions. If the Republican party really wants to perpetrate the charade that CNN is on par with Fox in terms of credibility, let's hope their credibility takes a similar hit.

I find myself thinking about what my friends would send to these candidates, or at least people like my friends, or people at poetry night. In other words, actual people. Somehow this stupid gimmick of a format has me believing that the Republican candidates will actually have to face the American people.

Even if most of those people are still just morons with webcams.

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