I guess I find all the conservative screeching about the CNN YouTube debate a little silly. For all the whining about "plants," I didn't hear a question all night that was really confrontational or hard to prepare for. The Republican candidates talked about stuff they wanted to talk about. Even the gay general -- notwithstanding CNN's incompetence in not flagging his Clinton affiliation -- asked a question any Republican candidate ought to be happy to hit out of the park. When you're playing to the primary base, the chance to explain that you're not going to allow gays to serve openly in the military is kind of a cherished opportunity.
This debate was slow to to happen because key Republicans dragged their feet and fretted about its spontaneous and potentially undignified nature. Mitt Romney seemed particularly worried that he might have to cope with a talking snowman. My understanding of the concept was that it opened up the process to all kinds of people -- not just Jim Lehrer and his damp list of questions -- and forced the candidates to confront America in some of its wild insouciance.
The Democratic debate was, if you scroll back, a bit wilder. Some of the questions really were a little odd or a little rude or a little hard to predict. For the Republicans, CNN seemed to have gotten the message. The questions were mostly solid red meat stuff -- immigration (currently one of their favorites), religion, taxes (thank you, Grover Norquist, average citizen), abortion, guns -- the kind of issues Republicans typically run on, especially during the primary season.
And what happened? Giuliani answered honestly and probably doomed himself. Romney had nothing to say. Huckabee rose to the occasion. Thompson slumbered and lumbered. McCain was McCain.
In other words, the CNN debate mirrored, pretty accurately, what's happening here in the outsidde world. Romney is leaking. Huckabee is rising. Rudy is probably in some kind of trouble unless he can 9/11 his way out of one more messy patch. McCain is locked at his usual, dependable oven setting, and that will serve him well (or not) depending on whether the others cool off or heat up. Thompson is miserable and wonders what ever possessed him.
So what was the harm done in the YouTube debate? The only violence was candidate on candidate. No question was so strange as to rattle anybody. They certainly didn't look like they were unhappy to be talking about immigration. The only mean video CNN allowed on the air was by one of the candidates (Thoompson).
Meanwhile, a Republican crowd that has grinned and hummed happily though fake FEMA press conferences and payoffs to Armstrong Williams and fake reporters like Jeff Gannon ought to stop fussing like little babies.