It may have been just one more in a growing number of debates and joint appearances for the Democratic presidential candidates, but , provided solid evidence of the growing influence of interactive politics — and demonstrated the still-large gap between what voters say they want and what their candidates are prepared to deliver.
The eight candidates who took the stage at The Citadel fielded videotaped questions submitted to YouTube and selected by CNN, which televised the debate.
By turns entertaining, creative, straightforward and direct, the questions themselves were in many instances more compelling than some of the canned answers and political slogans provided by the candidates.
Some of the YouTube submissions were laced with doubt and cynicism as to the kind of responses expected, a theme introduced at the top of the debate by Chris, from Portland, Ore., who opened the event by challenging the candidates to "actually answer the questions that are posed to you tonight." Chris reminded them that "this is a format for you to actually speak to a majority of the voting public, as if you were sitting in our living rooms." It was a challenge not taken up often.
The first question, from Zach in Utah, was about how the candidates could assure voters they would accomplish more than politicians usually do outside of "all the platitudes and the stuff we're used to hearing?" The question went to Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who offered more of the stuff we're used to hearing, like his 26-year record of championing "bold" legislative ideas like the Family Medical Leave Act and explaining why "experience matters a great deal."
Will, from Boston, sounded greatly skeptical that his question would even be chosen and downright certain he wouldn't get much in the way of an answer, even if it was. Will wanted to know whether the candidates favored reparations for African Americans for the blight of slavery. "I know you all are going to run around this question, dipping and dodging," he predicted, "so let's see how far you all can get."
As it turned out, Will's was one question that got a direct response from two of the three candidates given a chance to address it.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who said he was not for reparations, went on to expound on instances of continued inequality between blacks and whites. Rep. Dennis Kucinich was the only candidate to raise his hand when the would-be chief executives were asked who would support reparations for slavery.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the only African American in the race, more or less skirted the issue, saying instead: "I think the reparations we need right here in South Carolina is investment — for example, in our schools."