It’s 9:23 pm and even though there is a football game on, I am watching the Democrats’ debate, and I have not had anything to drink. So far. Let’s just see if this can work:

9:23 pm – First general topic is nuclear terrorism, what you would do about Pakistan, what you would do if you knew where Osama was, and what you would do about a nuclear attack on American soil.

None of the candidates said anything remotely insightful, or gave any reason for confidence, although they all said the right things and managed to talk quite a long time.

9:27 pm – Next question is … well, I missed it because I was typing the above … but Hillary is ragging on Obama changing his positions.

9:29 pm – Obama is in favor of universal health care, but would not penalize employers who don’t provide it. Obama has sort of an incoherence thing going on, a bit like Edwards. If you try to follow the thread of his argument too closely you get a headache.

9:31 pm – Hillary really is against Obama’s “changing positions.” She is sticking up for Edwards. Isn’t that nice.

9:33 pm – Obama is not taking these accusations lightly. He is countering them with schoolmarmish fervor.

9:37 pm – Richardson: “I’ve been in hostage negotiations that were more civil than this.”

9:38 pm – Me: I’ve watched Mentos commercials that were more substantive than this.

9:41 pm – Obama: People don’t thing the government is listening to them. That’s a good angle, succinctly noting what could very likely be a key campaign line to put a Democrat in the White House. Of course, a government that listens to you – were it possible, which it is not – might not necessarily be a good thing.

9:42 pm – Hillary: “Within 60 days” of taking office she will start withdrawing troops from Iraq.

9:44 pm – Richardson is most obnoxious, in terms of not shutting up, and Obama a close second. They must be hell on wheels at a dinner party.

9:47 pm – Obama: “Phased redeployment … to send the Iraqi government a clear signal to get their act together, conduct de-baathification.”

9:49 pm – Edwards: No political progress possible in Iraq until we pull out troops and stop putting in money. Will reduce troop level by 50,000 and end combat missions in his first year.

9:50 pm – Richardson: Goes him one better and will take all troops out of Iraq in first year.

9:51 pm – Hillary “We are in vigorous agreement about moving troops out of Iraq” … we have to “figure out what to do” about a number of other question such as civilian U.S. personnel, areas of the country where Iraqis don’t WANT our troops to leave.

For the first half of this debate, I think Hillary’s final comment sums up the overriding theme about what each of these individuals would bring to the office of the presidency: Basically, specific answers are difficult to pinpoint, but there is a whole lot of “figuring out what to do” that needs to be done, and these folks would all be better at it than George W. Bush has been.

9:58 pm – Hillary just gave a nice answer to Charlie Gibson’s question, what would she say to voters who like her resume, but who like Obama and Edwards more because they represent “change”: “That hurts my feelings!” Pretty funny.

But her best response re: being an agent of change is she’d be the first woman president. That brought very tepid applause.

10:01 pm – Obama said he was switching between the Republican debate and football. Good line. I just want to hug every one of them.

10:06 pm – Richardson is talking about being the only one with executive experience, Luckily the new moderator guy is not afraid to interrupt him. That’s got to be key to survival around the Richardson household.

10:08 pm – Richardson going on now about “figuring out what to do” on energy policy, all the things we “need to do.” Mercifully, he shut up voluntarily.

10:10 pm – Now Edwards lost track of what the question was. (Richardson had quite departed from it). I can relate.

10:11 pm – Oh good grief, Edwards is talking about his humble upbringing. … I think I have a bottle of wine nearby, please excuse me for a moment…

10:15 pm – Hillary was getting little love from the guys, so she is starting to smack heads. Edwards did not get his patient’s bill of rights passed. Obama had lobbyists on his staff, signed off on a pork-laden bill. “We have to translate talk into action and feeling into reality. I have a track record of doing that.”

10:17 pm – Charlie Gibson is pretty good: Notes that EVERYONE comes to Washington promising “change” but Washington resists changes. Hillary did not like that.

10:18 pm – Edwards railing against special interests and lobbyists. I wonder if that includes trial lawyers. Also railing against “those cocktail parties” (with lobbyists). He’s the extremely wealthy version of Mr Smith.

10:22 pm – Richardson: “This is the kind of bickering people are tired of.” He is going to have a mixed cabinet. “You got to bring people together.”

10:23 pm – Edwards disagrees: “You cannot nice these people to death.” But agrees we need to galvanize the American people in the battle.

So the idea is, we need to bring people together, to fight the people we call “special interests.” And probably a few other categories of people would also be on the chopping block, I imagine.

10:26 pm – Now they are on greenhouse gases, carbon taxes, auctions, “cap and trade”. This is the “bullsh-t” portion of the debate, and these folks can really roll with this subject matter. I mean, they are good.

This is where the drinking is really important.

10:29 pm – To make all the important stuff like energy reform happen, Hillary would increase taxes on families with income over $150,000. She doesn’t seem particularly reticent about this.

10:31 pm – Obama against globalization? Ok, let’s here some specifics….He has no answers for it though, except to give tax relief to working families. Ok. What about trade policy, Senator?

Ah well, no use getting my hopes up, they are Democrats.

10:35 pm – Richardson with another long list of things we have to do. Shut up, Bill.

Final question – things you wish you had not said in previous debates. Hillary don’t play that – she had her one “human” moment tonight I guess and is probably still a little lightheaded from it. Obama not answering either.

Well, that was interesting in the sense of a reminder of just how low the bar is to become president of this country.

UPDATE: Here is the link to Hillary’s “angry moment” when her bona fides as an “agent of changed” were challenged.

UPDATE II: Here is the complete transcript.