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Barack Obama ('04-'08)

Debated, Belated.

So, for the first time and by a (statistically-insignifcant) margin of 32% to 30%, Barack Obama has moved ahead of Hillary Clinton in the polls. And, in more good news for the Obama camp, this poll was mostly taken before last week’s first Democratic debate, so there might still be a bump to come. For, at least to my admittedly jaundiced eye, Obama came across as far and away the most impressive candidate last Thursday. I feared he might seem callow and inexperienced going in, but Obama came across to me as thoughtful, nuanced, and, when needed, decisive…in short, he seemed suitably presidential, while still exuding that youthful flair and enthusiasm that makes him such a potentially exciting vehicle for generational political change in 2008. (And, boding well for the general election, Obama also seemed well-practiced in the art of debate jujitsu, deftly tossing aside at least two clear trip-up questions — on shady campaign contributors and Israel — with remarkable ease.) As for Clinton, well, it’s not entirely her fault, I guess — unlike Obama, she’s been with us for a decade and a half now, and is nothing if not a known quantity. But she came across to me as the same cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist she’s shown herself to be over the past fifteen years in public life, and it’s getting harder to imagine myself being anything but underwhelmed by her as a candidate in the general election.

John Edwards still seems the best of the rest, but he didn’t do much on Thursday to stand out, I thought. (I expect he’ll do better as the candidates decrease in number.) I found Richardson surprisingly uninspiring, given all the good things often said of him. (The Governor really needs to work on his presentation — he kept scowling and frowning his way through every question like Old Man Potter.) Biden came across as better than usual but still interminably Bidenish — that cute one-word answer couldn’t mask his Senate-honed penchant for blathering and monologuing. Distinguished and discerning, Dodd actually seems like he’d make a fine president, if money and star power weren’t so often the defining factors in this business. (As it is, it doesn’t look good.) Speaking of which, the 2008 Kucinich seemed Kucinich-lite next to the throwback rantings of Mike Gravel, who was intermittently amusing with the Admiral Stockdale-isms at first, but who grew wearisome, in my opinion, by the end. (I’m all for the idea that the military-industrial complex has ballooned into a monstrosity, but saying things like America in fact has no enemies sounds a bit naive after 9/11, and is the type of thing the GOP agitprop hounds tend to have a field day with.)

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