A Dose of Reality
Overall, the questions asked by voters in 30-second sound bytes were pointed and made it difficult for the candidates to stick to their standard stump speeches and talking points. Although the Iraq War was mentioned, it didn't dominate the debate. Democrats were forced to deal with uncomfortable issues for their constituency, namely high taxes and gun control. John Edwards was forced to explain his opposition to gay marriage, mainly a product of his religious beliefs. To his credit, he said that he struggles with the issue and may be moving closer to his wife, a public advocate for gay marriage.
Two women asked why they couldn't get married. An African-American man asked about the candidates' positions on slavery reparations. He predicted they would dodge the issue, and asked for straight talk. Another asked if Barack Obama was black enough for the African-American community, and if Hillary Clinton registered similarly on the femininity scale.
The questions were also creative, from a snowman and his son asking about global warming, to a musical ballad about taxes, to a man who equated a gun with parenthood.
The candidates themselves submitted their own YouTube videos, although they were overly rehearsed and appeared as little more than clever (some not so clever) campaign ads. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd perhaps came closest to catching the spirit of the new media revolution.
Stepping back for a minute, I commend CNN for embracing this new media option, for it represented a welcome departure from standardized questions scripted by prominent members of the media elite. True, Anderson Cooper fit the bill of the latter, but he was little more than an intermediary for the public at large. The questions represented a diverse audience that trended young, hopefully appealing to a group otherwise alienated and excluded from the process. Here's hoping that other media outlets join CNN by incorporating such citizen journalism into future debates as November 2008 approaches, and also into their broader coverage of the election. I know that I'll be tuned in on Constitution Day (September 17th) when CNN reprises Monday's date with the Democrats with their GOP rivals.