Debate Wrapup

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If you missed it you really didn't miss it. Ooof. What a lousy debate — starting with the CNN moderators. Why have voters ask questions if Suzanne Malveaux is just going to tack her own question on the end? Garbage.

Quickly: Clinton looked caffeinated tonight. She was back on her game and was prepared to dish it as well as take it. Her line about having an "asbestos pant-suit" on for the occasion was pretty funny. All the squabbling in the beginning really didn't amount to much. Edwards seemed eager to continue the attack, but the spontaneous booing by the crowd of any Clinton slights really made even invidious comparisons hard to pull off.

The only exchange that was worth a damn was Obama and Clinton sparring over Social Security payroll taxes. (You know it a dreary debate when the best moment comes in an exchange about tax arcana.) Obama called Clinton on her ridonckulous assertion that people making over $95,000 a year — and therefore earning above the payroll tax cutoff — are "middle class."

The crowd booed him for comparing her prestidigitation to that of Giuliani or Romney — but the point was fair — and spot on. The top six percent of money earners are not middle-class. They're not. A lot of people in the $100k to $200k bracket are wheelhouse Democrats — and party funders — which I suspect is why Hillary is so unwilling to go there. But her parry was weak, and a rare clumsy moment in an otherwise polished performance. So score one for Obama.

Watching the two of them go at it is a little high-school though. Obama's the cool smart kid. Clinton's the savagely smart, kind of insecure one. She couldn't help but begin her retort by correcting Obama for having repeatedly talked about a "tax cut" by mistake — "First of all," she said, "I think you meant a tax 'increase.' Because that's what it would be." Gimme a break.

I think the best night was had by Biden, who continued to show a depth of knowledge surpassing that of the other candidates. Dodd and Richardson always talk about being experienced, but Biden is actually bringing that experience to bear in his answers.

It's impressive that he spoke to Musharraf and Bhuto before Bush did this week. That's meaningful. His answer on Supreme Court nominees was also impressive. Richardson ticked off his talking points. Biden actually knew what he was talking about when he referred to the 14th amendment and the right to privacy. He also dressed down Malveaux for her question-jacking. Well done, sir.

To sum up: Hillary had one notable stumble, but otherwise was sharp. Edwards' boo birds defused his attack. Obama looked good — though after criticizing Clinton so sharply on the drivers license issue, you'd think he'd have had a sharper answer of his own. Biden keeps making a case for himself over Richardson as a dark horse.

UPDATE: Yglesias nails CNN's 'gotcha' game.