Tuesday, July 24, 2007

For the first time in presidential debate history, user-generated video will drive two unprecedented debates. On July 23 at 7 p.m. ET, the Democratic candidates for president will face your questions. No journalists. No panelists. No filters. Just the people's questions and the candidate's answers. The Democratic candidates will be confronted with the questions you sent in via YouTube.

To Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York: Are you feminine enough?
"I couldn't run as anything other than a woman,"

Her answer drew a challenge from former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who said he was the best advocate for women on the debate stage.
"I have the strongest, boldest ideas," he said.

More questions from YouTube Debate

The debate featured questions submitted to the online video community and screened by the all-news cable TV network. It was held at the military college of The Citadel in South Carolina, site of one of the earliest primaries -- Jan. 29.

"Wassup?" came the first question, from a voter named Zach, after another, named Chris, opened the CNN-YouTube debate with a challenge to the entire eight-candidate field: "Can you as politicians ... actually answer questions rather than beat around the bush?"

The answer was a qualified yes.

Posing a question that few, if any, of the candidates had fielded before, one voter asked whether young women should register for the draft as do young men. Clinton, Obama and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut said yes.

The Democrats skirmished over Iraq. Asked if Democrats are playing politics with the war, Rep. Dennis Kucinich said yes. "The Democrats have failed the people," he said.

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel said U.S. soldiers are dying in vain. No other candidate would go that far.

Obama took the opportunity to take a slap at his rivals who voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq, including Clinton and Edwards. "The time to ask how we're going to get out of Iraq was before we got in," he said, without naming Clinton, Edwards and other foes.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico said he's the only candidate pledging to remove troops within six months. "Our troops have become targets," he said. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware said Richardson's goal was unrealistic.

Sensing her position was under attack, Clinton bristled as she argued that U.S. troops must be removed from Iraq "safely, orderly and carefully."

On an other foreign policy topic, Biden said he would send 2,500 U.S. troops to Darfur to try to end the civil war there. It took three tries to get Clinton to answer the same questions. She finally said American ground troops don't belong in the fight because they are overextended in Iraq.

She also refused to call herself a liberal. "I prefer the word progressive, which has a very American meaning," she said.

Clinton, Obama and Edwards lead in most polls of the Democratic field.

The opening question challenged Democrats to do better than the failed leadership in Congress and the White House. "How are you going to be any different?" the voter asked.

Obama, a freshmen lawmaker trying to appeal to the public's thirst for change, replied, "One of the things I bring is a perspective ... that says Washington has to change."

Clinton claimed she has a 35-year-record as an agent of change. "The issue is which one of us will be ready from Day One."

The Democratic gathering marked a turning point in political communications. CNN, a landmark all-news cable network when founded 27 years ago, is now part of a media establishment coming to terms with upstarts like the 2 1/2-year-old online video community.

The debate aside, YouTube has already left its mark on politics. Republican George Allen lost his Senate seat and a likely spot in the 2008 presidential race after a YouTube video caught him referring to a man of South Asian decent as "macaca" -- an ethnic slur in some countries.

In the presidential campaign, buzz-worthy video clips have included Bill and Hillary Clinton's spoof of "The Sopranos" finale, Edwards' combing his hair to the tune "I Feel Pretty," and a buxom model professing her crush on Obama.

Most of the candidates use social networking tools popularized by YouTube and MySpace.com to draw voters to their sites and create a sense of community. At least two of the Democratic candidates planned to answers supporters' questions on their sites after Monday night's debate.

In the spirit of the era, each candidate was asked to produce his or her own video.

Edwards' video poked fun at the attention paid to his pricey haircuts at the expense of more serious issues. Set to the theme from the 1968 musical "Hair," the video opens with several close-up of hairdos, giving way to less frivolous images including several from Iraq. It ends with a white-on-black slide: "What really matters? You Choose"

Clinton's video-ad ended with the kicker, "Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman."