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Soft Sounds

Debate5_540_2When all you have is a voice, do candidates tone it down?

NPR’s debate of presidential candidates had all the politeness of a noontime brunch, a sharp contrast to the caustic rhetoric of recent forums and in the daily grind of press statements.

There were no zingers at the two-hour forum, moderated by Robert Siegel, and even the most heated moments when the candidates talked Iran were tame compared to previous discussions of the same issue.

Clinton, her voice decibels lower than in televised debates, defended her vote  for a resolution that declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, even as a new National Intelligence Estimate has revealed that the country suspended its work on a nuclear weapons program in 2003. She said her vote did not authorize Bush to take action against Iran, even as other candidates have charged that the resolution amounts to giving him the ability to do so.

“I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect,” she said. “I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.”

Joseph Biden, however, challenged that notion, politely.

“With all due respect to anybody who thinks that pressure brought this about, let’s get this straight. In 2003, they stopped their program,” he said.

There was one tense moment — when Edwards attacked Clinton’s vote — but even that sounds mild on the audio transcript.

“Well, first of all, diplomacy — declaring a military group sponsored by the state of Iran a terrorist organization, that’s supposed to be diplomacy?

“…Senator Clinton has said she agrees with George Bush terminology that we’re in a global war on terror, then she voted to declare a military group in Iran a terrorist organization. What possible conclusion can you reach other than we are at war?”

Clinton responded, “Well, I understand politics, and I understand making outlandish political charges, but this really goes way too far. In fact, having designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, we’ve actually seen some changes in their behavior. There is absolutely no basis for a rush to war, which I oppose and have opposed for two years.

“But there is also a recognition that the Iranians were supplying weapons that killed Americans, they were supplying technical assistance from the Quds Force, which is their special operations element.”

The debate clearly benefited not only from NPR’s gracious tone, but from the absence of a studio audience. Save for some digital clocks, there were few gimmicks. The topics were limited to Iran, immigration and trade, and because it was radio there were no “lightning rounds.” It was more substance than most debates — but these radio forums are largely a thing of the past. According to the New York Times, save for an NPR debate in 2004 the last time presidential candidates got together like this was in 1948.

The full transcript here.

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