1. Just waiting for this thing to kick off. I'll add to this post, numbering the paragraphs as I go.
2. Intro, from some YouTube clip. Richardson looks terrified. Clinton, resolute. But now, it's Anderson Cooper, in the flesh. Couldn't someone have Tubed him? Biden glistens. Cooper blabs about how the questions were "heartfelt" so they had trouble choosing. Now, he's showing some cute clips that aren't chosen. Cooper cruelly slams some 5-year-old girl for being a puppet of her parents. And he hilariously slams the Biden campaign for its trick getting a lot of YouTubers to ask the same question.
3. Question 1: Politicians always make promises, but then they don't do anything. How will you be different? A good meta question. Unfortunately, we're getting an answer from Dodd. He got the job done in the Senate. Fine, but who cares about Dodd? Ah, now Obama. We need to "change how business is done in Washington." He brings "perspective" -- the perspective that we need to change.
4. Question 2, for Kucinich. How would we be better off with him? Why'd CNN pick this question? I think we know. They're packaging up li'l Dennis to set him aside for the rest of the night.
5. Kucinich is wearing a checked shirt. The hell? What male wears a checked shirt?! Hillary was "involved in the question," so Cooper throws it over to her. Wow! She's wearing an orange jacket textured with curving, scalloped lines. It reminds me of a chair we had in the 1950s, but it actually looks rather pretty and definitely sets her apart from the guys who absolutely are not free to wear orange suits. She speaks in a solid, stern voice that has nothing to do with wavy orange patterns. She speaks in a straight, navy blue line. Obama gets included here too, and he's elegant in a gray suit and a blue tie. His gestures look flowing as I scroll through them in slo-mo, looking for the perfect frame to post here. Just wait a few minutes.
6. Hillary is asked to define "liberal" and to say if she is one. She doesn't like what other people have done to the good old word, so she prefers "progressive." The problem with "liberal" is that people think it means government will do everything for you, but "progressive" seems to be about giving people "tools" to better themselves. Cooper throws it to Gravel. Is he a liberal? He lights into Obama for taking money from lobbyists.
7. The next question gets applause: What if they had to pick a Republican running mate? Who would it be? Biden fails to answer the question. He just lists his accomplishments. Edwards says Chuck Hagel, then brushes the question aside and runs through his issues. No one else gets the question! Blah! Cool question. Crap nonanswers. [ADDED, reading the transcript: Biden did blurt out "Chuck Hagel" before going on about his accomplishments. The Edwards just copied him.]
8. Should African-Americans get reparations for slavery? Edwards: no (but blah, blah, blah other stuff about African-Americans). Obama cleverly says the reparations should be "investment in our schools." Cooper asks the whole group. Kucinich comes forward, and his answer begins "The Bible says...." Yeesh! Imagine if a Republican started an answer that way.
9. Richardson's first chance to speak is about Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, he seems robotic and looks awful -- afraid to spend money on makeup? -- and I feel like I'm watching the man -- whom I respect -- slip into oblivion.
10. "Not my question!" Cooper proclaims as he repeats a question from a black man to Obama: What about the way they're saying you're not "authentically black"? Obama refers to trying to catch a cab, that is, he reminds us he's been subjected to bias because of the way he looks to people who don't know anything about his ancestry and upbringing. He then segues to talking about how he's concerned about race issues. Clinton is then asked about being a woman. "I may be able to break that hardest of glass ceilings." For some reason, this line touches me, and I've been steely toward Clinton as she's played the sex card in the past. She's running not as a woman, she says (now!), but because she thinks she's the "best person." But she ends saying her taking office would send a nice message to "a lot of little girls and boys around the world."
11. Cooper asks Edwards about the way his wife says he's better for women than Hillary is. He talks about poverty, wages, and health care.
12. Two lesbians ask if they should be allowed to marry. Kucinich, of course, says yes. Dodd blathers about how one ought to treat people who happen to have a different sexual orientation but then says "civil unions" and denies marriage. Richardson would do "what is achievable" -- and that is civil unions. He volunteers that he'd reject "Don't ask, don't tell."
13. A reverend asks about the way religion is used to deny rights to gay persons. Edwards goes first and says he feels "enormous conflict" about the issue and he's been on a "journey" about it. His wife supports gay marriage though. I'm really skeptical about this notion that a candidate's spouse can represent positions for him, so that he gets to seem somehow sympathetic to it when he's not for it. What if President Bush tried to appease people who don't like the war in Iraq by telling us that Laura was actually opposed to it? We'd just laugh at him! The reverend turns out to be in the audience, and Cooper asks him how he liked the answer. Edwards now admits that it's wrong to use religion as the basis for denying gay people their rights.
14. What are they thinking?
Clinton: I've got the nomination in my clutches.
Obama: I'm in this!
Richardson: I'm doomed. Either that or he's catching up on his reading and doesn't know he's doomed.
15. How do we pull out of Iraq now? Even if you opposed the war to start. It's like leaving a newborn baby to take care of itself. Obama says we should "be careful" getting out but also that we need to make it clear that "there is no military solution."
16. A mother of a soldier asks why the Congress hasn't stopped the war yet. Are the Democrats holding back for fear of getting blamed for losing the war? This question gets applause. Clinton goes first. No real answer. Kucinich lights on fire: All we need to do is cut off the funds. We can do it! Then Dodd flares up. Iraq is keeping us from saving Darfur. Sure. Richardson says he's different. Bring all the troops home by the end of the year. The war is a "quagmire." "It's endless." "Get it done."
17. Gravel yells that all the soldiers who died in Vietnam died in vain, because "you can now go to Hanoi and get a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone." And now, in Iraq, they are all dying in vain! Cooper throws it to Obama: Have all the soldiers in Iraq died in vain? Obama switches to the issue of going into Iraq. Cooper refocuses him, and he says no. Soldiers never die in vain (somehow). Edwards gets the question, and he too realizes he's got to deny that the soldiers die in vain.
18. Should women have to register for the military at age 18 the way men do? Yes: Dodd, Clinton, Edwards, Gravel.
19. Nice question for Clinton: How will you be effective with the Arab states when they are so biased against women? Oh, they'll take her seriously, she tells us. In fact, just having a woman President will be an effective statement. I like that. And I'd kind of like to see that.
20. They go to extreme closeup for Edwards for some reason:
21. Would you meet -- "without precondition" -- with the leaders of Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Cuba, North Korea? Obama: "I would!" Hillary: "I will not promise..." You don't make promises like that without knowing more about how it will be used. She's got the more responsible answer, clearly. Edwards: "Yes," but Clinton is right. A little fence-straddling. And this is the precise point in the debate where I conclude -- I'd been toying with the conclusion -- that Clinton is the superior candidate.
22. "How many family members do you have serving in uniform?" asks a man with many military deaths in his family. The answers devolve into more talk about the plan to withdraw troops.
23. "Who was your favorite teacher and why?" Gravel claims some brother recognized his "dyslexia." Come on! Who talked about "dyslexia" back when Gravel was a kid? Obama had a teacher who made him feel special for having lived outside of the country. Biden talks about a priest who taught him something about the greatest sin... and his microphone malfunctions, so we don't really hear it. Edwards had a teacher who taught him that a guy could have a daddy who worked in a mill and .... blah blah blah... teacher wants li'l Johnny to be President.
24. A question about No Child Left Behind is written on a series of placards, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-style. Richardson would scrap it -- and give teachers a $40,000 a year minimum wage, emphasize math and science, and have a "major federal program" for "music, dancing, sculpture, and the arts." Finally! A President who cares about sculpture. Biden: No Child Left Behind -- which he voted for -- was "a mistake." "Ya need better teachers." No kidding!
25. Would you send your kids to private school? Edwards: His kids all went to public school. Hillary: Chelsea went to public school "until we moved to Washington." "The press would never leave her alone." Obama: His kids went to a private school because it was near their house. Most in-your-face answer of the night, from Biden: "My kids did go to private school. It's because right after I got elected my wife and daughter were killed. I had two sons who survived." His sister helped him with those sons and sent them to Catholic school. He looks a little pissed off at having to talk about this. The poor man. Did you remember his terrible tragedy? Kucinich: Public school! Gravel: Both. Competition is good! Dodd: Veers off topic and lectures us about whatever. [ADDED, on reading the transcript: Biden's sister brought the sons to the Friends school, and later, he sent them to Catholic school.]
26. Sex education. Obama gets a chance to respond to Romney, who recently criticized him for saying he supported age-appropriate education for young schoolkids. He gives the right answer: Kids need to know if someone is "encroaching on their privacy."
27. They get really YouTubish with two Tennessee guys who ask whether all the press about Al Gore running hurts y'all's feelins. This gives all the candidates a chance to display their best, big, toothy smiles. No actual answers, just another video, a snowman talking -- in the style of Mr. Bill -- about Gore's big issue, global warming. Then, there's a cute video about energy conservation. Gravel says tax people on what they spend, not what they earn. Dodd wants to take us down to a 55 mile an hour speed limit, Jimmy Carter-style.
28. Nuclear power. Edwards: No. He's for "bio" fuel. He's against liquefied coal, because it's a "carbon-based" fuel. Like his "bio" fuel isn't. Obama: We should "explore nuclear power." Clinton: She's "agnostic" about nuclear power. "It can be a win-win if we do it right."
29. Would you work -- as President -- for the minimum wage? Edwards and Clinton -- totally rich -- both say sure. Obama is nicely set up to point out they're rich... even though "We don't have Mitt Romney money."
30. Why not make everyone pay Social Security taxes on all of their income? Dodd says yes. Obama won't answer. No one else speaks.
31. Damned Baby Boomers... raise taxes or cut benefits? Richardson talks about diabetes. No one else speaks.
32. A Virginia guy strums a guitar and sings about taxes. He doesn't like them. Only Biden answers, and he deserves credit for admitting that the government needs your money, but then he does the standard Democratic thing of saying he'd just take away the tax benefits the rich folks have.
33. Another question about Democrats and taxes. Only Kucinich answers.
34. Cooper prepares us for a barrage of questions about health care. Edwards shows his trial lawyer stuff wringing sympathy out of us with the story of a man who couldn't speak because he couldn't afford surgery that would restore his speech. Hillary wants "decency and respect" for everyone.
35. God and guns. One guy shows a quarter and recites the motto "In God We Trust." Biden's okay with it. Another guy says he doesn't believe in God and worries about Democrats pandering to religion the way the Republicans do. Blah blah blah... what do you expect them to say?
36. The end. The end of my TiVo anyway. I did get a little "off-live" tonight. It's hard to resist the power of the remote controller. If it persisted beyond 2 hours, I missed it. I guess there was something about guns. Anyway, that's it for me. So, okay, what do I think of the YouTube experiment and the way CNN filtered the raw questioning? I think they did pretty well. And, frankly, all the candidates did reasonably well. But, it's clear too that the top 3 that we knew coming in were the top 3 really are the top 3. I think John Edwards did a nice job of pulling himself up even with Barack Obama. And, likewise, Hillary Clinton let us know she's #1. Bill Richardson failed to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack. And so, we have a top 3, with a clear frontrunner. Now, can we see a debate with those 3? Please, before it's rammed down our throats that Hillary is inevitable? I'm not against Hillary. I found her appealing tonight. But I would like to see her tested against Edwards and Obama, without the pointless excess of Gravel and Kucinich... and... Dodd... and, sorry... Biden and Richardson.
37. Writing the next morning, with the transcript, I can see the last part, about guns. Biden calls the guy in the video crazy: "I don't know that he is mentally qualified to own that gun. I'm being serious.... Look, we should be working with law enforcement, right now, to make sure that we protect people against people who don't -- are not capable of knowing what to do with a gun because they're either mentally imbalanced and/or because they have a criminal record, and I hope he doesn't come looking for me." I didn't see the video, so maybe the guy did look crazy -- he was holding his gun and calling it his "baby" -- but Biden seems awfully interested in taking away guns.
38. Finally, they are asked to look at the person to their left and say one thing they don't like about them. Most of them won't say anything bad, but Edwards snarks about Hillary's jacket: "I'm not sure about that coat." Which might seem cute, but might piss women off. Hillary comes back with: "Yes, John, it's a good thing we're ending soon." Which sounds like a wife telling her husband he's had too much to drink. But she's supposed to talk about Obama, so she says: "I admire and like very much Barack." I find it hard to believe a sentence that sounds like it was translated from a foreign language. But then, why should she like very much Barack? She'd like very much less Barack. Then Obama one-ups Edwards with "I actually like Hillary's jacket. I don't know what's wrong with it." Which could be read as a double insult. First, it puts down Edwards for knocking the lady's clothes. And second, it subtly implies that Edwards is feminine: Obama can't tell what is wrong with the jacket, because he's a man and doesn't know about fashion, not like some other men, who aren't manly enough.
39. Cooper ends with a pitch for YouTube and the Republican debates. So they're using this format again. Now that people have seen the videos -- and which videos CNN chooses -- it should have an effect on the quality of the next set of videos. What are the lessons? You can do humor and you can speak through animation or puppetry as long as you ask a dead serious question, like that snowman did. It helps to personify the question, like those lesbians or the man with dead soldiers in his his family. And it seems to work to sound a little inept or too casual in the first second and a half, but then quickly get out a clear question. They also obviously want questions in the same basic areas they'd hit if they were writing their own questions, so you might choose something boring -- like Social Security -- that not too many other people will do but that CNN will think has to get in. Good luck.