The first debate of the 2008 presidential campaign was an unimpressive affair.
Poor management of the event by MSNBC didn't help. Certainly, to try and be understanding, conducting a meaningful discussion with eight candidates, at least one of whom should not have even been up there, is not easy.
My guess would be that, simply as result of standing first in the lineup, and several aborted attempts by moderator Brian Williams to uniformly ask each candidate one quick question, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson got more air time than anyone else.
If I were any Republican candidate, I'd be feeling good about my prospects after watching this field of Democrats. The views of the group were almost monotone in their uniformity and lack of freshness, originality and boldness.
Among this underwhelming crew, I think Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton distinguished herself as the clear loser.
I say this because I think the senator from New York was the only candidate whose inconsistencies were particularly glaring.
Clinton's script on her vote supporting the invasion of Iraq has been that if she knew then what she claims she knows now, her vote would have been different. Nevertheless, she has not, like former Sen. John Edwards, expressed regret about that vote.
Yet, when Clinton was asked how she would follow up on new terrorist attacks on the United States, she said that she would attack the perpetrators (assuming that they could be clearly identified) but that she wouldn't be "starting up" with others.
But if not "starting up" with others is a matter of principle today with Clinton, then why won't she say she made a mistake on her vote to invade Iraq?
Perhaps more perplexing is Clinton's rationale about withdrawing now. According to her, we've given the Iraqis the opportunity to have freedom; now "it's up to them to choose."
But if she thinks it was a mistake to go into Iraq to begin with, it should be irrelevant to her that the Iraqi people are now in a position to choose. They are only now in this position as a result of the United States' having gone into Iraq, and then staying to oversee elections and the construction of a constitution.
Why doesn't Clinton simply advocate getting out as soon as possible, regardless of the circumstances? This would be the position consistent with opposing having gone in to begin with.
Aside from disingenuousness and inconsistency in Clinton's views on Iraq, I was appalled by her comments about Wal-Mart.
When asked by Williams if Wal-Mart is good or bad for the country, Clinton responded that it's a "mixed blessing."
Could anyone imagine Clinton having said that Wal-Mart was a mixed blessing when her husband was governor of Arkansas?
Somehow, in Clinton's sheltered and totally politicized view of the world, Wal-Mart is bad for low- and middle-income Americans. Who does she think that Wal-Mart generates billions in sales by serving?
While Clinton is dreaming about having a chance to re-introduce her once-rejected plans for universal health care, Investors Business Daily reported this week the following about Wal-Mart:
"The retail colossus announced this week that it will open as many as 400 in-store medical clinics in the next two to three years. By 2014, it said, clinics could be in as many as half its 4000 stores ... While others whine about America's health-care 'crisis' and back monstrous government programs to solve it, Wal-Mart is actually making health care more affordable.
"Already, Wal-Mart has brought low-cost health care by selling 30-day supplies of more than 300 generic prescriptions at some stores for $4. Almost a third of those $4 prescriptions are bought by the uninsured. Customers have saved $290 million ... since September."
If this is a mixed blessing, we need more.
Regarding Iraq, all the Democratic candidates are capitalizing on the luxury of easy criticism of a difficult situation. It's so simple to say we shouldn't have gone in there. Is there anyone who thinks the world would be better today if we could put Saddam Hussein back in power?
Arab scholar Fouad Ajami tells of an Iraqi "professional woman who declared that under Saddam Iraqis lived in a big prison and now they are in the wilderness _ and that she prefers the wilderness."
If Clinton was the loser of this debate, then Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was the winner. He's the clear alternative, whose challenge is simply to not screw up. He didn't, and I predict that the gap between him and Clinton, already close, will continue to narrow.
Let's hope that the MSNBC crew will be more organized for the first GOP debate. And that the Republicans will bring substance to the table that the Democrats clearly lack.