The difference that 8 years (and one career change) can make

Full confession: I didn’t watch much of the debate last night, because, well, frankly I didn’t want to. I watched the Penguins suck again, which in hindsight was the wrong choice, and then I tuned in to the debate towards the end. So apart from now being very aware that Jim Webb once killed a guy in battle

and is apparently still quite happy about it...
and is apparently still quite happy about it…

I didn’t get all that much out of the whole thing. Still, when has anybody in the internet age ever let not seeing a thing prevent them from producing quality content about it? Here are my debate thoughts:

  • In all seriousness, I think Webb is a real threat to steal the 1964 Republican nomination away from Barry Goldwater, and dammit I don’t care who gets offended when I say that
  • The only thing holding Webb back, as far as I can tell, is that he isn’t being given any time to speak, other than the several minutes he spent complaining that he wasn’t being given any time to speak
  • I’m looking forward to Lincoln Chafee suspending his campaign to clear the way for a more serious contender: an actual block of granite
  • Smart move by Martin O’Malley to drop out before the debate; his campaign was going nowhere and there was no reason for him to risk further embarrassment by appearing on that stage (seriously, though, his closing statement was very nice, but that’s the only time I remember him talking in the ~45 minutes I was really watching)
  • Bernie Sanders’ best moment actually came in defense of Hillary Clinton, and that’s…OK; look, despite good Iowa and New Hampshire poll numbers he’s still exceedingly unlikely to win the nomination, and it’s better for him not to direct a lot of friendly fire at Clinton (for one thing, it would seriously undercut his overall message, and for another, I don’t think he’d be very good at it)
  • Clinton did pretty much exactly what she needed to do, which was to appear in command of the issues and look like the only big-time candidate on the stage; she did these things so well, in fact, that Joe Biden’s interminable “will he/won’t he” thought process might be leaning a little more toward “he won’t” this morning

Substantively I don’t think there was any really shocking or even interesting development (although the overall contrast between this debate and whatever Lord of the Flies thing the Republicans keep doing was itself illuminating). On Syria, for example, Clinton and Sanders seemed to congeal around a very tepid endorsement of the status quo, maybe a little more or a little less, while Webb decided to talk about China (!) and Chafee…I’m sorry, I stopped paying attention.

The biggest moment of the debate in my opinion was that Clinton may finally have put her Iraq War vote behind her with this very smooth answer:

That’s really well done. It says to all those Democratic voters who trusted Obama’s foreign policy judgment over Clinton’s in 2008 that, hey, Obama himself must have thought that Clinton had something important to say on foreign policy, so it’s OK to trust her. It elides the fact that Clinton and Obama didn’t always agree, and that Clinton is still more hawkish than the mainstream of her party, but slick debate answers often elide inconvenient nuances. It’s the strongest possible answer she could have for Democrats who are still questioning her 2002 vote to authorize the war, and it’s obviously an answer she couldn’t have given 8 years ago, before Obama brought her in as Secretary of State and effectively absolved her of her misjudgment.

Finally, I don’t want to leave the wrong impression about Webb’s “I killed a guy” answer. The story of how he earned his Navy Cross in 1969 is pretty amazing, including the part where Webb literally takes the brunt of a grenade blast (well, actually the Viet Cong who threw the grenade in the first place took the brunt, but you get my drift) to spare one of the Marines under his command. But his answer was jarring, first because it came in the context of a political debate and the question was clearly referring to political enemies, and second because, well, this:

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