The CNN/YouTube Debate
American politics changed on Monday. We can't see the whole shape of it yet, but the CNN/YouTube debate broke up the pattern of boring, predictable debate questions and brought the concerns of ordinary people to the forefront.
Too often it seems like our political system is made of granite blocks — giant, ponderous forces that are invulnerable to change. The YouTube questions took a big chunk out of that system and the politicians are scrambling to deal with it.
The questions were a spin doctor's nightmare — rude, shrewd and merciless. The YouTube contributors stripped away the protective layers of PR and asked point-blank questions about issues that the politicians would rather avoid.
Candidates were left stammering and off-balance, struggling to cope with questions that no rational process could prepare them for. It was deeply satisfying in a way, to see politicians answer questions from people who normally couldn't have made it through security.
The oddball questions elevated some candidates and made others look hollow. A questioner asked Chris Dodd how he was going to be different and he bragged about being the same for 30 years.
Someone asked Hillary Clinton if she was a liberal and she arguably hit it out of the park, proudly calling herself a progressive and (correctly) explaining how the word had changed over the years.
The best question came from “Saheedb.” He asked which Republican the candidates would pick as a running mate. A great question that gets to the heart of how politics really works.
I'm fascinated by this experiment because Internet culture is fundamentally the opposite of political culture. Political communication is all about reserve, control and good manners. Internet communication is about candor — about ruthless, unfiltered honesty. Those two cultures clashed on Monday, and I think the process is better for it.
The citizens asked smart, tough questions, with a few rude ones thrown in for flavor. I didn't need to know if Hillary was woman enough or if Obama was black enough, but it was fun watching them answer.